OP-ED

An open letter to white people about #Skaapgate

By Nigel Branken 7 January 2019

Residents clash with lobby group Black People's National Crisis Committee at Clifton's Fourth Beach on December 28, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. Black People's National Crisis Committee arranged a protest march following reports that private security company PPA Security allegedly closed down the beach at sunset last Sunday, 23rd December - the group also held a cleansing ceremony where a sheep was slaughtered, calling for the end of the exclusion of black people at the beach. (Photo by Brenton Geach/Gallo Images)

Dear White people. You continue showing more outrage about the sheep than about the racism on the beach. You raise issues only from a “sheep-centred” and “white-privilege-protecting” and “white-fragility” perspective. Let’s talk about what we continue to see you saying in your responses...

You talk mostly about critiquing the protest, saying that you do not think the form of protest is “a useful way of drawing attention to these issues and nurturing change”. Have you perhaps considered the irony of talking about an issue precisely because of a protest, and then criticising that the protest is not raising the issue you are actually talking about?

You argue that the form of protest is alienating people and not inviting them into the conversation. If anything, the protest has drawn white people into the conversation… perhaps just not in the way you are used to. They are not in control of the conversation and the conversation is not showing them in a good light. It has rather exposed their hypocrisy. It has shown that animals are more important to white people than black people. It has shown that protecting white spaces and white privilege is more important than dealing with black pain. It has shown that white people want comfortable conversations where they don’t look bad. It has shown that white people cannot lead conversations as they will always use their power to maintain the status quo. Perhaps it has not drawn white people into the conversation in ways that make them look good, but it most certainly has drawn them in.

You go on and critique the form of the protest rather than the reason for the protest. Is this not what the apartheid government did all the time? Do you think it will bring any change to the real issues if all you do is criticise the form of protest while refusing to listen deeply to the source of the anger and pain? When a rape victim fights back, do you focus on her fighting and saying she should have been… non-violent? … less alienating in her objections to her rape? … should not have broken the law by assaulting her rapist?

You keep talking about municipal by-laws which you say were flouted in regard to the sacrifice of the sheep but you fail to mention the by-laws broken when the private security removed people from the beach… you are silent on this…

NO! To you, it seems by-laws apply more to the protection of white spaces and to the sheep than to the protection of black people from racist actions. When private security removed people from the beach, from land, from public space, using private security, they not only flouted municipal by-laws (and bigger laws like our Constitution), they continued the centuries-old white tradition of land theft by white people and taking what is in the commons and making it their own. Black traditions of sheep-slaughtering seemingly break more important laws and ethics to you, it seems, than white traditions of whites-only beach signs (visible pre-94 and now invisible but still in place). The community of Clifton continued to place their undisturbed privilege above human dignity.

You also talk about it being a public health risk… again prioritising the speck in the protesters’ eyes while ignoring the planks in those who caused the protest. What about the public health issues related to continually excluding people…

  • excluding from public spaces;
  • exclusion from the economy;
  • exclusion from educational opportunities;
  • exclusion from a dignified shelter, healthcare, security;
  • exclusion from… (we could go on and on and on).

Why are you more outraged about a “potential” health threat than the reality of the ongoing suffering of the majority of black people?

You even mention potential “public safety” issues and talk about traumatising children as if you are just looking for reasons to justify your outrage. Seriously… safety of people in the slaughtering of a sheep? Has this not been a traditional cultural practice in Africa that has been done since the beginning of time? Why is it now a safety issue? When white people go hunting, there is no outrage about health and safety issues. We constantly see pictures on social media of their children with them in the hunt. Is it only traumatising to your children to see animals killed by people of colour?

Your next issue then goes to show what is really in your heart. You talk about “animal rights”…

Seriously, animal rights? How much meat did you consume this week? How much meat did your family consume this week? What about your friends? Do you protest about animal rights at every meal you share with non-vegans? Why suddenly is this the time to talk about this? Do you only protest the killing of sheep when it is done by black people in public? Are you saying that if you can see the killing, then the animal is being abused? Do you think there is more dignity for animals at abattoirs? Can you even see the hypocrisy in your outrage?

It seems there is a hierarchy of what needs protecting for most white people engaged in this conversation and it is revealing:

  1. White feelings … do not disrupt white feelings at all cost.
  2. White privilege … protect white spaces and white lifestyles at all cost.
  3. White children… don’t show them anything traumatic, like where their food comes from.
  4. Animals like sheep… make sure they have a decent life and dignified death.
  5. … and then only…

99. Black pain, racism, systemic injustice… but only to be discussed if it does not come at the cost of disturbing items 1 to 4.

When you focus on the sheep in this conversation you are protecting the ongoing pillaging of what is in the commons by a racist system.

Let’s be honest, as white people, we are not looking for more helpful conversation, or deep nuanced conversations, we are looking for our lives to be left undisturbed. It is 25 years on. It is time for the change. Kumbaya conversations around campfires are good for white feelings but do nothing for the reality of black pain.

My prayer is that in 2019 there will be many more disruptions of white privilege. Let whiteness and white supremacy be shown for what they are – laid bare and shown to be indefensible. May the hypocrisy of white liberalism also be exposed! May we see the beginnings of return of land, the return of the economy, and the return of dignity to all. DM

Nigel Branken is a white guy, recovering racist and bad-vegan.

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