In her recent column about Angry White Dudes (AWDs) Sisonke Msimang touches on a truth that is critical for the country, and the white population in particular, to address, but she undermines the power of her own voice by linking misguided white male anger to the crisis of violence of a different type in South Africa. Despite expressing a desire to help AWDs on their road to healing, her column may, in fact, have made them angrier and more defensive, by pointing the finger at AWDs for the wrong crime.
While it cannot be denied that white males have perpetrated heinous crimes in recent years, some clearly motivated by racism, the statistics simply do not back up the idea that violent incidents committed by whites of any description represent a critical nexus of the serious violence problem in our country – nor can one convincingly make the case that white perpetrated violence is massively on the increase and that by cracking this nut, peace might suddenly break out across the country.
Yes, AWDs exist and are bullies and yes, bullying is unacceptable, destructive to others and self-destructive. It also certainly is a form of violence, but let’s be frank, it is not a crime and it is a very different type of violence to rape, child abuse and murder – with very different underlying causes and remedies. The bullying of AWDs is not about physical violence and all about racism, and although one must acknowledge that the violent society we live in is a legacy of racism, there is not a direct or immediate link between the two and it is not helpful to confuse them or to blame the perpetrators of one misdeed for the ravages of the other.
It is indisputable that that the overwhelming majority of serious violence in South Africa is perpetrated by black males on other black people. This fact should not be considered surprising in the light of the legacy of Apartheid and the consequential socio economic disparity along racial lines – the link between violence and educational, economic and social depravation of all forms, has never been in dispute and is visible worldwide.
Other reasons for our high levels of violence are of course complicated and in my view not the topic of this debate, but perhaps Msimang touches on something powerful when she describes how she has observed that America “raises angry men, shows them all she (America) has to offer and then traps them in ghettoes”. Perhaps our South African equivalent are young black males aspiring to realise the promise of the new South Africa, but quite justifiably end up becoming Angry Black Brothers (ABBs) as they realise they are going nowhere – mired as they so often are in a toxic bog of non-service delivery, appalling state education, a self-serving corrupt government and the dismissive attitudes of a small cabal of new black elites and undercover AWDs.
This conveniently brings me back to AWDs, ultimately the subject of Msimang’s piece and this response. The very things listed above, that should quite appropriately anger black and white South Africans alike, are the excuses that many white South Africans use to cling onto and justify the racism that lurks deep inside us. It is an uncomfortable admission, but it is long past the time that we should have realised that no white South African old enough to engage with this debate had a shot at growing up in this country without being infected by racism. That would have been like growing up in France and not speaking French, or perhaps more pointedly, being a man and not carrying gender stereotypes and prejudices towards women – we all know we do. It is simply impossible to have avoided and, like alcoholism, the best thing to do is to be honest with yourself, acknowledge it and fight it.
Perhaps we need a White Consciousness movement to take us on a personal journey that enables us to realise that we are not inherently superior, and that is it okay to admit that we think we are – if we are willing to fight it with personal honesty, self awareness and constant monitoring. Whites went into our democratic dispensation with a variety of thoughts, emotions and attitudes. We could not leave behind our psychological DNA and so many of our attitudes were unavoidably underpinned by racism and our racist superiority complex. There was resignation – we recognised things should change or had to change. There was cautious relief that we still seemed to be holding onto what we had before. There was hope that the future would be okay and there was pessimism and fear that “they are going to mess things up!” We stood back rather than choosing to take responsibility for fixing the mess our forefathers created and as the gravy train left the station we either jumped on, or shook our heads in disgust. As BEE nurtured inefficiency, as cadre deployment fast- tracked incompetence and Nigerian-style corruption and as power blackouts rolled in, some of us were almost relieved – taking the view that our racist predictions were justified after all. Perhaps unmitigated success would, for some, have amplified that smidgen of post-Apartheid guilt unbearably.
In all of this, most AWDs have never stopped to contemplate things like the fact that the corrupt government and under-skilled labour force we have were created by 400 years of white rule, or what the state of many Caucasian-run Latin American countries was when they were young democracies. White South Africans could and probably should consider themselves lucky to have escaped deportation or even genocide, never mind hyper-inflation. But rather than rejoicing in a lucky and undeserved escape, as we point fingers at the present corruption, incompetence and injustice, we racialise the problem rather than see it for what it is – a faceless global problem particularly in developing democracies and as prevalent in white Greece and Russia as it is in Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea or Pretoria. We also justify our latent racist assumptions about blacks in general by observing the behaviour of a small group of politicians and elites – and then feel justified in being angry at life in general and, as Msimang points out, at black people in general. We divide a nation that should be united in pursuit of common goals.
The truth is that for every crooked politician there are thousands of strait black businessmen busting a gut to make an honest living. For every dodgy tender or unwise BEE appointment there are thousands of capable black guys who are undermined by racist doubts or who are overlooked in the workplace by white employers, because people naturally hire others that share their cultural values and look and speak like them. It is time for white South Africans to realise we have got it good and that misguided white anger alienates the very people Msimang correctly suggests should be our natural allies.
By raising the veil on AWBs Msimang will not likely prevent a rape or save a child from being molested. She is also not likely to have made many new friends among AWBs by linking other violence so directly to their pervasive anger, but if disgruntled and offended white South Africans pause and think for a moment, we might just give ourselves time to realise that Msimang is doing all white South Africans a big favour by identifying our self-destructive behaviour. If heeded, she may help us keep our place in the sun and find our own healing. And, most importantly, she may help us realise that our future happiness and fulfilment lies in healing not only the damage wrought by our predecessors, but the damage we did yesterday. That is the carrot. The stick is that if we choose to rage on, we may become the architects of our own demise by alienating our allies and snuffing out the vast amounts of goodwill we amazingly still enjoy. When populist politicians play the race card – and remember that when they have not delivered that is precisely what they always do – we will need all the support we can get from the people we have been angry with for years. DM
Craig Kelly is a film maker and digital media entrepreneur. He is the CEO of Africa Media Management, a pan-African content distribution and consulting company. He also founded and runs The AfricaXP Channel, Africa’s newest multinational entertainment channel.
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Craig Kelly is a film maker and digital media entrepreneur. He is the CEO of Africa Media Management, a pan African content distribution and broadcast consulting company. He also founded and runs The AfricaXP Channel, Africas newest multinational entertainment television channel.
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