A black student at Wits caused a storm of controversy by wearing a t-shirt with the slogan ‘F*** white people’. But those who accuse the student of racism miss the point.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has pledged to investigate all racism-related complaints, regardless of the perpetrator’s race. All political parties, including the EFF, have in principle agreed that racism should be criminalized. However, this should not be used to police black pain.
Recently a black Wits student wore a t-shirt with the slogan “fuck white people,” and this caused an uproar – mostly from white students accusing him of racism, and asking why the student was even allowed to walk on campus with such a t-shirt. These statements by white people follow the logic that blacks must “get over it because apartheid is over”.
It is important to explain what racism is. Racism is the violent process of black people’s subjugation which requires institutional power to continue the subjugating, something black people never had, even post-1994. If we don’t define racism it becomes everything, and everyone can be a victim of racism. Perpetrators become victims and victims become perpetrators.
Whiteness is a social construct created from the indignity of others, especially black. It values certain bodies based on their pigmentation over others. But identifying one as black or white is not simply a matter of pigmentation or appearance. If I asked “are you black or white?” I am not simply asking about your appearance or pigmentation. I ask about your socio-historical existence. Albinos are light in appearance but they’re not white. I am black because of a socio-historical existence of dispossession; I am a descendant of slavery, discrimination and indignity. In other words, by identifying as a white person one would be accepting the history of the violent creation of whiteness itself at the expense of the dignity of black people. The black condition is a white creation; we are turned into workers and servants for their comfort.
Whites have undeserved privilege and power generated over centuries of black exploitation and indignity. All whites who mastered the racist exploitation of black people, killed and raped black women, children and babies were given executive clemency even before they went to court. Even those that did not actively support apartheid and colonialism enjoyed and continue to enjoy its privileges silently.
I therefore find it extremely offensive that beneficiaries of more than 500 years white supremacy and undeserved privilege further want to police black pain and how it should be expressed. I honestly don’t like white people; I have every reason not to.
It is not a “prejudice” defined as “prejudgment, or forming an opinion before becoming aware of the relevant facts of a case”. The fact of the matter is even if blacks have an attitude towards whites, nothing we say will impact negatively on their jobs or careers, on their safety or wealth. In fact, black people must guard what they say about whites because whites have the power to punish what we say through institutions such as the SAHRC, yet not a single one of them will take responsibility for the fact that my mother, like many others died a servant in their fancy kitchens when her dream of becoming a professional nurse was shuttered simply because she was black. So, fuck white people!
The structure of white supremacist racism remains intact. 12 million black people live in extreme poverty, they simply do not know where their next meal will come from. 79% of our land remains in white private hands. A conservative figure of 27.9% of blacks is unemployed in comparison to only 7% of whites. White families earn an average of R365,134 annually while black families earn a mere R60,613. In other words, whites earn five and a half times more than blacks. 70% of top management positions are held by whites, with only 13% held by blacks.
This reality translates into almost all forms of relations between whites and blacks in South Africa. The whites are patrons in restaurants and blacks are their servants, we live in the townships while whites live comfortably in mostly secured suburbs. The fact of the matter is black people were violently colonised by white people; they forced us into the ghettos and drove us away from economic activities.
We no longer want empty reconciliation without justice, we demand justice and the expression of our anger is not a mere baseless prejudice. There is no vocabulary to explain black pain or the fact that white people never had to give anything for all the evils they committed.
So, “fuck white people,” is an appropriate expression of black pain. I worry that if racism is not properly defined, victims of centuries of racism will be arrested for telling the truth about white people and their evil deeds. DM
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Social Justice activist and researcher in the EFF Parliamentary caucus, Tokelo writes in his personal capacity Former Deputy President of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at Wits University. BA in Politics and International Relations from Wits University (2011). BA with honors in Journalism and Media from Wits University (2012). Master of Arts candidate in Political Sciences at Wits University. Twitter: @tokelonhlapo
"We spend the first year of a child's life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There's something wrong there." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson