I am not ashamed of Mabel Jansen or of what she said about black people. I am white but I don’t identify with what she said. I don’t know Mabel from a bar of soap. It’s her upbringing, her world view, her cognitive processes, not mine. She must deal with her stuff, by herself. That does not mean though that I am not shocked and concerned. And my shock and concern I bear as a white person.
I am shocked that a person as educated, as exposed, coming from as deep in the heart of the white establishment, holds the view, 26 years after the release of Nelson Mandela, that black people are savages.
Because that is what she said. She might not have meant to say that, but that is what she said. “Murder is not a biggy.” They kill at random and fuck their daughters, just for fun.
We might have got all exercised about the straw man built up in Castro Hlongwane’s Aids document. Looking back at it though, Mabel’s characterisation of black people confirms precisely what Thabo Mbeki said (most) white people think of black people.
Unless of course Mabel is an outlier. An exception to the rule. Perhaps she just slipped past, unnoticed, studying law, becoming chair of the Pretoria Bar, having an exceptional career in intellectual property law, before she became a judge. No one saw or heard or noticed that Mabel had these slightly unconventional views on race. Really? Of course not. And that’s the part that concerns me. Mabel’s views are not peculiar to Mabel. Many, perhaps most white people, do not regard Mabel’s views as unconventional, or peculiar.
And this I know as a white person.
So let me declare. Some of my best friends are black. Really. Once upon a time, I was a member of the now defunct (thank god) white left. In my younger days I had an office on the 10th floor of Shell House, in the days before the “capture”. But I remain white. And no, I am not a Samantha Vice (shut up, lie under the bed, and listen for the next 150 years) white person either. And most of what Gillian Schutte herself has said about race makes me cringe. I think young Qwabe is scarred and infantile. And I am genuinely concerned about the rise of an aggressive and chauvinist African nationalism, wishing to cast “the other” as the scapegoat for all that goes wrong.
But I do know something about white people, and how we roll. Mabel’s views are not peculiar to her. They might be shocking, but she is no exception. If Mabel Jansen holds those views, I am afraid many more white people do.
That means, as it has always meant, that the white community has a problem. And it matters not whether your people originally came from Leiden or London or Lithuania. It matters not whether you are rich or poor, skilled or not, male or female, dyke, queer or from the plaas.
You can be abused, orphaned, well-travelled, urbane or well read and middle class, just like Mabel. You can pray in the NG Kerk, or sing sweet hymns in the little leafy Anglican church in Oaklands. You can identify lightly or strongly with the white people, or you can reject “them” all together. You can believe Vice on whiteness or Qwabe, or not. You can speak with a thick accent from Reddersburg, or with the hot potato carefully acquired at Oxford.
I know it, you know it, we all know it. The white community has got an issue with race. It is wedded to it, it holds it dearly to its bosom. It’s got it like a cancer. And it seems it won’t let go. And if we didn’t know about this tenacity before (and black people probably did), we know now. That is what Mabel showed us.
So no, it’s not the only community with issues. It doesn’t do caste, and it doesn’t cut people’s heads off with swords in the desert. It does not do (or rationalise) female circumcision and it did not confuse 800,000 Tutsis for cockroaches.
But it does have an issue with race. It looks down on people of colour, perhaps like no one else looks down at anyone else. It is this wilful disregard of the “other’s” humanity, this pure hatred, that permitted and paved the way for 350 years of colonisation and slavery and apartheid.
It has taught its children a cancerous thing; systematically, systemically, consistently, and relentlessly so, and now its children cannot unlearn what has been taught. That is what Mabel showed us. And no, it does not include all white people. I am talking in broad strokes, about the community at large.
The sad thing is that nothing will be done about it. There is no leadership to deal with this. There is no one left to frame a discussion, and to help to point the way forward. De Klerk is living his fancy new life with his fancy new wife on the Atlantic seaboard. The leaders, whoever they are, have headed for the hills. The flock is headless.
So when the call gets made, its individual members just deny that we’re part of it. We say, I am just an equities trader living in Saxonwold, with my daughters at a private school, and me and my blonde little wife living our neat little post-modern, post-apartheid existences; leave us alone – I might be white, but Mabel’s shit is hers to deal with.
Which is where we started. So, sorry, Mabel. You’re on your own, girl. Like the paratrooper behind enemy lines who calls HQ but finds the telephone unanswered. Disavowed and denied. Not one of ours. DM
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"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon