In the wise words of Stephen Hawking, “life would be tragic if it weren’t funny”. So please read my commentary on white privilege and Friday’s march with a sense of humour. I should state upfront that my views do not represent that of all white South Africans, and this blog does not speak on behalf of anyone but myself.
What inspired this post?
I have quite a lot of white acquaintances/friends who get completely offended if you talk to them about ‘white privilege’ but love to put out these politically charged statements on FB.
A recent interaction with a girl I went to high school with inspired me to write this post. Pity she unfriended me so she won’t even get to read it!
Questions that cross my mind when thinking about white privilege:
“Can other ethnicities besides whites be racist, and do white people have the right to get offended by any of it?”
This might seem like a stupid question (the Holocaust, xenophobia etc. etc.), but in the South African context, racism is mainly assumed to be white against black… and when white people get indignant about their minor exposures to “racism” from black people, it’s hard not to roll your eyes.
In my mind the simple answer to that question is yes, racism isn’t a white phenomenon but it’s like asking whether male rape is an actual thing- yes it is, but when we talk about rape we think about women because that’s a bigger issue. Perhaps that’s an extreme example.
So a black person told you that all whites need to get out of SA? Until that’s become an actual law and you’ve gone to jail for being white, I say take it on the chin. I don’t promote or accept hatred in any way, shape or form, but what is the context behind a statement like that? As a white person, are you even trying to listen to what your fellow black South Africans are saying?
At this point in time, it’s more important for me to listen than have a say because it’s the only way I’ll have a chance of understanding what I need to do to help.
Then you get the age old…
“Apartheid is over”
Is it? Is it?! I’m surprised white people still have the gall to say Apartheid is over and we should all just move on! You only have to take a look around Cape Town to see that we’re still very much apart. Decades of segregation will not be undone easily- cue white people shifting uncomfortably as they sense the topic of land reform looming. I’m not going to get into the semantics, it’s fucking complicated and difficult to have these conversations… but can we all agree that there’s no get out of jail free card just because it’s been two decades since Apartheid ‘ended’.
“I don’t see colour”
Yes, I’ve said this in my life. Oh, sweet Summer child that I was. If you’re a white person who still says this: 1) read this article 2) stop.
Shit white privileged people said about the march on Friday
I read that protest 101 for white people and took notes! I had rennies in my bag just in case I got pepper sprayed, and wore my Nike kicks so that I could run away if need be. I even had a Pepsi in my bag for… kiiidding! That Kendal Jenner gave white girls who march a bad rap.
Here are the statements that made me laugh, cry and wonder what black people were thinking about whites that day:
“It felt really good to be a part of the march”
It did feel good, but it sounds so cheesy to say it out loud!
“We were a part of history in the making”
I have a feeling that Steve Biko, Jo Slovo, any black person who has ever participated in a march has NEVER said they were a part of history in the making. That shit cray!
“Where are we going for lunch?”
Whilst marching, in between chanting “Zuma must go!”, I passed so many white people making lunch plans. We weren’t swapping stories about the heroes of Apartheid or plotting the next march we were going to participate in, the crucial question on a lot of white people’s minds was: “will it be Yours Truly or Melt for a toastie?”
Friday’s march was great, but it definitely isn’t the beginning or the end of my participation in this conversation about what is going on in our country. I’m not an academic or someone who has dedicated my life to studying Apartheid and saving our country- I am a white, twenty something average joe!
Where am I going with all of this?
When I’m lamenting some aspect of my life, whilst sitting on my balcony in Vredehoek, or grabbing a bite of sushi before joining my first march to protest against Jacob Zuma’s corruption and SA being downgraded to junk status, I do feel like the epitome of white privilege. Not because I’m doing anything wrong, but because my social economic background is fortunate.
And I should end this post by saying that my life or your life as a white person living in South Africa does not represent the status quo. Whatever your upbringing- be it poor, rich, whatever- the fact of the matter is that you weren’t classified as non-white, and that in and of itself is attached to a realm of benefits that a black person with the same set of life circumstances did not have. It basically means that as a white person you were always ten steps ahead purely based on the colour of your skin. That’s not an accomplishment, and the very least I think any white person can do is acknowledge their privilege… which apparently is a very difficult thing for us whities to do.
Not a heavy, just something to contemplate. Happy Easter everyone.