The Pathology of White Privilege and Racism in South Africa – A Personal Perspective May 8, 2012
A whites-only sign used during Apartheid. South Africa has a history of racial discrimination which continues to cause bitter relations between the various racial groups in the country. Racial tension currently unfolding on social networks has once again proved that South Africa is still far from fostering any real sense of nationhood among its disparate racial groups. Be that as it may, it has been the white response to complaints by black South Africans regarding Jessica Leandra Dos Santos’ racial outburst that has captured my attention, and prompted me to explain and hopefully bring to the attention of white South Africans what I term the pathology of white privilege, denial and racism in South Africa – a play on a lecture delivered by American keynote speaker, Tim Wise, entitled “The Pathology of White Privilege”. “Apartheid is over, these people need to get over it” – it is not uncommon to hear white South Africans say this or a variation of this sentence in referring to what is often termed the “the chip on black people’s shoulders” – the history of oppression under apartheid. Commentary informed by this very thinking surfaced again this weekend, with many white South Africans reducing the whole incident to simply a misunderstanding rather than a racial issue, bringing me to my core point of modern-day South African white privilege: denial. South Africa has a brutal history of oppression mostly perpetrated by white South Africans, it is only natural to want to quickly forget this segment of history, naturally; it is an uncomfortable part of our history. But to simply dismiss everything that is connected to this history, will not serve to improve racial relations in South Africa. White denial manifests itself in many ways but most telling is the vilification of corrective policies taken in post-Apartheid South Africa such as affirmative action (AA) and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). While indeed, the implementation of both AA and BEE leave much to be desired, white South Africans have gone beyond just criticising the difficulties related the implementation of these policies but have argued vociferously against their existence in a democratic South Africa. Which indicates to me that 1) white South Africa do not understand the true nature of systemic suffering that black people endured during apartheid – suffering that will most likely take decades to alleviate and 2) do not fully appreciate that much of the problems we continue experience in present-day South Africa are more connected to the Apartheid design more than anything else – and that solving such problems will take measures aimed at targeting the core principle of Apartheid; racial parity, or the lack thereof. So as a result, such policies are needed to affirm the previously and still disadvantaged black South Africans. Naturally, the implementation of such strategies will lead to positive discrimination of white South Africans even though as many white people often point out that not every white South African necessarily benefited from the system imposed by the previous government. The malign crafting of AA and BEE by white South Africans as this sinister and almost genocidal policy could be addressed if they understood its necessity, not everyone, particularly those (mostly black South Africans) without any networks of value established through generations of education and privilege – as with most white people, can “work their way up”. There is also a typical argument used in opposition to AA and BEE policies, white South Africans often argue that when white and black South Africans attend the same schools and universities they, on the basis of receiving the same education, become equal – nothing could be any further from the truth. Why? While attending the same university with their white counterparts, black South Africans are usually the first...
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