While I dream of a world without difference or rather, social acceptance without identity stratification – I am forced to live, think and act with the bounds of my reality and the material conditions with which I am confronted as consequence of these conditions and realities. This reality informed my need to write this piece, my environment and material conditions? Post-Apartheid South Africa, a space entirely unique to anywhere else in the world, a site of ongoing, vexing contestation between the dream of non-racialism and the realities synonymous with the black South African condition.
Disclaimer: I hate myself for what I’m about to do because I subscribe to certain views and my espousal of these views requires absolutely no explanation for anyone’s pleasure, on my part. But, I’m going to explain my preoccupation race, racism and my identity as a black South African man.
My preoccupation with race is rooted in one simple fact; I cannot afford to pretend that racism does not exist, in the same way it would be nonsensical and disingenuous to expect women to turn a blind eye to systemic sexism, misogyny and chauvinism.
My admittedly newfound pride in my blackness and the response blackness is generally met with is precisely why I had to write this; it’s the reason I cannot post photos of puppies, kittens and the plight of rhinos on my Facebook/Twitter/Instagram pages – instead it serves as an anthology (of sorts) of my experiences and the experiences of those who share my complexion. This adoption of pride in my own discriminable identity creates an acute awareness of any and all subsequent discrimination; be it directed at me or those like me.
While my relative socio-economic privilege distances me from the brunt of the realities of black life in South Africa, my identity demands my awareness of the fact that the pursuit of racial unity in South Africa is futile, until such time as the people living in abject socio-economic hardship aren’t all black.
Personal experience aside, it has become very apparent that the prevailing sentiment among white people, at least here in South Africa, is that black people and other oppressed and disadvantaged people of colour should just get over it. There is a further prevailing sentiment among white people that only the most heinous acts perpetrated against black people constitute racism, nothing has ever made less sense.
The notion that we as black people should simply dismiss our racialised history and look on to future still underpinned by white supremacist ideals that black people are expected to blinded accept is racist, for many obvious reasons.
The act of policing and prescribing the manner in which black people should express themselves stinks of arrogance. It is an assertion that dictates to black people that knowledge of their pain and experiences does not belong in the public domain but should instead be internalized, so as the spare the fragile privileged from guilt, further implicit in this prescription is that there is nothing wrong with the glaring colour stratified wealth disparity – almost as if the average South African’s state of being is the black man’s/woman’s rightful place and that disadvantage should in fact be a part of the black condition. It is an argument for the perpetuation of the status quo and the fact is that the legacy of Apartheid prevails today.
This reality of the continued presence of the legacy of Apartheid era institutional racism is dismissed every time the conversation rears it’s head, however this dismissal itself is racist as it then follows that because the latent effects of Apartheid are supposedly a figment of the collective black imagination – the current state and realities of black people are entirely the fault of black people. It is a belief that implicitly states that, even the black woman who wakes at 5pm ahead of a 2 hour commute to raise white children in leafy suburbs – while she’s not there to tend to the needs of her own, either lacks the agency to emancipate herself from her own socio-economic plight or that she does not possess the requisite amount of intellect or enterprise. This does not only highlight obvious arrogance and racism but it is fundamentally rooted in bigoted supremacist beliefs.
Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe then, white people who tell us to, “get over it”, just live in sincere and blissful ignorance of the realities of their own domestic workers and “garden boys”. However, unfortunately this cannot be true – no white person in South Africa would, given the choice, spend the rest of their lives walking in the shoes of the average black South African woman living in one of South Africa many townships. This is indicative of white people’s (somewhat jaded, but existent) knowledge of the circumstances of average black people. This is the privilege of privilege, I guess; the ability to hypothesize situations of hardship that for many are a reality. Privilege does an incredible job of making you willfully oblivious to the world you’ve helped create – privilege unchecked, pollutes your frame of reference. While my relative privilege distances me from some of the realities of black people in South Africa, I am in most ways the sum total of my historical reality, as we all are.
White people will have you feel unduly preoccupied with race, or as Eusebius McKaiser puts it, “race obsessed”, with the constant, “get over it” retorts. As I’ve highlighted above that this is rooted firmly in the strongest sense of arrogance and privilege but what white people need to realise is that the denial of privilege only perpetuates racial tensions and when you live in a world where your body is a site of hatred and discrimination and you’re told to, “get over it”, the outcome will never be peaceful.
So should you ever find yourself telling an angry black to, “get over it”, know that your actions are a culmination of unchecked privilege, ignorance and or the most concentrated form of arrogance. So until such time as you can see yourself employing a white domestic worker or, “garden boy”, your contribution to the race conversation will not be noted.