The words that escaped from Darren Scott's private life and crashed into the public realm via an argument in a bar are no unique perversion. For anyone with any doubts about the extent to which white racism not only spills over into the new order but also continues to reinvent itself the comments sections on news and analysis websites, spaces that enable public anonymity, make for dispiriting reading.
But with the exception of extreme figures like Steve Hofmeyer white racism is a passion that doesn't often speak its name in the public realm. The desire to hold out a manifestation of whiteness as a power to be obeyed, or an idea of whiteness as a norm to be conformed to, tends to cloak itself in appeals to the authority of wealth, expertise, the law and claims about the weight of the opinion and power of foreign investors, tourists and the 'international community'.
The paranoia so evident in the rush to silence public reflection on race is so intense that its even reached into the usually arcane world of academic discussion. When Rhodes philosopher Samantha Vice wrote a paper on the ethical burden of whiteness she found herself amidst a storm of astonishing hostility. When Stellenbosch philosopher Anton van Niekerk expressed some sympathy for Vice's arguments, he was assaulted.
This is all rather extraordinary given how peripheral most academic work is to the public sphere. Academic conversation often refers, with a self-deprecating smile, to an American study, perhaps apocryphal, that concluded that the average academic article was read once. If this study does actually exist its findings are not entirely surprising. Academic prose is often stolid and charmless and its far from unusual for academic writing to be more concerned with situating itself in a discourse with some currency in the academic world than in sincerely grappling towards some sort of comprehension of some aspect of the world.
But there are diamonds sparkling in the vast fields of academic dust and every now and then a paper is mined from the academy and thrust into the hurly burly of our increasingly fractious public sphere. In its response to Vice the F.W. de Klerk Foundation declared that dangerous ideas, even from the deepest reaches of provincial academia, must be resolutely opposed. The essential thrust of their argument was that: “A substantial proportion of whites cannot be described as being ‘privileged' at all. The vast majority have acquired whatever wealth they have through the same means as their counterparts throughout the rest of the world: through hard work and enterprise.”
Neither race nor racism are all about money. But the racialisation of wealth and poverty in South Africa remains stark enough for no discussion of these matters to be able to proceed without taking the realities of money into account. The fact that white claims to power are often masked as the claims of an economically competent elite whose particular interests coincide with the general interest compound this obligation.
Rhodes University, where Vice wrote her paper, is in Grahamstown. The town itself is named after John Graham, a colonial soldier, who, with what he called ‘a proper degree of terror’, drove twenty thousand Xhosa people from the area in 1812. Graham stole their cattle, burnt their gardens and killed their soldiers. Rhodes University is built on the site of Graham's garrison.
Today the municipality that governs Grahamstown is named in honour of Nxele Makana who, in 1819, led an attack on Graham’s garrison. He had six thousand soldiers with him and thousands of women and children behind the soldiers ready to resettle the land. But Makana was defeated, captured and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. After a year on the island he led an escape in which guards were over powered and a whaling boat captured to get the men to the shore. The boat capsized in the breakers and Makana drowned.
Many of Graham's soldiers, and the settlers that followed them, were poor people. Many of them may well have been made poor by the brutal enclosure of common lands in England. But here in South Africa they became white people and so, for most of them, and their descendents, hard work was usually redeemed. Whiteness here, as in other settler societies, had its own wage. For many black people work was as endlessly unredeemed as the labour of Sisyphus.
Today there are moments here and there where it could be said that the legacies of Graham and Makana have been brought together in a higher synthesis. But, on the whole, the colonial structure of Grahamstown remains strikingly and terribly evident. Racialised inequality is starkly obvious and is built into the physical structure of the town. These facts are not solely a hangover from the past. Evictions from farms turned into game reserves continue to drive people into shacks. And post-apartheid development on the part of the state has often taken an actively neo-apartheid form simply extending, rather undoing, the spatial logic of apartheid.
Of course there are some poor white people living in the township and there are black people living in the suburbs. But the average white person continues to live a life of comfort and security. The average black person is unemployed, living a life of stress and indignity, and without any real prospects of making a viable path towards a decent life.
Under these circumstances any assumption that white wealth and power is purely a consequence of white initiative and dedication to work is a denial of the history of racialised dispossession. It is this dispossession, and the systemic racism that followed it, that has so often enabled generations of white work to be redeemed in houses and degrees while generations of black work have so often led to life, often wage-less, in a shack or crumbling RDP house.
The F.W. de Klerk Foundation doesn't use the crude language of Darren Scott, but the racial denialism that they display in their sneering attempt to beat Vice's questioning back into submission is just as crude.
Questions about how to live in the world are not worked out in abstraction from the practice of being in the world. And being in the world is always a complicated business. But asking questions about things like power, privilege and the weight of history is essential if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. And, in our history, and, indeed, the history of much of the world, whiteness has been central to many of those mistakes.
Lead by Example
I take it, Mr. or Dr. Pithouse that you, as a white, will set an example for the rest of us? By this I mean sell off all your possessions that you "stole" from the blacks and give the proceeds back to them and most definitely resign your "undeserved" job in favour of an AA appointee.
Haven't you done so already in fact? Not! My, my. Clearly you are just another bleeding-heart pinko whose motto is: "Do as I say, not as I do."
Responding to Responses
I'm responding to your response.
Re wanting transformation, I would say that there are a lot of people in South Africa who want transformation. We may disagree what that looks like. I think negotiating some of this may be a way forward. There are some things that we need to widen our scope around though, all of us, in order to achieve this.
Firstly, you mention transformation based on our constitution. I'm going to point you to an article by Jane Duncan, which I think you posted a similar response to, perhaps there is something in there that deserves a re-read though. Our constitution is not free from the problems that pervade this debate about race and transformation: http://www.sacsis.org.za/site/article/741.1
The privileges Joe Slovo was talking about are captured in Richard's piece - and this one too - http://mg.co.za/article/2011-09-12-inherited-or-earned-advantage - they're a combination of material and symbolic privileges that have been historically developed in the colonial encounter and the continuation of Nazi racist supremacy in South Africa in the 1940's (did you know, many of the architects of apartheid studied in Germany in the 1930's and were heavily influenced by Hitler's policies and thinking?).
The perpetual fear is not only felt by white people in this country. And it is possible to live without the fear. In my opinion, this fear is also something that is manufactured in our society in its current structure as a way of perpetuating racism. I don't hold it against you, I see it as one of the symptoms of a country with a long history of structural and personal violence, a 'reaping the whirlwind'. I would also ask you to consider the fear that many black people live with constantly of being robbed, raped, attacked and stolen from without access to the kind of resources afforded by middle class privilege to be able to buy the high walls, security patrols and barbed wire we live with.
Mr White Average is not criminal, perhaps ignorant, very defensive, and as a function of structural and symbolic privilege trying to hold on to that privilege by muddying the waters. Here's some great satire that hopefully will make you laugh as much as it did me: http://www.hayibo.com/sa%E2%80%99s-50-million-racists-dutifully-feign-outrage-over-darren-scott-racism/?mc_cid=f8ef926f52&mc_eid=99e061d6a4 and http://www.hayibo.com/white-corporate-fraudsters-slam-racist-media-for-ignoring-them/
No, not singling out Mr White Average (and why not Mrs by the way), we're all complicit in this system. We all use it to some degree. However, as a group, at the moment white people STILL benefit more from our particular history than other groups in this country. Check the stats: http://www.sacsis.org.za/site/article/747.1
And, those rights, they're not unproblematic either. The right to property and ownership of property - well, refer back to the Jane Duncan article on the constitution for a better written more nuanced account than I could write here.
It is complicated, it is messy, this is the space we occupy. Reducing our lives to race is a function of the society we live in, because our society relies so heavily on the stories we've made up about it. We do need to revisit the unfortunate state of affairs, I agree. But not without acknowledging the realities of the impact of our history which Richard has tried to do. Perhaps it might be worth stepping away from the defense of whiteness and take a look at the arguments for their own sake?
Thank you for your reply and the opportunity to supply further insights.
“Our constitution is not free from the problems that pervade this debate about race and transformation”
The only people that are uncomfortable with the practical implications of the various principles that found their way into the Constitution, 1996 are the drivers of the racist and communist inspired NDR.
They inter alia do not voluntary respect the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary nor that of the Chapter 9 institutions that are supposed to safeguard our fragile and young democracy against destructive forces.
The SACP?ANC are on record - they want to “transform” the country into a one party dictatorship.
I think you will probably agree that this will be a major step backwards.
SA at the time agreed to build a multi-party open opportunity constitutional democracy with enshrined human rights from 1994 onwards and that is what we must do.
Nobody said that it will be easy and nobody knew just how hard it will be.
However, turning back is not a viable option.
And quite frankly, neither will it be necessary for an able government to amend the Constitution, 1996 before they can pursue rapid, positive and lasting social and economic transformation.
Only in communist countries everybody is theoretically equally poor because everybody chooses to be equally unproductive.
Face it squarely, there is no magic cure.
Inequalities will always exist in SA and most other countries, no matter how much social engineering or money one use to address this problem.
The ongoing NDR is unfortunately compounding the problem
“The privileges Joe Slovo was talking about are captured in Richard's piece - …. - they're a combination of material and symbolic privileges that have been historically developed in the colonial encounter.”
If we want to make progress we need to more clearly distinguish between rights and privileges.
Furthermore, inter alia sexism and racism were evolutionary imperatives that turned into a nightmare for current generations, and rightfully so one can add.
Unfortunately, the drivers of the NDR are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past.
They are more than willing to create millions of new victims.
Two wrongs do not make one right.
Thousands of working class white males and their families are already doomed to a life of poverty because they are banned from ever entering or re-entering the labour market by the racist labour laws and unethical cadre deployment, ugly nepotism and even uglier cronyism of the SACP intellectually misled ANC regime.
Do you have any workable suggestions on how they can or should effectively fend for themselves?
Vice reasons that they must be respectfully satisfied and quiet – do you agree with her?
This situation should imo somehow be remedied before the so-called coloureds of the WC and Indians of KZN are also irreversibly victimized.
The right to work and the other rights in the UN Universal Declaration of Human rights are not privileges.
These rights are in other words not the vague “material and symbolic privileges” that Vice, McKaiser, Van Niekerk, et al is so eager to give away on behalf of others.
I get the impression that they are experiencing acute bouts of cognitive dissonance because of their very very privileged positions and possibly because some of them are over and above historical factors, also the current beneficiaries of poorly contemplated and implemented AA.
If I was today an upward mobile white academic or public servant with a fixed income, job security and a pension fund, I most probably also would have felt ashamed.
Or where else does this personal luxury to reprimand all and sundry to do whatever need to be done emanates from?
But will these proponents of “white guilt” and “undue white privilege” also give their personal privileged positions up as many white males already did?
If so, offer them severance packages with the condition that they may never practice their chosen vocations ever again and if not, their bigotry needs to be exposed.
Furthermore, what give anyone the right to prescribe to others how he or she should feel or react to whatever is being done to him or her?
I think this represents the pinnacle of arrogance, let alone to publicly ridicule those that do not share your feelings at a particular point in time as emotionless.
Moreover, I believe that it is wrong to motivate people with negative emotions such as shame, guilt and fear.
How on earth do you expect individuals that did not do anything wrong to actually experience shame?
Who is bluffing who and for what reason(s)?
Sally Matthews said: “To be clear, I do not deny that many white people work very hard. Nor am I suggesting that everything every white person possesses has been acquired unjustly. Nor do I mean to suggest that only white people are guilty of exploiting or oppressing others.”
She should have completed her utterances by referring to the unfortunate impoverished white males that want to be productive but are unjustly disallowed to share as best as they can, in the spoils of the new SA.
“Mr White Average is not criminal, perhaps ignorant, very defensive, and as a function of structural and symbolic privilege trying to hold on to that privilege by muddying the waters.”
The only people that are ignorant and muddying the waters are the drivers of the NDR as well as their apologists that clearly live in ivory towers.
Please be more specific this time around.
What did you expect?
What is wrong with defending oneself against the racist, intolerant and aggressive NDR?
The late Prof Kader Asmal clearly understood something about the NDR that most people are oblivious to.
“(…did you know, many of the architects of apartheid studied in Germany in the 1930's and were heavily influenced by Hitler's policies and thinking?).”
Harping the past and casting aspersions in a generalised fashion to prove a point is not going to work.
Care to share the details such as whom these students were, when and where they studied in Germany and the actual proven influence these individuals exerted?
In spite of Hitler, Germany is most certainly nobody’s fool.
I can understand why Antjie Krog (Begging to be Black) at a late stage studied in Germany.
In any event, none of us are responsible or accountable for the actions of people that are dead and therefore cannot defend themselves.
All I know is that amongst others racial separation is not something that South-Africans dreamt up after 1848.
A balanced overview of our history will consider the meaning of the fact the SADF under the leadership of generals Jan Smuts and DH Pienaar were part of the Allied forces that aggressively drove the Axis forces out of Africa, unfortunately with loss of life.
“The perpetual fear is not only felt by white people in this country. And it is possible to live without the fear.”
I cannot feel or talk on behalf of others.
I repeat, no one can feel on behalf of anybody else unless you have a special gift in this regard?
“In my opinion, this fear is also something that is manufactured in our society in its current structure as a way of perpetuating racism.”
You are entitled to this opinion.
I however cannot disagree more.
It is a matter of life and death.
Between 25000 and 16000 people are murdered annually in SA since 1994.
30/100000 citicens are murdered in South-Africa with impunity and the international average is 7,6/100000.
In 2010/11, 154 sexual assaults and 44 murders were recorded daily.
There are literally hundreds of thousands murderers, robbers and rapists roaming freely amongst us.
I feel very sorry for amongst others the black woman and children as well as the farmers and their employees that cannot afford to buy security – the inept ANC regime is bluntly ignoring their plight.
In an ongoing effort to prevent genocide, Genocide Watch upgraded SA to level 6 in August 2011.
What more evidence do you need to realise that the perceived mostly non-violent white on black racism that is your primary concern, is not the cause of our most serious problems?
“But not without acknowledging the realities of the impact of our history which Richard has tried to do.”
Have you considered the possibility that you are actually lagging far behind.
Where I come from most white Safricans have long ago come to terms with our mostly unbecoming past.
They readily agree that the 1993 Interim Constitution already paved the way for the people of South Africa “to transcend the divisions and strife of the past, which generated gross violations of human rights, the transgression of humanitarian principles in violent conflicts and a legacy of hatred, fear, guilt and revenge. These can now be addressed on the basis that there is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimisation.”
Why on earth will somebody want to repeat the mistakes of the past?
Why are Vice et al going out of your way to perpetuate this “legacy of hatred, fear, guilt and revenge”?
The majority of productive Safricans are imo doing their level best to stay in SA and to put it mildly, survive the less than favourable circumstances.
Others are harping the past, rationalise or live in total denial about the nature and threat of the NDR.
I for one prefer to focus on the future and not to abuse the human defence meganisms at my disposal.
Richard, though your comments are leaning to the far left, "discrediting" whiteness, it says very little or nothing about the progression of "blackness" when they took over the reigns, even in African countries where they had it all along. Will the latters failings always be blamed on colonial whiteness indefinately and when will they start being held accountable ? Without accountability, comes no responsibility
I feel the truth of cooperation and future success for both black and white is somewhere to the middle ground and i therefore cant go with your reasoning or logic. It is far too one sided, ignoring a complexity of other historical data
Promoting the Racist NDR
Deriving dire conclusions from the utterances of an intoxicated person is not something one expects from an academic.
Moreover, my impression is that few people are denying anything and most want transformation as per the Constitution, 1996.
However, the National Democratic Revolution is threatening to spoil everything for everybody.
Joe Slovo wrote extensively about the NDR.
He said inter alia:-
“The basic objectives of liberation cannot be achieved without undermining the accumulated political, social, cultural and economic white privileges.
The moulding of our nation will be advanced in direct proportion to the elimination of these accumulated privileges.
The winning over of an increasing number of whites to the side of democracy is an essential part of our policy.”
I wonder what “privileges” he had in mind.
"The average black person is unemployed, living a life of stress and indignity, and without any real prospects of making a viable path towards a decent life."
Why does one encounter this unacceptable state of affairs in all over African?
Why would people such as the late Joe Slovo want to hold productive and successful people accountable for the failure of others?
"But the average white person continues to live a life of comfort and security."
We actually live in perpetual fear behind high walls, electrified fences and other costly security arrangements and you will have a hard time convincing most people that this is unnecessary - why are you holding it against us?.
furthermore, I get the impression that you, Julius Malema, Samantha Vice, Eusebius McKaiser, Anton Van Niekerk and Desmond Tutu et al want to compound the already unacceptable situation.
You want the “criminal” Mr White Average to feel guilty in a quest the further your personal and political objectives, whatever that may be.
You are actually the neo-racists of the post-apartheid SA and not the Darren Scott’s of the country that don’t go around murdering, robbing and raping the members of other communities with impunity.
Are you deliberately promoting white guilt to promote further revenge and possibly financial restitution?
The abuse of so-called “white guilt” and “white privilege” as a basis for restitution in SA is questionable.
Illegal hate speech, discrimination against minorities and black on white violent crime in SA is much worse that any perceived white racism in the country.
It is clearly the white minority that desperately needs protection and restitution and not the other way round.
It will for example be a sad day when poor white males that are already banned from the labour market without a sunset clause must pay restitution to amongst others black millionaires.
"But asking questions about things like power, privilege and the weight of history is essential if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past."
Why are you excluding rights and only mention so-called privilege and power?
I also wonder which privileges you are referring to.
Furthermore, one needs to distinguish between rights and privileges if you are serious about avoiding the racist mistakes of the past.
SA tragically lacks a national consensus on what is regarded as rights and what is privileges.
None of the rights in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is negotiable including Articles 17 and 23 which is self-explanatory.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
One wonders whether the drivers of the racist NDR realise that the Constitution, 1996 is protecting the banal rights and special immunities of traditional leaders and powerful black kings?
The time to revisit this unfortunate state of affairs is drawing nearer.