Racism Lives. Why Have We Stopped Fighting?

While sitting in a queue at the Hillbrow police station yesterday morning, I started chatting to the woman next to me – a young African woman, there to lay a charge against her boss – he had slapped her that morning.  ‘For no good reason’, she said.  She had done nothing wrong.  And when she had asked him why he had hit her, his response was that he was ‘stressed out’ because his coffee shop (in an upmarket part of Braamfontein) was not busy enough.  She couldn’t see how his lack of customers related to her being slapped.  She thought that it was ‘unfair’.  What had made her decide to come to the police station was that this was not the first time it had happened to her.  He had hit her before, and she had ‘done nothing’.  And, she had seen him do ‘worse things’ to other workers who were ‘not brave enough’ to report him to the police.  He had once thrown hot porridge in the face of another woman worker.  But this woman was ‘too afraid to do anything’.  I was getting more and more upset as she spoke, shaking my head in disbelief.  I asked whether her boss was white.  ‘Yes,’ she said, adding, ‘but I decided to come because these people don’t know that the laws have changed and that white people cannot do whatever they like to Black people anymore.  The law is now on our side.’  I nodded and smiled approvingly, supporting her decision out loud.  Silently I hoped really hard that the police here would take her charge seriously, that her case wouldn’t be lost in a pile of forgotten papers, that she wouldn’t go back to further abuse from her boss for laying the charge, that she wouldn’t lose her job, and that the law would work in her favour (she did not have a contract of employment).

I was also silently seething at the fact that such things still happen today.  That white people can actually still abuse Black people and get away with it in post-apartheid South Africa.  I also felt a really deep sense of sadness that these young African women, dependent on a white man for their survival, are still forced to live and work in fear – measuring their behaviour according to the potential reactions of their white master.  I couldn’t help but ask myself whether this young woman would have accepted a hiding from her boss if there had been ‘good reason’.  And what would have constituted ‘good reason’?  I also wished that she was not so alone in her brave stand…

Well past our first decade into democracy and we still seem to operate by a ‘reason’ that protects the inherited ‘superiority’ of whites.  Everyday I’m confronted with another experience that leaves me asking, ‘What makes white people think they can act like this?’  From the young white girl who thinks it’s cool to call the old Black woman behind the bread counter at the Pick ‘n Pay in Killarney ‘my squeeza’, to the white kugel walking out of the CNA in Rosebank who screams at the young Black cashier when the alarm goes off as she passes through the security scanners at the exit (as if it’s his fault that the machine thinks that she could have stolen something), to the young white man in Brixton who thinks it’s hilarious to tell me (a complete stranger to him) that I have ‘Bin-Laden ore’ (ears), to the white neighbours who have only ever spoken to me to ask if I can make samoosas or whether ‘that lovely curry smell’ emanates from my flat, to the white farmer who still punishes his Black workers through torture and humiliation, and the far more brutal and savage acts by whites against Black people that the media picks up on every now and then – the list could go on – is an undeserving confidence and air of superiority held by most white South Africans (chips on their shoulders, I can hear my parents say) that they seem to have about themselves and everything they speak about no matter how inane or unacceptable they/their words might be.

While our laws and constitution speak so beautifully of commitments to non-racialism and equality, our everyday realities cannot help but remind us that apartheid’s legacy, etched deep in the minds, hearts and souls of Black and white South Africans, lives on as we each try to make our selves in communities still shaped by the ways in which apartheid made people think and behave.  (Now just tweaked a little to fit the new talk of individual success and entrepreneurialism.)

The young white girl in Killarney just does not conceive of the possibility that she could be being disrespectful, and the truth is she will probably never know that she is – because none of us will ever tell her; instead we’re more likely to smile and commend her for trying.  How I wished, on that day in Rosebank, that the cashier would demand to search the contents of the kugel’s bag.  Instead, he apologised humbly, not even thinking that the woman could have stolen something.  On that day in Brixton, my obvious irritation and anger at the guy only served to make him smirk some more.  And all I could do was wish that I was bigger, stronger…  While I bitch about my neighbours all the time, I’ve never given more than a sarcastic response (at best) to their annoying questions.  And how many times have we been shocked at how white criminals manage to escape punishment and censure for their acts against Black people?  What’s sad is how we’ve all just come to accept as ‘natural’ the racism that continues to define the ways in which we interact with each other everyday.  Somehow it’s become ‘easier’ not to openly challenge the everyday acts that mock the myth of the rainbow nation – the racist realities that we confront everyday airbrushed out of its preferred pictures of pretty people of all colours spending their money happily together on pleasures previously reserved for whites.  Shouldn’t we be stronger now to fight such fights?  But rainbow reconciliation has demanded that we give up some of our fighting spirit, to choose our fights carefully, to hold our tongues, to wait for appropriate moments that hardly ever come, to be understanding of ‘where white people are coming from’, and to ‘allow them to try’, in the hope that someday I too will be able to be part of this picture, this dream of individual success and wealth.  We forget that this was not our dream to begin with.  Yesterday morning at Hillbrow police station, I was both angered and inspired – by a young, Black sister with the guts to risk the little that she has to fight again.  Fighting, I can only hope that she is able to live again.  It is better than to die dreaming (and working for) their dream.

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15 Comments

  1. This is a powerful post. The questions you raise are to be confronted. Still.

    Thank you for writing I will be looking in regularly from now.

    We deserve more hey.

    Peace and struggle,
    Ridwan

  2. Strong words and emotions – justifiably. Just beware of generalisations. What do you expect of a racial group that has been removed from all others for 45 years and brainwashed into believing they are superior? It doesn’t make these actions right, but it may serve to explain them a little. Change takes time. And maybe if the rest of SA were to explain to the ignorant whites that certain things are offensive or disrespectful, they may learn something and not repeat their offenses.

    Maybe we all have to put a little more effort into understanding each other.

  3. Beenz I see you making an effort to confront. That is admirable. But what generalizations do you speak of here?

    Is this not somewhat dismissive of the points raised.

    Also, should we not be concerned that Blacks not be put into service of whiteness when we ask that they point out offences?

    Where is the responsibility context? I mean it has been a longtime in coming for sure, but should whites not know what is offensive, and more so, racist by now?

    Ridwan

  4. hi beenz & ridwan

    i think the feeling i was trying to express in this piece was that of having had enough of the generalisations made about me by white people everyday of my life, and the hurt and pain that we’ve just come to accept as ‘natural’ precisely to allow for the racism of whites to continue because ‘they know no better’. off course, i accept that there are always exceptions to the rule – some of my best friends are white – LOL – but i feel that censoring my feelings in this case, in an effort to understand where white people are coming from, is precisely what has allowed us to just celebrate the rainbow without apprehending the chimera that it is. here, i must agree with ridwan.

    thanks for your support.

  5. Check this out. Employer ties man to cow as punishment. And in this case, the guy hasn’t laid a charge against his employer.

  6. I think the reason many people do not complain is that unemployment is high and people are afraid of losing their jobs. But this woman was gatvol, and probably doesn’t care if she loses her job, because she no longer wants to work for a boss like that. And complaining to the police is very public spirited of her — it probably won’t help her much, but it could help others who replace her. She should probably also take the case to a labour court.

    But something I want to ask — what on earth is this “Squeezel” thing?

    Where does it come from?

    A few years ago a woman was mugged up by the railway line across the road from us. We called the cops, and a neighbour came to sympathise, and both the cops and the neighbour kept calling her “Squeezel”, which wasn’t her name, and was nothing like it. Friends of mine once had a dog called Caesar, and they sometimes called him “Squeezel” for short, but that was the only time I had heard it before. Also, the cops wouldn’t open a case docket about the mugging, and wouldn’t take a statement — said there was no point unless they caught the guy — but how could they know they had cought the guy unless they had a statement? Perhaps they thought it would make their statistics look bad.

    But “Squeezel”? What is that? And where does it come from?

  7. […] now laaitie has mentioned the use of the word, or at least the similar word “squeeza”: What makes […]

  8. To my knowledge it means ‘sister-in-law’. Eupsa, ke bolela ganyane fela – cause I’m an ignorant whitey. Lol.

    This is such a friggin amazing country, and its exactly our diversity that makes it so intruiging to me. We have the stuck-in-the-past Boers, the newly emerged people of colour (white is a colour, btw) and the ‘I’m-so-liberal’ English (yeah, right!), and everyone else in between. Wiping out the past and starting afresh was never going to be a walk in the park, but it will be so worth it when we finally accomplish our goal of a unified SA! And lets face it, guys, we need each other. We’re family!

    Laaitjie, I agree with not censoring your feelings- even if the honesty is sometimes ‘eina’! Political correctness holds us back, if anything. And I’m glad some of your best friends are white – theres hope for you yet! Lol.

  9. Powerful post as always laaitie,Superiority and inferiority complex will take a very long time to get rid of in South Africa not when most whites still expect blacks to be understanding when they continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Your examples show that we still have a long way to go. My grand ma still believes that ”setlhare sa motho ke legoa” (for blacks to succeed they need a white person) . Blacks have made every effort to understand whites yet they are sitting in their comfort zones and only complain when their superiority is threatened.

  10. Hey laaitie – excellent blog, whither the post-August posts?
    On this subject, we’re broadly in agreement – we should never rest on our ‘rainbow’ laurels/rhetoric, and wilfully blind ourselves to the perpetuation of the kind of behaviour you describe. But I can’t believe you don’t see the almost comic irony of saying, “whites make terrible racial generalisations”.

    I’m pretty horrified by the way some of the white people I see, even white people I know, treat people who aren’t like them. I’ve lost a number of friends from trying to point out this kind of behaviour, this ‘I’m not racist but…’ hypocrisy. But I also have white friends who are hyper-conscious of all this, who find it very difficult to even approach the subject of the differences for which ‘race’ is so often casual shorthand, without going red in the face, stammering and stuttering their way on well-worn paths through the conversational minefield.

    We need to be able to have these conversations without fear, and confront these problems, these questions; but we also need to be ever-vigilant that we are not echoing the blanket prejudices we seek to condemn.

  11. lol white power! kkk all day my niggas ftw wuz good! white power lmao jk

  12. west side till we die niggas and white be the shit home boy love that fat white booty my nigga

  13. very nice speech it makes my thoughts on racism become more pensive and the immature child on top of me should stop doing that before hets hurt by someone but reletive to the main idea i hope these racial acts could stop not just between whites on blacks but the way we think of white people asall of them being bad not all people are like that and not all men like that in point of view the writer contains some racism as well

  14. people will always be racist in someway they might not even know it!

  15. How can you not mention misogyny and patriarchy in a post about how a man consistently abuses and exploits his female staff?


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