Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “racism”

Privilege and prejudice: the dangers of binary opposition

Someone posted this graphic on Facebook this morning, and like many such things it paints a simplistic picture of the world in terms of binary opposition. It portrays a binary opposition between privilege and oppression, and presents them as mutually exclusive.

privilegeIt’s a lie, and a dangerous one.

Believing such a lie can lead to stereotyping, and stereotyping can lead to prejudice, and prejudice can lead to bigotry, and in some cases it can lead to genocide.

Consider, for example, a child born to rich parents.

Such a child is privileged in enjoying adequate food, housing and clothing, and probably gets a better education than most children.

I don’t think one could deny that the child is privileged.

But the child is living in Germany in 1938, and its parents are Jewish. As a result, the child is bullied at school. Can one say that bullying is not a form of oppression, because the child is privileged, and its problems therefore cannot arise from oppression? I find that a difficult concept, a very difficult concept.

Or look at an example closer to home, for South Africans anyway.

Consider Bram Fischer.

In South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s he was a white Afrikaner male, the most privileged class of all in  that period. He was the son of a judge and the grandson of a prime minister, and his wife was the niece of another prime minister. He was a lawyer, one of the most privileged occupations. So there can be no doubt that he was privileged.

He was also a communist, and after the passing of the Suppression of Communism Act in 1950 communists were oppressed in South Africa. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for promoting the aims of communism, and though he escaped he was recaptured and was only released a fortnight before his death, because he was dying.

Bram Fischer was both privileged and oppressed.

Perhaps one reason that such binary opposition concepts are not difficult is media spin. The media love to promote stereotypes, and to put metaphorical black hats and white hats on people.

Perhaps in my old age I’m getting a bee in my bonnet about media spin. Is it actually getting worse, or is it just that I am getting more and more aware of it, and more obsessed by it?

Another example, now that it is an election year in the US, is the stereotyping of “Evangelicals”. We are told that US Evangelicals are divided — they don’t know whether to vote for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. It seems inconceivable, to the media at least, that US Evangelicals might just possibly vote for someone else. You’ve heard of Islamophobia, but now there seems to be a growing Evangelicalophobia.

If you’ve been conned into believing the media stereotype of Evangelicals, please read this: So What, Then, Is “American Evangelicalism?”

If the media spin has led you to become prejudiced, or even bigoted about Evangelicals, print it out and read it daily until you are cured.

Another example of the binary opposition mentality surfacing is the recent South African debate about racism. There is no doubt that there has been a lot of racism in South Africa — the system of apartheid could not have lasted as long as it did if there hadn’t been racism, at least among white voters.

But I also believe that there is less racism now than there was. I found this article quite interesting, as it seems to indicate that we are less racist than some of our neighbours, as shown in the accompanying map:

racism10

Racism, though diminishing, has been around since before the end of apartheid, and some of the racists are quite vociferous. The white ones have mainly surfaced in the comments sections of online newspapers, where you see them in all their ugliness. The black ones mainly seem to surface on radio talk shows. At least that is where I have mainly encountered them, though if you look and listen carefully you can see that is usually the same people phoning in to the radio station, and the same people commenting on the article today as were commenting last week. They also appear sometimes on social media like Twitter, where I generally become aware of them though the chorus of disapproval of something that one of them has said.

Sometimes reaction against racism tends to promote stereotyping of the “All Xs are racist” or “They’re playing the race card again” kind, and that can lead to more binary opposition thinking. But we don’t have to go down that road. You can find a simple test for your own level or racism here: How racist are you?

Boolean algebra and logic with their simple opposition of True and False can be useful in many fields, such as electronics and computing, but in the field of human behaviour and human characteristics and human relationships, they can lead to some very distorted thinking.

 

Racism and the #ZumaMustFall movement

A few days ago I suggested that the #ZumaMustFall movement is predominantly middle class, at the moment at least, because Zuma’s latest blunder had its most immediate effect on the middle class. Unemployed people living in informal settlements won’t be complaining about the increased cost of their next overseas holiday because of the fall in the value of the Rand. When it hits the petrol price and taxi fares the working class might begin to sit up and take notice, but that will be sufficiently long after the blunder for the connection to be less obvious – it will take some populist rhetoric from the EFF for that to happen.

Also, the appointment of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister has stopped the slide for the moment, even if it hasn’t restored the status quo ante.

Comments on the #ZumaMustFall movement have also revealed a lot of racism. As one commenter put it Why I didn’t march or chant #zumamustfall — Medium:

The #zumamustfall bandwagon has perpetuated a political discourse that troubles me. Subtle and, at times, overt racism has trumped good intentions. Zuma’s ability to lead this country, while questionable, does not give us the liberty to spout racist rhetoric. I’ve heard people commenting on black people’s inability to lead this country; that whites would do it better. This suggestion repulses me.

And the following exchange on Twitter shows another aspect of this racism:

Zwelinzima Vavi Retweeted charles modisane

Correction it’s us who organised the march & all SAfricans joined. Must we cancel if whites join or chase them away?

Zwelinzima Vavi added,

In this case, there appears to have been a misunderstanding. The #ZumaMusFall marches took place on 16 December, which was also a day on which some people gathered at the Voortrekker Monument, and some people there were displaying the old flag of apartheid South Africa. At least some people, like the Tweeter quoted above, thought the photo was taken on the #ZumaMustFall march, and was criticising Zwelinzima Vavi for apparently associating himself with such people.

We live in a society in which people are different in many different ways. Race, culture, class and religion all contribute to our “identity” and what makes use different from one another. “Racism” is what happens when people make “race” the primary and most significant characteristic, and when they interpret all the other differences in terms of race, and especially when they think that that overrides all the things we have in common.

I once had a friend whom I had known for a fairly short time. We grew up in different parts of the country, in different cultures. He was black, I was white. He was Xhosa, I was English. He was from the Eastern Cape, I was from Natal and what is now Gauteng. We were both Christian. When we went to England to study, and found ourselves in a foreign culture, we realised how much more we had in common: we had grown up under the same sky, under the same oppressive government, we were homeboys. I’ve written about these things more fully here: What is African? Race and identity | Khanya

Zulma2The piece I quoted above, about why the writer did not take part in the #ZumaMustFall march, goes on to mention “white privilege” as a factor. “White privilege” is something that is often misunderstood. Many white people say things like “Apartheid ended more than 20 years ago, we are all equal now. If anything white people are discriminated against in things like affirmative action.”

And it is true that we now have a non-racial constitution. There are no longer any legal privileges attached to being white, and the constitutional court is there as a watchdog.

But twenty years after the end of apartheid, inequalities persist, for example in education. Indeed, one of the criticisms of Zuma and the ANC government is that it has not done enough to redress these inequalities and to improve education. Towards the end of apartheid, the previous National Party government came up with a scheme to allow formerly all-white schools to decide their own admission policies, and admit pupils of other races. When several of them did so, the NP govvernment hastily privatised the schools.

The result was that middle-class black pupils were admitted to formerly all white schools, and that has persisted. But what was the result? White pupils were privileged to meet black middle-class children. But black working-class kids in the townships continued to go to all black schools. So twenty years later, cultural and class barriers remain.

To understand the effect of the cultural barriers still perpetuated by white privilege, please read this article, by someone who understands both cultures: How Mainstream Media Unknowingly Helps The #ANC Use #Zuma As Its Racial Jesus |:

Jacob Zuma – the person and the president, the body that is depicted visually and the figure that is related to politically – is the terrain on which South Africa’s race issues have played themselves out in weird and telling ways. Without realising it, mainstream media has done the ANC a huge favour in playing up the DA’s “Zuma is corrupt” trope because as well-intentioned and truthful as it may be, what it’s done is exacerbate the friction among the races – especially between black and white people – because white people do not know how to level an insult so it lands where it’s intended. This is because colonialism and apartheid skewed racial relations.

Protest against Facebook’s racism

Quite a number of people that I know on Facebook are not happy about Facebook’s racism, when they offered a French flag to cover one’s profile picture and urged people to Change your profile picture to support France and the people of Paris.

Lebanese Flag, posted on Facebook by Bruce Henderson

Lebanese Flag, posted on Facebook by Bruce Henderson

After the news that more than 120 people had been killed in terrorist attacks in the city, many people did change their profile pictures, but I and several others did not. It was not because we do not find the violence reprehensible, or that we do not sympathise with the victims. But we wondered why Facebook had not offered a similar option with the Lebanese flag the day before, when similar attacks had taken place in Beirut.

On Saturday a cousin’s husband posted a Lebanese flag (a cousin on the Hannan side of the family, in case anyone wants to know), and said the following:

Bruce Henderson

14 November at 12:08 ·

Today we see all the outpouring of sympathy for people I. Paris, but when will the western news puppets remember that on Thursday 41 people were killed in Beirut. Or is Lebanon not enough of a “friendly” nation. If you are gonna pray for Paris, remember Lebanon too. Terrorism is terrorism.

In the USA there has recently been a sustained attack by some people against the idea that all lives matter (if you don’t believe me, just Google “All lives matter”). And Facebook, by offering this option in one case, but not the other, appears to be part of this trend. In Facebook’s view, if Lebanese lives matter at all, they matter a lot less than French lives.

#BlackLivesMatter ? Not to Facebook

#BlackLivesMatter ? Not to Facebook

Earlier in the year, 147 students were victims of a terrorist massacre in Kenya — more than in Paris. Facebook never suggested that people change their profile picture to support the people of Kenya, nor did they offer a Kenyan flag to make it easy for people to do so.

So someone posted the graphic on the right. Not quite fair, I think, because Facebook did not offer the option of posting any of those flags. If it had, maybe more people would have posted them.

Similar events have also taken place in Nigeria. At one time there was a hashtag on Twitter #bringbackourgirls but Facebook did not offer a Nigerian flag either.

Like and share this on Facebook if you are not happy with Facebook's racism.

Like and share this on Facebook if you are not happy with Facebook’s racism.

And then someone else posted this graphic on Facebook, obviously trying to do what Facebook has refused to do.

If you don’t like Facebook’s racism, why not like and share one or more of these on Facebook, whether you have covered your profile picture with a French flag or not.

 

Charleston massacre: a mirror of our conflicted society?

Last week, as most people will know, a man called Dylann Roof was arrested and charged with murder for shooting several people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

The killings and the reaction to them, show something of the strange kind of society we live in. A comment that a friend posted on Facebook seems to encapsulate it:

Charleston killer says “I almost didn’t go through with it, because they were so nice to me.” It is very hard to know what emotion is appropriate when one hears this. I wish Roof could have been exposed to these parishioners of Emanuel a bit earlier in his life, in which case we might never have been reading about him at all.

Lord, have mercy!

Mass murders of this sort seem to have become so common in the USA that they no longer make front-page news, or have an impact on social media in South Africa. The news of Jacob Zuma’s question time in parliament and the Roman Pope’s encyclical on the environment seemed to provoke much more comment.

RoofDThe killing in South Carolina did spark off some discussion in South Africa because the man accused of the murders, Dylann Roof, appeared in a picture sporting two flags that represent racist regimes of the past — South Africa before 1994, and Ian Smith’s UDI Rhodesia. That seems to indicate that he regarded white racism in southern Africa as a source of inspiration. So that throws the spotlight on South African white racism too.

The question of why he did it, and how you describe it has become a talking point. Was he a terrorist? Was he a lone loony? Was he mentally disturbed? Was it a “hate crime”? These questions, and the answers that people suggest, become a mirror of our society.

In South Africa we might say that he went te kere.

“Going te kere” is perhaps a strange expression, because it can mean anything from a parent giving a teenager a bollocking for staying out too late to mass murder. But “going te kere” means snapping, losing one’s temper, doing one’s nut. And the comment attributed to him at the beginning of this article indicates that he didn’t actually go te kere. He didn’t lose control. He had to force himself  to carry out the killings that he had planned to do beforehand. The people were so nice to him that he had to deliberately suppress the temptation to be diverted from the task he had set himself, to repay love with hatred. In that sense, yes, it was a “hate crime”. But if that is so, it was not a crime inspired by an emotion of hate, but rather by a cold calculating effort of will, a dedication to an ideology of racial hatred.

Does this make his actions those of a social misfit, a lone wolf, someone so at odds with the values of society that he must be seen as a social menace, to be locked away?

I think that in many ways he is a reflection of the values of society. US President Barack Obama does the same thing as Dylann Roof is accused of doing, not as a once off attempt, but every week, sending out drones to kill people. He is not going te kere. It is a cold, calculated deliberate act. It is something that permeates society from top to bottom.

If we dismiss Dylann Roof’s actions as the acts of a madman, a social misfit, someone mentally disturbed, we can comfort ourselvs with the thought that we aren’t like that. There are people like us and there are people like him, and we are better off without people like him. But that is just the kind of thinking that drove him to do what he is alleged to have done.

All we can really say is, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

GunCont2Such events also seem to provoke strange American rants about gun control. Graphics like those on the right start appearing on Facebook and other places on the web, and people rant about the evils of gun control.

I must confess that I don’t understand their point, and especially the point of images like the one of smashed cars. One would assume, from these pictures, that they think traffic control is as evil as gun control, that they are asking for the repeal of all traffic laws. I suppose the difference is that the US Constitution doesn’t guarantee people the right to own and drive cars.

GunCont1But if you don’t object to traffic control, why object to gun control? They are actually very similar. I simply cannot understand why people apparently put up with one, and strenuously object to the other.

In a way that is incidental to the question of mass murder, except that whenever there is an incident of mass murder by shooting, the gun control freaks seem to come out of the woodwork. And in this case it is perhaps stranger still, because it seems that one of the charges against Dylann Roof is that he was in illegal possession of a firearm, which suggests that there is already a certain amount of gun control, at least in Chartleston, South Carolina.

This event is not something exceptional. It is something that the President of the USA does regularly and frequently with drones strikes. It is something that members of our South African Police Service did at Marikana, showing how little we have been transformed since the time of the apartheid state that Dylann Roof apparently admired. Transformation is something we talk about, but don’t often see.

So these murders are not the exceptional acts of a madman; they are a reflection of fallen human nature, a nature that we all share. And if that were the end of the story, there would be little hope for any of us. When we look at Dylann Roof, we cannot condemn him as an exception, and distance ourselves from him as if we were not like that. We pray before receiving holy communion, recalling that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, “of whom I am first.” I am the first, not Dylann Roof, not Barack Obama, not Vladimir Putin, not Jacob Zuma, not Adolf Hitler. I am the first.

But fallen human nature is not the last word, and we can catch a glimpse of transformed human nature in the response of the families and survivors of the church shooting A Lesson on Forgiveness from the Families of the Charleston Shooting Victims- ‘We Forgive Him’:

The victim’s kins [sic] spoke to the killer and did something that most people would not have been able to do less than 48 hours of their loved ones murder- which was forgive Dylann.

Viewers watched as one, by one, sisters, children and grandchildren of all victims extended an olive branch from the depths of their souls, while they each forgave their late loved ones’ killer

Lord have mercy.

Apartheid and racism in children’s literature

A couple of years ago I reviewed a book on Apartheid and racism in children’s literature, and commented on how I had tried to deal with that theme in a book I had written, Of wheels and witches.

wheelscovSince my book has now been published, I thought it might be good to link it with the blog post that deals with how I tried to deal with those themes in writing it. If you’re interested in reading it, you can get a free 20% sample at Smashwords, with the option of downloading the whole thing if you haven’t already been bored by it.

There is at least one review of it on Good Reads here, and I hope others may be moved to post reviews of it there or elsewhere, either before or after reading the linked post on apartheid in children’s literature.

There’s one other thing.

Good Reads has lists of books of various types, and there didn’t seem to be any list for children’s or young adult books set in southern Africa, so I created such a list, and added this and a couple of other books to it. Please feel free to add more books to the list, and to vote for this book if you liked it, or for others in that category that you have liked. Please add it to any other lists on Good Reads that you think it may belong to.

 

Racism in Pietersburg

Thirty years ago I was visiting a then-disadvantaged (now previously-disadvantaged) university, the University of the North at Sovenga, near Pietersburg (now Polokwane).

It was one of the “tribal colleges” founded in pursuance of the Extension of University Education Act No 45 of 1959. This act made “it a criminal offence for a non-white student to register at a hitherto open university without the written consent of the Minister of Internal Affairs” (Lapping 1986: 184).

It also “provided for the establishment of a series of new ethnically-based institutions for Blacks, together with separate universities for Coloureds and Indians”.

The University of the North was one of those creations of apartheid, but in conversation with a couple of lecturers I learnt how it bit back at its creators.

Extract from my diary for 13 May 1984

After lunch I had a long chat with one of the churchwardens and another bloke who were lecturers at the university. One of them told me that the presence of the university had made a big difference to the attitude of the whites in Pietersburg. The whites had always insisted that a black man get off the pavement when a white man came along, and if blacks did not move into the gutter, the whites would elbow them off.

That all changed when the university started. One group of students, who were karate experts, went to town and walked down the street, and when some whites tried to elbow them off, they remonstrated with them, and were attacked for their pains, but were able to give as good as they got, and were charged with assault. They were defended by a lecturer in the law faculty, who asked the magistrate if, when there was a fight between whites and blacks in Pietersburg, it was more likely that the whites would have attacked the blacks or vice versa, and the magistrate decided the whites were more likely to have started it, and let the blacks off.

I had thought of including this as one of my Tales from Dystopia on my other blog, but decided it was too much of a second-hand story, and not something that related to my personal experience. But I still think it is worth telling.

 

Six pictures worth 60000 words

I came across this little cartoon strip on Facebook, and “shared” it there, but I think it deserves more than that. It’s about black-white relations in the USA, but is in many ways just as applicable to South Africa.

And it reminds me of an American trade union song I learnt many years ago (sung to the tune of The battle hymn of the republic also known as John Brown’s body)

It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the factories, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving mid the wonders we have made
But union makes us strong.

Solidarity for ever!
Solidarity for ever!
Solidarity for ever!
The union makes us strong.

Viva Vavi!

Seeking asylum: varying views from five continents

Asylum seekers seem to keep on making news. In some places, like Australia, asylum seekers are regarded as criminals, and the media sometimes refer to “suspected asylum seekers”, as though seeking asylum was a crime one could be suspected of committing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most countries, says:

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

In Canada, it seems, this right has been respected even when it seems contrary to Section (2) above: Row as Canada gives asylum to white South African | World news | The Guardian

Asylum seeker Brandon Huntley claimed he had been persecuted, abused and repeatedly stabbed. But it was the reason he gave for his ordeal that caused a diplomatic rift today. Huntley is South African – and white.

Canada’s decision to grant him refugee status because of his colour prompted accusations of racism from the South African government and a fresh bout of soul searching in a country still scarred by the legacy of apartheid. Some South African whites say they have become a persecuted minority.

But France refused asylum to Vladimir Popov, Yekaterina Popova and their two children, who claimed that they were persecuted in Kazakhstan because they were Orthodox Christians and ethic Russians. French authorities kept them in detention for two weeks and repeatedly tried to deport them to Kazakhstan. That seems to be in line with the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia and, in some cases, South Africa.

But in this case the European Court of Human Rights disagreed Interfax-Religion
reports:

The European Court of Human Rights found France guilty of violating Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (right to respect to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered France to pay the family 13,000 euros.

So here are five different countries — Australia, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, and South Africa — on five different continents, with very different attitudes to asylum seekers and asylum seeking. For some seeking asylum is a human right, for others it is a crime.

Whiteness just isn’t what it used to be – book review

Whiteness Just Isn't What It Used to BeWhiteness Just Isn’t What It Used to Be”: White Identity in a Changing South Africa (Suny Series, Interruptions: Border Testimony by Melissa E. Steyn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For most of my lifetime obsession with whiteness has dominated South African politics, society, economy and even the landscape. When I heard quite recently that there was an academic discipline called “Whiteness Studies” my immediate reaction was negative. Some of my blogging friends assured me that they had found it useful, and this was one of the books they recommended, and since it was based on stories told by people I found it in the library and began reading it.

Melissa Steyn collected stories from 59 white people in South Africa and divided the narratives into different categories, and commented on the various approaches. This book is the result.

The first chapter is a kind of potted history of “Whiteness Studies” and the various view its practitioners have taken to the phenomenon of “whiteness” in a global sense. In part it deals with the fairly well-known phenomenon of Western modernity, where Westerners (mainly from Western Europe and North America) thought that their society was central and normative, and others quaint and peculiar and exotic. So, for example, Western anthropologists confined their studies to non-Western cultures (and often did so in the service of colonial rulers). The proponents of Whiteness Studies call this kind of cultural chauvinism “whiteness”. But even after reading Steyn’s book, I am not convinced of the adequacy of the description, and I find that Steyn herself falls into the same cultural chauvinist trap by not disclosing where she is coming from, and pretending to be “objective”, even when she is aware of the dangers of that approach.

The main manifestation of this in the book is that, while the bulk of the book is devoted to the the analysis of people’s responses to Steyn’s questionnaire, the questions that elicited those responses are not revealed to the reader. If this forms the bulk of the book, then surely the questions themselves could have been put in an appendix. Apart from anything else, that might give readera a chance to try to answer the questions too, and try to analyse their own responses.

In addition, while Steyn collected 59 narratives, these narrators are not really allowed to tell their own story. Steyn is the only narrator, setting the scene, telling the story, and pulling a quotation, sometimes as short as a single sentence, to illustrate the point in her story. So I get the impression of a stage magician, displaying tricks to an audience, with the quotations from the stories being pulled out like a rabbit from a hat or a coin from the sleeve at the appropriate moment, with only Steyn really knowing what is going on behind the scenes.

For instance, there is this:

Such is the fear of being perceived to be aligned with what is morally reproachable that even to talk about “race” could implicate one in racism. The topic is a no-no:

“Whites can never know how blacks were affected by Apartheid. [computer analyst] “

At first sight, this seems to be a complete non-sequitur. It certainly doesn’t seem to be an instance of race being a “no–no”, because it mentions race (“whites”, “blacks”) and the relations between them (“Apartheid”). Either Steyn is misrepresenting the narrator, or she is interpreting it in the light of its context, which she has failed to quote, and this is withheld from the reader.

Taken on its own, the sentence can be interpreted in a variety of ways, of which the most likely (it seems to me), is that since, because of Apartheid, whites were separated from blacks, they could not know how blacks were affected by apartheid because they were kept isolated, and whites could not see what was happening, and their was little comparable in their experience. For instance, if a black man died in town, his wife and children, if they were allowed to live in the town at all, would be endorsed out to a “homeland” because they became surplus to the labour requirements of white society. Much of this was invisible to most whites, and so they did not know and could not know the extent to which this took place, nor what it was like do be endorsed out and forced to go and live in a rural area where you knew no one.

Maybe the context shows that the narrator meant something different, but Steyn does not show us the context.

Similarly, Steyn castigates those she regards as adopting a liberal “colourblind” approach, saying that they are “in denial”, yet when, in another section of the book, she cites an example of that approach, she praises it.

The Apartheid system tried to make me think about “white” in a certain way and about “black” in another way. I strive to define my own reality and I try to avoid being hamstrung by other people’s projections. [lecturer]

Steyn says “Whatever whiteness may have meant in the past, this narrative perks up in tone when it considers what may develop now that whiteness has lost its power to dominate.”

Yet elsewhere she says that to claim that whiteness has lost its power to dominate is to be in denial. The difference, if any, isd hidden behind the stage magician’s black cloth that she pulls away to reveal the rabbit in the hat.

One of the narratives, however, I could identify with:

I have discovered that, despite apartheid, I have more in common with black South Africans than with other whites, be they British, Dutch, French or American… When I first went overseas in 1986 I thought because of my colonial British background I would find Britain home. Instead I became increasingly aware that I was not British, and that I was African. This is how I came to see myself as a white African. [lecturer]

I wrote something very similar in a blog post at What is African? Race and identity | Khanya long before I had ever heard of “whiteness studies”.

Steyn summarises the argument of the Introduction in her conclusion

In the Introduction, whiteness has been theorized as the racial norm, the invisible center that deflects attention from itself by racializing the margins, and constructing them as the problem. Whiteness then believes in its own homogeneous neutrality. Whites are then described [in the Introduction – STH] as generally unaware of their own racialization, unconscious of their privilege, or of how their implicit assumptions of white entitlement are a consequence of certain historical relations, not something essential about whiteness itself.

I’d go along with that, especially where North America is concerned (and Steyn wrote the book while living in North America). South Africa, however, is somewhat different. Whiteness was anything but unconscious.

But it appears that Steyn was also suffering from the same disease.

On page 26, writing of English-speaking South Africans’ attitudes towards poor rural Afrikaners, she writes, “Like ethnic working class whites and partially racialized groups in America, Afrikaners had to ‘fight’ for the status of first class citizens.”

“Ethnic working class” what are they? Just as “whiteness” is invisible to the dominant white group in America, so is ethnicity. “Ethnic” whites are the “other”, the “them”. And Steyn uses that terminology without batting an eyelid, withouit scare quotes, without even the almost obligatory [sic] used in some academic writing when politically incorrect language comes up. But Steyn is not quoting, she is using the terminology herself, thus identifying with those who believe they have no ethnicity, and manifesting “ethnic blindness”.

Perhaps I might have read this book differently if I had read it before engaging in a discussion on whiteness studies with some others (see Whiteness, whiteliness and White Studies | Khanya).

And one of the biggest problems I have with this book is that it seems to be saying that even if we have deconstructed whiteness, and dumped it, we must now reconstruct it in order to deconstruct it again, like Sisyphus. It’s a bit like a child being told by its mother, “You must have a bath tonight, whether you need it or not.” And the proponents of whiteness studies seem to be saying “You must have an identity crisis, whether you need one or not.”

One thing I will say, though. I didn’t find it boring. It was a page-turner.

View all my reviews

Racial epithets

There has been an interesting discussion on the English usage newsgroup alt.usage.english recently. It started with someone asking whether African-Americans should be referred to as “Black” or “black” (with or without a capital “b”.

I kept out of it at that stage, because I’m not American and certainly not a fundi on American usage.

But then it broadened, as these things inevitably do, and some people were asking about racial and ethnic terms in South Africa, and one person said he thought that Hindus in South Africa were called “black”. And someone else said that the apartheid terminology was “Indians”.

Well, no. “Indians” was the pre-apartheid terminology, and it was applied to Hindus and Muslims indiscriminately if they or their ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent, which is now divided into India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

One of the first acts of the apartheid government was to pass the Population Registration Act of 1950, which required that everyone have their population group registered, and this was done in the population census of 1951. Everyone was given a race (or population group) classification, which was one of Asiatic, Bantu, Coloured or White (all with capital letters, because they were official). Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis etc were all lumped together under “Asiatic”. In the 1970s the canons of political correctness were changed, and Asiatics became Asians, while Bantu became Blacks.

Then there was this snippet, with my reply:

>Apparently “brown” is now used to some degree to refer to
>Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S.

It is also used as a self-description by some former so-called “Coloureds” who are still so called in official documents in our so called “non-racial” democracy (scare quotes deliberate, indicating two-finger gestures with both hands in viva voce situations).

The Population Registration Act has been repealed, yet the same racial epithets continue to be used, though they are no longer defined. Apartheid may be dead, but it still rules from the grave, and its legacy lingers on.

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