OPINION by Andriques Che Petersen – Less than twenty four hours ago, I said the University of Cape Town is sending off smoke signals indicating a deep blaze of white privilege brewing underneath. But today I’d like to say that we’re all hiding from that ever burning fire.
When we talk about race, racism and privilege, I imagine we all bristle up, retreat into our individual shells and hope the big bad monster goes away. Some of us, in that comfort zone of all the things we learned about the other shapes our response, we become defensive, we go on the offensive, as I’ve seen so often these last few days on social media when the statue of Cecil John Rhodes gets mentioned and the debate and action surrounding it at this very moment.
A few years ago, I wrote about my own struggles with race and the idiotic idea that the colour of your skin has any inherent bearing on your behaviour or personality. There are things called stereotypes, which are in general stupid. Lots of people that use stereotypes – and we all do, we all know a few – each of you reading this assumes something about someone else based on a part of their personal make up, whether it be race, religion or socio-economic circumstance. But in those moments where we use stereotypes and believe them, we are all idiots. Now I’m not saying anyone specific is an idiot, I’m calling us all imbeciles. For believing what I said above, that some singular part of us makes up who we are, something as silly as skin colour is still the starting point for believing others are beneath us, above us or evil.
How we deal with these assumptions, however, is a problem. Let us go back to UCT, where black students [and in true struggle style black to me always means anyone non white] have been turning that campus upside down to get a statue removed of a man responsible for the death, directly, indirectly, do we care, of millions across the continent. Now, when we read what people say about this action, we hear: “they shouldn’t waste their energy on this nonsense and rather go study”; or, and I am not making this up in any way:
“You coons must go back to the bush where you belong and leave the studying to whites, it is a white invention after all”.
If I could express the disdain I feel for such utterings, this blog would be censored. But now, do we see why we have a problem? The above comment negates every single known right that black youth have: we can study, we can walk where we want, thank you, we can speak English, did you know? And no, I don’t have to adopt that accent to speak it either.
These are the South Africans that have not caught up, if you like to believe we are a nation at peace, wake up. There is so much going on outside of that shell. I used to be naïve, and believed what my parents told me, that the struggle they fought in would enable us all to be equal, but we are not, I still live in a suburb that was designated during Apartheid to be for “Coloureds”, and that neighbourhood is still precisely that. Down the road is Bloekombos, a Black township. Kraaifontein is in no way an affluent area, but the differences are glaringly apparent when you cross the bridges and streets demarcating the former race lines.
We are still separate, we still stereotype, but we can be so much greater than that, a bunch of stereotypes; why is it that a black man speaking English in his own accent is made fun of while another speaking in the ubiquitous white accent is told he sounds professional.
Come on, if these students at the country’s most racially transformative backwards university can open their eyes and convince others of what is wrong, then so can we.
Let’s not be idiots.