I’m a leo, a mother of two sassy daughters and a school teacher. I know all the answers. Don’t try to convince me you know better than me. So what I’m about to say pains me to the extreme. I don’t know the answers. I’d appreciate your indulgence while I try to make sense of my thoughts and feelings in this post.
I’ve really been struggling with the racism and hatred being spewed in all directions on social media. The news covers stories suggesting somebody should Fuck White People (was it an instruction? ) and the burning of artworks. But, as I tried to express to my family over a very delicious dinner accompanied by great wine in beautiful Greenpoint last week (and yes, I’m deliberately pointing out my privilege here, in case that slipped by), I’m not sure I can just outright condemn the behaviour of the students who are protesting.
Those who know me know that I’m a tree-hugging, peace-and-love, why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along kind of woman. Don’t get me wrong – I am by no means passive or complacent. I use my position of relative power in the class room to teach teenagers to be open-minded and compassionate and to stand up for their rights and those of people less fortunate than themselves. I’ve very active on social media, attempting mostly to do the same thing, really. But I’ve found myself strangely silent online about these very important social issues that are happening in our country. And I think that’s because while my instinct is to side with the underdogs – with the poor students, who have remained largely voiceless in the media – it’s difficult to support what appears to be wanton destruction and hatred.
It’s at exactly that point that I find I have to check myself though. I have close connections with a number of my past students, many of whom are involved in the protests at universities around the country. They are using their (largely privileged) voices to point out the inequalities that still exist in our country and which many of them benefit from. That makes me proud. We could spend hours debating how our government really should be doing better and how much further along the path to recovery we would be if we had efficient leadership, but the point is, that so many people in our midst see no problem with this inequality. I have a problem with that.
The fact that (insert ridiculously high percentage) of wealth still sits in the hands of (insert ridiculously low percentage) of white people in this country is problematic. Until white people realise that we are ridiculously well off in comparison to the huge majority of this country, and that that is directly because of Apartheid, there is no chance for us to begin to understand the frustrations of a poor black student from Limpopo who is trying to get accommodation at UCT. I know that I am better off than my parents were before me, and that is largely because I had a good solid foundation, thanks to Apartheid. If I had been born black, my life would look very different today. Until we all start to empathise with each other and realise the ways in which we are advantaged, we are bound to spew the same old hatred from the bad old days.
The State of our Nation is not good. This is not because the country is going to the dogs under a black government. I don’t believe that for a minute. The problem is that it still looks very much like it did 20 years ago. The entitlement to special treatment that I’m afraid many white people around me still exhibit really bothers me. I can understand the anger of those black people who are desperate for change but who still end up on the receiving end of great injustice and mistreatment. But as much as I struggle with the generalisations about black people, I am also really struggling with the generalisations about white people I have seen. Ons is nie almal so nie. The argument I was trying to make that night in Cape Town with my family was that “Fuck White People” is not meant to be taken personally – it’s a statement levelled at a society in which people continue to prosper or suffer, depending on the colour of their skin. But I realise how difficult it is not to be insulted by such a statement if your skin is white. A wise woman I know asks the question, “What next? Fuck White Women?” It’s a good question.
Granted, we have come a long way. But we have so much further to go. There are amazing projects which aim to bridge the gaps and create equality, but I don’t know whether the slow process of reparation is enough. I sense a great change is happening in our country. And it’s about bloody time! But revolutions are seldom peaceful things, and change is scary. It’s also inevitable. Without a big change, how will everyone in this country benefit from the resources we have? I can’t help thinking that the system we are trying to perpetuate in South Africa cannot possibly create equality. It was designed to support the chosen few, to the detriment of the vast majority. As a result, we have a handful of rich people and waaaaay too many poor people. The system saw parts of our country develop to a level of 1st world expectations which benefitted 5% of the population and was built on the back of the poor working class of this country. They didn’t profit. They didn’t benefit. I can’t imagine it’s even achievable to raise the standard of living of most of our citizens to that level. I don’t believe we can maintain a system which is inherently Eurocentric by nature.
This not Europe – it’s AFRICA. Should we not be embracing our Africanness? When I look to Europe, I’m not convinced that that is what we should be aspiring to. Look what a mess Greece and even Italy are in. These are the so-called seats of civilisation! In South Africa, we don’t have 12 hour traffic jams regularly, unless there has been an absolute disaster. My friend in England suffers such traffic jams often. When we visit other African countries, or even those in Asia, we don’t expect them to be European in nature – we embrace those places as different and interesting. Shouldn’t we be letting go of outdated and irrelevant expectations here?
Let’s face it. South Africa is crammed full of awesome citizens. We are innovative. Like boers, we make a plan. On the whole, we all get along. On the whole, we embrace our diversity. On the whole, the people of this country want to see everyone thriving here. The hatred that is dividing us at the moment is distracting us from channelling our energy into fixing things. I can think of so many things we can do better.
I know this is a higgledy-piggledy post, and if you’ve read this far, thanks. I’d love to engage in discussion about this. Please be aware, however, that I have very little compassion or tolerance for inherently racist ideas. That said, I embrace the following idea: