The Underbelly of South African racism
May 8, 2012 § 19 Comments
*originally appeared in the Cape Times on 07 April 2012
The ugly face of racism reared its enormous head again in South Africa on the Twitter social network platform in the shape of Jessica Leandra, who has now been stripped of her 2011 FHM model of the year by FHM. In case you haven’t heard about the incident, she wrote a tweet the following tweet and I quote, “Just, well took on a an arrogant and disrespectful k***** inside Spar. Should have punched him, should have.”
What is shocking is the fact that she wrote the “K” word. What is worse is that it demonstrates that it is terminology that she probably uses in private if she can so freely use it on such a public platform. It was no accident. Some may even blame her youth by saying that she is 20. When I was 20 or younger, I never racially abused anyone. All that I would have done is make the typical jokes about whites can’t dance and blacks can’t swim. And it ends there.
I was surprised that a young person who grew up after apartheid had ended could have such thoughts to begin with. She had also written a tweet earlier, which said, again I quote, “Highlight of my weekend? Almost punching a petrol assistant. No tolerance for rude African monkeys.”
Years ago, while I was working on an anti-racism advertising campaign, I spoke to a psychologist who worked for the Human Rights Commission at the time and said something to me that still stuck with me today. He said that in research, it has been shown that South Africans are the only people in the world who will share their racist views or biases with a complete stranger and assume that the stranger will share the same view as them.
What this shows then is that large sections of South Africans still hold racial biases hidden behind concerns of crime, when the real issue is actually racism. Six years ago, when I first moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg, I stayed in a B&B in my first month in the big city. I met two American women who had been traveling around the world for a year. They had been in South Africa for a few weeks and told me that they had not met a single black person staying at a B&B, all the black people they had met worked at B&Bs.
They also found it strange that when they drove in the Transkei a white man told them that if they happen to hit a black person, they should not stop to help because “These people will rob you.” They were shocked that the person saw nothing wrong with what he said. They were equally surprised that he just shared these views assuming that they would thank him.
Of course this is not meant to point fingers. What it is meant to point out is that maybe South Africans are still racially charged but are in denial about it. It also makes us wonder how many of these conversations happen in private. How many people sit around their backyards talking about k*****s?
Maybe Jessica is a symptom of something simmering underneath the surface. Perhaps there are still those in our society who believe that blacks don’t fully belong and do not deserve to be treated as equals. That they have not earned their place in society nor the positions that they may hold. There is a denial of the realities. That it is still a white world and that the black person must remember that he deserves to be treated as a lesser being and remind him of his inferiority.
People may want to keep appearances and deny that they may hold these views, but the reality is that these kinds of scenes are acted out everyday in the country, some in more subtle ways than others. Perhaps we ought to applaud Jessica for exposing the under bellies of South African racism hidden behind the veil of false politeness.