I nearly made one of the biggest mistakes by attempting to write about race without stepping on any toes. I made attempts to be politically correct and to accommodate every person who may end up reading this post. However that is the main problem we have when we discuss race. We fail to be honest. We sugar-coat the truth and make attempts to make people comfortable about a topic that is anything but.
I have witnessed conversations about race across racial lines and the narrative is often the same. Whites are defensive and blacks are angry. Nobody listens and nobody tries to understand and for as long as this is the way things go, nothing will change.
“Hey black people Apartheid ended 20 years ago let’s move on”.
“Hey white people Oppression started over 300 years ago. We can’t just forget.”
At the end of October I went to the monthly Live Magazine VIP debate and we discussed race. There was a white man on the panel by the name of Fourie Rossouw. In introducing himself Fourie referred to himself as “a recovering racist”. He believes that all white people are either addicted to or recovering from racism.
The fact is white people are brought up to believe that their whiteness is the standard and everything else is a deviation hence; non-white. I wish I could take the credit for that line but nope, Fourie said that. I thought “Wow. Finally. A white man who will actually admit that black people are not crazy. That the way we often encounter whiteness is not a figment of our imagination.”
Fourie shared a story that really struck me and I am probably never going to forget this.
He said there was a time he went to Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein with a few friends. Braamfontein is in the centre of Johannesburg and has recently been revived. On Saturdays when people come in from the northern suburbs of Joburg, security can be seen everywhere. I noticed this a while ago but Fourie alluded to it so yet again confirmation that black people are not crazy and we do not try to find race and colour in evertyhing. It’s there it’s real.
So anyway Fourie did some work across the Nelson Mandela bridge near Bree Taxi Rank so he decided to show his friends. He suggested they walk over the bridge as it was very close. When they were on the bridge, one of the women they were walking with said: “Maar, daar is niemand hier nie. Daar is niemand hier nie” (But there’s no one here. There’s no one here). Fourie looked around in amazement. The bridge was sprawling with people. Black people.
It dawned on him that white people do not see us. In order for that bridge to qualify as a place with people, there would have had to be a few white faces to put that woman’s heart at ease.
I think one of the major issues we face is this idea that in order to be racist you need to be a violent white person who wants to kill all black people and live in separate places using separate amenities. White people deny being racist because they deny that brutality but to be honest when last was that the issue?
Racism exists. It exists because as a grown man Fourie Rossouw sat at a dinner table for a celebration and all the faces were white. His awakening came when he could not justify why that was the case in a country where the overwhelming majority is black.
We all watch the social media exchanges about race. We see how angry people get. Those blacks who are angry are angry because they are not being heard and the whites are quick to anger because they feel attacked.
I’ve watched people’s faces cringe when I start to talk about how unequal our society is and how we need to start having honest conversations. Not just white people but black people too because how can I say such things in an open space where white people could overhear me? Why would I stir the pot like that?
Fact is, for as long as I am still having conversations about race in corners and behind closed doors with black people who share my experience – nothing will change but white people need to be willing to listen. White people need to introspect and stop being defensive. Stop saying “not all whites” because we know that, but we cannot be patting you on the back for being better or for simply behaving as you should.
We want you to focus on those that are not – those that do not SEE us.