By: Gillian Schutte
There is no kind way to put this so gird your loins and swallow hard.
All whites are racist.
Some may not practice racism and many may be anti-racist. Others may mistakenly believe that we live in a non-racist epoch. Some may be left wing and others may be moderate or right wing — but the bottom line is that to be white is to be racist.
Accepting this is the first step to understanding how systemic racism and individual racism work in tandem.
It is impossible to effectively take on, challenge and deconstruct white supremacy and racism if we do not comprehend and acknowledge that as white people we are automatically part of a global system that favours whiteness over all other “races” and that we reap these benefits at the expense of other races — whether we are radical left-wing anti-racists or right-wing reactionaries.
We have to recognise that we are all, despite our ideologies, intrinsically bound up in the fabric of this global system of domination, which bestows privileges onto us by virtue of the colour of our skin and thus we are never “not benefiting” from our whiteness.
The greatest challenge to us as white people, and especially to those who believe that they have transcended racism, is admitting to our own racist indoctrination and the very real possibility that we carry and practice unconscious racism.
We must accept that as white people we are taught via language, family, psychological osmosis, memory, history, society and global discourse that whites are superior to other races and are thus the default human race known to be intellectually, morally and economically superior to all.
This white supremacist system of power has been in place for around 600 years and we carry within our collective psyche 600 years of cellular memory of supremacy. It takes a lot of undoing to extricate our psyches from that.
Thus as whites we are inevitably racist even before we are conceived.
We are racist by virtue of being the descendants of settlers and colonisers.
We are racist because we are white.
It is about what we are born into.
We have no choice around our birth (as far as we know) but we do have a choice to learn from history and reject the roles we are endowed with by virtue of our so-called ‘race’.
The real questions arise later on in our development.
- Are we comfortable with the status quo which privileges one race over others in all spheres of life?
- Are we willing to be an oppressor of fellow human beings
- Can we do anything about it?
If we cannot live with the status quo the only choice we are left with is to become a race abolitionist.
There are no halfway measures in this equation.
For those who claim to be anti-racist or “non-racist” actions do speak louder than words.
We are either irrevocably race and racism abolitionists or we are racist.
That is the hard cold truth.
If we are on the path of race abolition or anti-racism we must continue to recognise that this requires constant waking consciousness around our indoctrination.
To remain on a conscious path we need to always bear in mind that we are recovering racists.
We need to be cognisant of our indoctrination and recognise that learned racism is deeply embedded in our lived-experience and has a way of rearing its ugly head even when we are not aware of it.
We can never assume that we are not racist and that we “get” black people’s stuff. That is impossible really because we will never walk the path of a black person.
Empathy and solidarity are entirely different to speaking on behalf of or the appropriation of the lived-experience of people oppressed by whiteness.
It is only by first recognising and understanding our historical and personal embedded indoctrination that we can begin to diagnose and deconstruct the wider spectrum of ideological and systemic racism.
Until we do this work we cannot work in solidarity with black people and people of colour to end racism entirely.
Working to end racism means working towards the eradication of the global system that privileges whiteness.
It means putting this cause before our privileges and giving up those privileges for the greater good.
Transforming only “certain things” and not everything is a fallacious and expedient approach to activism and helps maintain our advantaged comfort zone while paying lip service to anti-racism.
It is this halfway activism that perpetuates insidious and covert racism in the end and is as equally harmful as right-wing racism.
Until a critical mass of white people are walking the path of race abolition and call out racism at every turn, we can never claim to be living in a post-racist society.
Thirty-four things whites need to acknowledge:
- Though we are constantly being told by the dominant discourse that we don’t have racism in this country anymore, or that racism is a thing of the past — it is mostly white people saying this. Clearly these white people think that because it isn’t their experience it holds no credence.
- While many white people deny that they are racist in practice they continue to discriminate against black people.
- Racist incidents are still prevalent in our society which proves that we are not beyond racism and nor do we live in a colour-blind-non-racist-rainbow-nation society.
- There is always a deafening silence around these racist incidents from the larger white population, which either means they do not care or they think they are not implicated in the incident.
- Whites are taught to not recognise systemic racism or their role in it.
- Systemic racism is manifest in the discourse of domination that upholds racist values that are disguised in nice liberal rainbow nation terms such as “reconciliation” and “social cohesion”.
- Without a doubt “rainbow reconciliation” is a false discourse peddled as an opiate for the masses and constructed to protect the well-off and the elite.
- Rainbow nation discourse is based on depoliticised liberalism and expects black people to buy into forgiveness, transcend anger and hurt and push aside any revolutionary impulses.
- This is also a construct to make whites feel safe and comfortable and allows them to wilfully ignore the fact that economic apartheid is still entrenched in our democracy. It also means white people do not have to feel bad or do any personal work around righting the wrongs of the past.
- This depoliticised liberal discourse is sure to call black folk the racists if they express any misgivings about lack of transformation or talk directly to ongoing systemic oppression of black people — whether institutional or economic.
- While depoliticised liberalism is not a raced phenomenon, as many black folk have bought into it too, economic disparities in this country remain raced.
- Whites are never on the receiving end of racism. Since the race construct is based on a system of power and since whiteness is the global occupying system of domination over discourse, public spaces, economies, media, sexuality and wars, white people are the only people who can be racist.
- There is an absence of interest in, or an inability to hear, what black people are saying or think about the perpetuation of racism and white privilege and these radical views are seldom heard on mainstream media.
- This is an attempt to render these views invisible and the dominant white view is normalised and passed off as the only view that matters or makes sense.
- Transformation cannot be called reverse discrimination or racism. How can it be reverse discrimination when for over 350 years in South Africa the entire system has been skewed in favour of white people’s privilege and has systemically disadvantaged black people?
- White privilege is not a neutral phenomenon. It has been built on the brutal subjugation, dehumanisation and the blood sweat and tears of black people.
- For this reason reverse discrimination does not exist and there is an urgent need for the entrenchment of programmes to balance out the centuries of the systemic disadvantaging of black people.
- White people reveal their unconscious racism by what they choose to remain silent about.
- By remaining silent on issues of systemic racism you are participating in the perpetuation of racism.
- Systemic racism is witnessed in the fact that menial labour, joblessness and poverty are mostly black issues while the majority of whites continue to have access to decent jobs and do not live in poverty.
- Systemic racism is manifested in the fact that black folk are the ones brutalised by the state while white people are not shot for protesting against middle-class issues.
- We are never likely to see 34 dead white male bodies displayed on TV news, shot dead by the state because they demanded a higher salary and better living conditions.
- Systemic racism is witnessed in the untenable living conditions that black people are expected to, and forced to, endure while white folk live in relative, and often, obscene wealth.
- The miniscule black elite and burgeoning black middle class may have economic wealth but they are still disparaged and despised by the white dominant discourse.
- The face of blackness has become the ONLY face of failure in South Africa while white business and their corrupt practices are well hidden behind the new elite.
- Both government and business are equally deserving of critique for the failures in this country but there is a white obsession with putting all failures down to black “ineptness” and totally overlooking white greed and mismanagement.
- Corporate accountability is virtually absent in white mainstream discourse and the business-owned mainstream media seldom focuses on the role that corporates play in the growing divide between the rich and the poor and the multiple layers of injustices that this sector wreak upon the poor.
- The poor and black carry the economic burden of this savage capitalism and are expected to happily accept hand-outs and live in desperation while on the other hand restaurants and hotels are mostly overrun by whites who apparently have the disposable cash to spend on luxuries.
- Racism, depoliticised liberalism, economic apartheid and white dominant discourse all thwart any hope of transformation.
- One can even say that whiteness obstinately resists transformation and refuses to move beyond racism. Rather whiteness focuses only on the retention of white privilege.
- The hard cold truth of the matter is that until we have a majority of white people working towards genuinely dismantling white privilege and systemic racism we are all implicated in the perpetuation of racism.
- Holding onto your privileges and claiming to be a race abolitionist or an anti-racist activist is an oxymoron.
- It is for this reason that we need to ask if white people are making any real effort to fully dismantle racism or if indeed, the effort is spent on preserving white privilege instead?
- In a society where the rumblings of revolution are heard in the distance, white people need to let go of their arrogance or naivety and ask themselves whether a revolution is going to have any sympathy for the obdurate nature of whiteness and its refusal to genuinely become part of a just transformation that demands the equality of all its citizens.
Forward with radical social transformation, forward!
Feminist, filmmaker, writer, poet, activist and author, Gillian Schutte has a degree in African politics, an MA in Creative Writing and a Film Director’s qualification from the Binger Institute, Netherlands. Winner of the Award of Excellence for her documentary entry to the Society for Visual Anthropology Festival in Washington, 2005, and author of the novel After Just Now — Schutte fearlessly and creatively tackles issues of race, identity, sexuality and social justice in her multimedia work. She is founding member of Media for Justice and co-owner of handHeld Films
This article first appeared on © Mail & Guardian January 4th 2015. All Rights Reserved. All material copyright of the author.