A New Year Epistle to Whiteness

By Gillian Schutte

Dear white people,

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 recovery.

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 favors 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 recognize 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 color 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, 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 DNA 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 born.

We are racist by virtue of being the descendants of settlers and colonizers and world conquerors.

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 color.

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 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 recognize 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 cognizant of our indoctrination and recognize 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 recognizing 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 join black people and people of color in solidarity 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 whilst 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 are calling out racism at every turn, we can never claim to be living in a post-racist society.

Thirty Four things we, as recovering racists, need to acknowledge:

  1. 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 happening to them it does not exist.
  2. Many white people deny that they are racist yet continuing to discriminate against black people and people of color.
  3. Racist incidents are still prevalent in our society which proves that we are not beyond racism and nor do we live in a color-blind-non-racist-rainbow-nation society.
  4. There is always a deafening silence around these racist incidents from the larger white population, which either means that they do not care or they think they are not implicated in the incident.
  5. Whites are taught to not recognize systemic racism or their role in it.
  6. Systemic racism is manifest in the discourse of domination that upholds racist values which are disguised in nice liberal rainbow nation terms such as “reconciliation” and “social cohesion”.
  7. 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.
  8. Rainbow nation discourse is based on depoliticized liberalism  and expects black people to buy into forgiveness, transcend anger and hurt and push aside any revolutionary impulses.
  9. This is also a construct to make whites feel safe and comfortable and allows them to willfully 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.
  10. This depoliticized 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.
  11. While depoliticized liberalism is not a raced phenomenon, as many black folk have bought into it too, economic disparities in this country remain raced.
  12. 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.
  13. 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 views are seldom heard on mainstream media.
  14. This renders these views invisible and the dominant white view is normalized and passed off as the only view that matters or makes sense.
  15. BEE, BBBEE and affirmative action cannot be called reverse discrimination or racism. How can it be reverse discrimination when for 350 years in South Africa the entire system has been skewed in favor of white people’s privilege and has systemically disadvantaged black people?
  16. White privilege is not a neutral phenomenon. It has been built on the brutal subjugation, dehumanization and the blood sweat and tears of black people.
  17. For this reason reverse discrimination does not exist and there is an urgent need for the entrenchment of programs to balance out the centuries of the systemic disadvantaging of black people.
  18. White people reveal their unconscious racism by what they choose to remain silent about.
  19. By remaining silent on issues of systemic racism you are participating in the perpetuation of racism.
  20. Systemic racism is witnessed in the fact that menial labor, joblessness and poverty are mostly black issues whilst the majority of whites continue to have access to decent jobs and do not live in poverty.
  21. Systemic racism is manifested in the fact that black folk are the ones brutalized by the state while white people are not shot for protesting against middle class issues.
  22. 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.
  23. Systemic racism is witnessed in the untenable living conditions that black people are expected to, and forced to, endure whilst white folk live in relative, and often, obscene wealth.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. The poor and black carry the economic burden of this savage capitalism and are expected to happily accept hand outs and live in desperation whilst on the other hand restaurants and hotels are mostly overrun by whites who apparently have the disposable cash to spend on luxuries.
  29. Racism, depoliticized liberalism, economic apartheid and white dominant discourse all thwart any hope of transformation.
  30. 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.
  31. 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.
  32. Holding onto your privileges and claiming to be a race abolitionist or an anti-racist activist is an oxymoron.
  33. 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?
  34. 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.

May your 2015 be the year of deep reflection on what whiteness is and learning how to undo it.

Forward with radical social transformation, forward!

Settler Sister




AmaCDE’s song, Umhlaba Uzobuya – Anti-Indianism or a cry for help?

I think it was 20th Century Catholic Archbishop who said when I feed the poor they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.

Hold that thought

AmaCDE’s song, Umhlaba Uzobuya, has caused widespread controversy, sparking a national dialogue on the notion of what some view as “Anti-Indianism”.

The ruling party has come out strongly condemning the song and calling for its banning. In an opinion piece yesterday, Senzo Mchunu says “in a democratic country such as ours, we must work towards the creation of a society of people who live peacefully, and whose thoughts are of positive sentiments of love and concern for other people, thinking about how to help the next person. We need to work together to build the spirituality of all our people so that anyone who comes to Kwazulu-Natal will remember the smiles of the people of this province”

I met with the lyricist of the song yesterday.  This is good. Before we opine. Before we pronounce. Let us think. So a good place to start is with the lyrics. Do they condemn Indians? No.

The narrator of the song speaks of his abuse at the hands of an Indian Employer. In my work in alternative dispute resolution, access to justice and restorative justice peacemaking, this narrative is replicated in South Africa, across the board and across the races. But in Kwazulu-Natal, the demographics are such that in the main, in Industry, the Employers are Indian, and the workforce is Afrikan. And there is abuse. There is exploitation. There is widespread brutality. Let’s just be honest. Not in every workplace. But it is widespread.

If I were speaking of Industry in other provinces, the demographics may be different, but narratives of the workforce remain hauntingly similar: widespread abuse, exploitation and brutality. Sadly I’m not surmizing, I’m not guessing….I do this work. I get these calls. I get the first-hand cries for help.

I respect Senzo Mchunu’s sentiments. I really do. Much like the love and light brigade that would have us think only happy thoughts, that is the ideal and we all need to work towards a nation where is possible that beautiful South African smiles don’t mask the pain of widespread continued economic exploitation and exclusion. And the brutality that comes with it.

I am in the process of running an ADR Dialogue in this area of Kwazulu-Natal. A court recently acknowledged that public violence charges against a group of protesting employees were complex and acceded to submissions made, ordering an attempt at ADR Diversion. This is a managed dialogue process where all interested parties are invited to unpack, look at and dialogue around the originating source of protests that lead to the arrests of 46. An interim mediation summary is available. It is before the court already and you can get a copy from me at sheena@adr-networksa.co.za. The dialogue reveals that workers are subject to ongoing human rights violations in the workplace. Again, this is in Kwazulu-Natal, but if we are conscious in South Africa, we know that workers have similar narratives all over South Africa and at the hands of Employers across the racial divide.

But this is Kwazulu-Natal. For convenience I repeat: in industry, Employers are largely Indian. The workforce is largely Afrikan.

Cries for help are being and have been ignored. For over twenty years. And for about three centuries before that. So getting back to the AmaCDE song. This is a personal narrative. Someone is being abused. A story is being told. But it mirrors the narrative of many. It gives a voice to multitudes.  Are we then to say that it’s okay that the plight of millions of South Africans is being ignored. Cries for help amount to little. But then we say that we must not talk about what is happening to us because it might incite hatred against our abuser? Is this what we are saying.

I don’t think this song has sparked racial tensions. Racial tensions are there. We need to be honest. This song has the potential to spark action. Mobilize hope in our land. I notice we are spending millions to beef up police services. Police are not going to keep us safe. Let’s not kid ourselves. The only thing that has any hope of keeping us safe is that South Africans everywhere decide to get serious about dismantling systems that perpetuate economic exploitation and exclusion

The lyricist acknowledges the contribution of Indians to the struggle. He and the group he is associated with work with many Indians to dismantle exploitation and human rights violations. But there is an honesty that is needed. The world over Hip Hop artists say what others are thinking. Rise above the political correctness of “let’s think happy thoughts and say only positive things.” They confront real issues.

If we edge towards the shutting down of the creatives, I fear for all of us. That will spark the kind of anger that leads to war. Let’s not do that. As Steve Hofmeyr merrily leads his adoring fans in Die Stem all over and in the face of those brutalized by Apartheid, with abandon,  let’s have the conversation. Let’s use this opportunity to say what needs to be said and confront what needs to be confronted.

But let’s not tell the abused and the exploited that they may not speak of what is happening to them.

This is an opportunity for us to become concerned. We never change what we are not concerned about. And we can never be concerned about what we do not know of. The AmaCDE song tells us many are still in pain. It lets us know. We advocate for CARE over CURE. We need to become a deeply caring society. Care will leave us with less necessity for cure.

The cure strategy in this is banning the song. It will get us nowhere. The care strategy is let’s be honest. South Africans are suffering. This is an opportunity to start doing something.  1994 was about peacekeeping. But that is durable for only so long. We need to make peace now. And peace can only really exist where there is justice. And in our land justice will only be accomplished through the displacing of systems that allow for continued exploitation and exclusion.

So let’s not ban the song and think happy thoughts. Let’s really ask why this song was written and then do something.

Sheena St Clair Jonker is Founder: ADR Network South Africa and The Access Justice Association of Southern Africa
email:  sheena@accesstojustice.co.za


AmaCde ft Mandy – Umhlaba Uzobuya Lyrics:

Verse 1: Sang by Keke

For sure lapho ukhona, uyaz’buza singenzani ngama Ndiya, abheke iAfrika
emehlweni, abhixa usawoti ngesihluku esilondeni, kwelami noma elakho ilunga
lomndeni, engalitholanga ngisho nethuba lokuya esikoleni, elisebenz’
ekhishini, elima ngonyawo kusukela ngo7 ekseni, belinike usamoosa melikhala
ngelizokubeka ebhodweni, mAfrika senzeni, weNdiya wawufunani ezweni, weSizwe
esimnyama masibabheke emehlweni, sibatshele to go back and cross the ocean,
if bayanqaba it is time for action, mAfrika asihambe in one direction.

Chorus: Sang by Mandy
Wesizwe esimnyama x2
Umhlaba uzobuya x2

Verse 2: Sang by Anele

Ever since esemncane ingalo igcwele iyiphandla, siququzela abaphansi
basibusise ngokhanya

Gogo vuka uyithathe nangu uMzukulu uyakhala, uthi uzama ukuphanta kodwa
uvinjwe uNaicker.

Lento ngeke asayimela, ingakho umbona ekutshela, ucela ukuthi umlalele
njengoGogo umzwele

Angaze adontse umbese eqhaqhazela udhebe, uthukuthele uyaveva, ucabanga
imali kuphela

Asuke ahliphize aphihlize akhihlize ngempela isililo, umbone ekhahlela
ekhahlaza ebhodloza nanoma yini

Gogo please ngiyakucela, uMzukulu wakho uyaphela, uqilazeke ngempela,

Ngelinye ilanga wamtshela, uNaicker ukuthi akabheke, uma eqhubeka
nokuchwensa, akabe elal’ejeqeza.

Umbone dansa edlala iblukwe lixega ebumpa, uthembe ngey’khali zeyi’Nkedama

Ubuye amjulele uNaicker, ecabanga ukumdala, avinjwe uthando lweyingane,
kodwa afunge uzombamba

Umbone eqhakaza eshalaza ehamba nanesphalaphala, uNaicker ufisa  nokuphalaza
uma esembona ephila kahle,


Verse 3: Sang by Vumani

Perhaps the time has come for us as blacks to stand, and make it known to
all we want to own our rands, we sinking in debt, our lives standing still
in this land, where’s the Messiah, lomuntu wasidayisa eCodesa, look at this
mess, kwakwenze njani sithemba leyandoda, ayi shube ngempela, ngishintshe
indlela ngivuse uMageba, vula neyindlebe, ngoba uzogcina ususala ngempela,
ngeke bam’qede, uZulu omnyama soze bam’mela, amandiya awahlehle, ngoba
lomnotho owakithi kavele, ayiqhume lempempe, sikhiphe amageja ngaphansi
kombhede, sihlakula kphela, bagcwale ngokuthi lelizwe solifela, impi
ngempela, ezakithi zidinwe ngempela, the struggle is on, sesikhathele
ukugibela u4 4, sifuna amaPorsche, sifuna amadladla, sifuna nokuhola, imali
ethe xaxa, ukuze siphile kangcono, makuphela inyanga ngimamatheke sengiyo
layisha umghodla.


Verse 4: Sang by Mnqobi

Aphi lama leader, athath’izwe alidayisa, izizwe ziyashleka sixhashazwa
Amandiya, koze kube nini ngibuza nina abakhulu, ngiphila njenges’qila kwizwe
lobab’mkhulu, okub’hlungu, bamukelwa ngomusa baphenduka ekugcineni basenzela
ukusa, kunini suhuzuka, kunini besithuka, besincela igazi, abantu bakithi
bentula, akuphele konke lokho manje kleva kwanele, asivuke sime ngeyi’nyawo
kubacacele, uvukile uZulu omnyama sonke asihlome sihlasele, lelizwe elobaba
laba ngeke basitshele,


Verse 5: Sang by uNyazi

Nina abangumntsintsi wokuzimilela la KwaZulu, nina enafunza zonke izizwe
ngokhezo olukhulu, nina omhlaba ungowenu, nina enagila amangisi igoda empini
eSandlwana, nina enafela izinkulungwane zezukulwane ezintabeni, nasemfuleni
wase Ncome, nina enafunga ngegazi ukuthi uZulu ngeke bam’nyomfe, nina
enaqala umbutho olwela ifa labaNtsundu, nina enakhala khakhulu uMkhomazi
wagcwala ngomoya, nina nathi anesabi lutho zonke izimpi ayihlome, nina
enahlakaza inhlamfu nenhlasi yamangisi ngomlomo, nina enaqonda nqo
kwakhophozela inganono, laqhaqhazela uqhaqhaveyana eliwuGhandi, ngoba wayazi
umZulu nendiya abazwani,

Nina enibenza bakholwe ngokubona ngamehlo, kaze iphi imbumbulu edume ngoku
kama ngehleza, kaze uphi uMashu owawenza uBotha aphathwe inkwantshu, kaze
uphi uMlazi owawuhlonishwa iSpecial Branch, kaze uphi uMkhumbane izwe lama
dela kufa, kaze iphi iLamonti ikasi elisebenza ngoMankasi, ulwandle luhlehla
mbinjane ebese libuya ngenkani, kaze aphi amahostela ngibuza imizi
yezintsizwa, Awuvuke uZulu uvuse nezizwe eysalele, ngoba kusenja singathini
umakuvuka iLembe


We don’t have an english version of lyrics because that will no longer be
the song kanti nesintu sithi isiZulu asitolikwa