Professor Rozena Maart

Rozena Maart’s Open Letter to the German Association of American Studies.

 An Open Letter to the German Association of American Studies, also known as Deutsche Gesellschaft für Amerikastudien 

Date: 7th June 2020 

Re: Your recently posted statement on racism 

I shall forego the expected formalities in my open letter to you; these are generally reserved as a means of courtesy to the person or persons whom one is addressing. Since I do not know any of your Executive and Advisory board members who may or may not have penned the statement on racism unashamedly exhibited on your website where an image of Abraham Lincoln sits boldly, I see no need to address you in a manner fitting an expected cordial exchange. There will be no cordial exchange. You disgust me, and I will tell you why, exactly. 

Let me start by saying that I am writing to you from Durban, South Africa. I came upon your statement on racism as I was perusing the internet to ascertain how scholarly associations are addressing the current global protests against racism, police brutality, most of which are also organised around the broader movement of #Blacklivesmatter. 

I am appalled, sickened and repulsed that an association that has, on record, more than one thousand (1000) members participating in, what you broadly call American Studies, has the gall, the absolute nerve, the audacity, to offer its members, scholars who work in the area of American Studies, the global community of scholar-cum-activists who draw on American Studies, and the world at large, four sentences of crude, dissociative, out of touch crumbs clothed as words! This is your official position on racism, murder and the killing of Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour around the world where protests have emerged in support of recent events in the United States but also to draw attention to similar acts of injustice in their own countries? Your statement, composed of four sentences, which reeks of a gross lack of historical, ethical and social responsibility, let alone intellectual integrity, is nothing but a slight of hand, a dismissal, a cowardly passive-aggressive gesture of your own complicity as members of this advisory and executive board of the very racism you can barely speak of, hence the four flimsy lines parading as sentences. 

Let me restate your words to you here, in blue: 

The German Association for American Studies (GAAS) notes with concern the resurgence of racism and racially motivated violence in the United States, and also in Germany and Europe. 

Let me say from the outset, firstly: American Studies, in my view, means all of the Americas not only the United, States, which you seem to be prioritising but which none the less, you seem to know little about. Secondly, there is no resurgence! What we have witnessed around the globe, and I do not wish to focus on one killing, is a continued onslaught of the killing of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour in the United States, the rest of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Germany and many parts of Europe, let alone and around the world, for centuries! Have you not paid attention to the protests of racism that Germans of African-American descent have staged for decades in your country which is also their country? Which resurgence? Wake up and smell the blood dripping on your streets above your fancy coffeehouses. 

We consider it one of the most basic civil rights to publicly protest a citizen’s death at the hands of a police officer. 

You do? Why are you telling your members this? You call this a statement? This is the second sentence in your statement, and here you lecture, offer permission for the brutalised and humiliated to protest. 

Peaceful protests are the political and cultural backbone of any democracy that is worth its name. 

Are kidding me? Again: is this seriously all you could come up with as a group of educated people, calling yourselves “advisory” and “executive”? You are so completely and utterly ill-advised on all grounds that it is embarrassing, mind-blowingly disgraceful, and yet, you state this as though you are speaking to your ilk in a manner and tone as if there is an agreed upon code of etiquette: speak down to the natives and the Blacks and show them how to behave! I can think of several profanities that would be suited to hurl at you for forcefully forgetting, for your foggy memories, and your feeble, I repeat, feeble, announcement of how to address the current world crisis on racism and police brutality. 

We support peaceful demands to address the injustice that is racism, and we urge governments to respond to those demands by taking strong measures against racism in the name of democratic civil society. 

First you start with a declaration: you tell us who you are and note your ‘concern’ with the ‘resurgence’. Then, you continue with your consideration – how noble of you – wherein you speak of basic civil rights and how to proceed in the face of racism, murder and police brutality. Thereafter, you move to instruction – telling people how to address systemic, structural and institutionalised racism, which has led to murder and genocide. Last but not least, you offer you conditional support – how terribly sweet of you! You instruct on peace, urging protestors to act in a manner that has historically not borne any results except more racist attacks and more brutalities, then you urge governments to respond in the name of democracy! 

Have you forgotten about the atrocities of the First Reich in Namibia, between 1904 and 1908 where Germany sought out an African country as testing ground for what you would later inflict upon Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s? And, before you throw your textbooks at me that stink of colonial amnesia, do not tell me that it only happened in the 1940s! Germany started and is responsible for the first genocide of the twentieth century and yet you lecture us on peace! Remember, how millions of Nama and Herero people were massacred despite the inaccurate numbers noted on wikipedia, at the hands of your forefathers, the monetary value of which were inserted back into Germany for your benefit, and whose African skulls were held as trophies for gleeful photo opportunities to parade the delights of your conquest! Have you not learnt anything from Karl Jaspers, on Metaphysical Guilt? You write of “racially motivated violence” like inept, politically unaware, ignorant and arrogant neo-colonials, whose violence is not only strongly embedded in your passive aggressive four sentenced execution of a false consciousness beaming with White pride – what I call the violence of the colonial letter – but one that forgets that your careers are based on the very acts of violence that are committed upon the bodies of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour, toward which you show no dignity whatsoever. There is toilet paper that is stronger and weightier than what you offer your members. 

Let me tell you a little bit about your history and why you have no business telling protestors against racism and police brutality to be peaceful, let alone how to dismantle systems of oppression: it speaks volumes about your lack of agency: 

Remember, how Germany colonised the Americas between 1528 and 1546? I speak here of Venezuela, St Thomas, Crab Island, Trinidad and Tobago, Southern Brazil and Guiana, among others? Four thousand (4000) enslaved Africans were brought to those regions, by force, with violence I might add by your forefathers and foremothers, which you are now against, to work on the sugar plantations they established to shove money into Germany and grow its early empire building mechanisms. When these acts of usurpation, enslavement and occupation, all with violence threaded through each and every act, brought financial benefits, more Germans were brought in to occupy Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, Guatemala, Peru, Paraguay and Chiapas Mexico? The position you put forward as scholars from Germany leaves the imagination little to offer; since I find your position so offensive I have allowed myself the mental picture of you as the Lady Macbeths of Europe: constantly washing your hands, believing that it is clean. 

Remember, how during the 1670s, Germany continued to usurp, violate, massacre and kill Indigenous people and Black people in the United States after “winning over” from the British, in other words, murdering as secondary usurpers, in Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia, among others, setting up homes like you would later do in Namibia, remaining completely composed and distant from the very crimes you committed, with calmness, and with raised noses just in case you could smell the blood of the very violence you now seem to suggest is not the proper road to democracy? Can you still smell the blood of the massacres you committed and as such, feel compelled to tell the colonised and the oppressed not to fight back against regimes who continuously seek to dehumanise us? 

Remember, how in 1884, your forefathers sat around tables at the Berlin conference, and with papers filled with sweet little special requests from their wives and lovers in the Fatherland, as they made decisions about which African countries they should usurp, violate, enslave, massacre, kill and maim, for land, minerals, and the prospect of a better life for people like you who know serve on scholarly American Studies Executive and Advisory boards, telling colonised and oppressed people not to be violent towards colonisers, racists and regimes who are violent towards us? Oh, and least I forget: what were the rewards for your efforts? Namibia, East Africa, the Cameroon, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, the South Pacific! Where you invited by people from the abovenamed countries to come over and violate us, usurp our land, kill us, massacre us, take our wealth . . . I mean usurpers and colonisers did not come to Africa because we were poor – you were. We were rich, and you usurped, killed and maimed around the world, accumulating our wealth as you went along. Good heavens, at one-point Germany had histories of violence, usurpation and enslavement in twenty-two (22) countries where you had massacred and murdered in order to control and take charge of the humanity of others in order to give yourselves one. Where is your record of peacefully protesting your own poverty of mind, soul and stomach? Where? 

So, remove your pathetic four-sentenced statement and get a grip! If you cannot write something substantial that speaks to centuries of oppression, usurpation, racism and police brutality then don’t write it at all. You’ve made your position very clear – you are group of spineless, motionless, educated people who have no education whatsoever except contempt for oppressed people who are now fighting, in the best way we can, against regimes of violence, which much like the violence of thought you uphold, we have to fight! You are completely ill-equipped to serve the scholarly community of American Studies and have no business calling yourselves advisors and executives of an association purporting to study the Americas. You have betrayed hundreds and thousands of scholars who have put decades of good, critical, solid work into American Studies in Germany, and in other parts of the world, and to which I have only one demand – that you resign from the Executive and Advisory Board immediately. 

Rozena Maart, 

Durban, South Africa 

Ex political prisoners say human rights abuses and racism a Covid-19 scourge.

EX-ROBBEN ISLAND EMPOWERMENT FORUM (ERIEF)

PRESS STATEMENT (May 05, 2020)

The Impact of Neglect and COVID-19 0n Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners.

Workers

The working class of the world is accustomed to the annual public celebrations of May Day. It is a day that is associated with, and celebrates the international workers’ struggles and victories against economic andsocial injustices of a brutal capitalist system. Every year on May 1st the working class takes to the streets and public squares to celebrate May Day. But sadly, the 2020 May Day was celebrated very differently from the usual celebrations to which people around the world have become accustomed, thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak around the world.

Government shutdowns or lockdown restrictions of movements, social activity and gatherings imposed on the citizens amidst fears of the COVID-19 pandemic spread, have dampened and muted the long anticipated celebrations. Workers around the globe have been forced to quietly celebrate May Day in the privacy of their homes.

Not only has the outbreak of the COVID-19 caused a lot of uncertainty and instability for the exploited working class across the globe, but its negative impact on required radical socio-economic transformation as envisaged and propagated in programmes of national liberation in various Underdeveloped Countries, will be felt long after the restrictions have been lifted.

Genuine programmes of national liberation propagated and advanced during the national liberation struggle have long been abandoned by various governments in favour of neoliberal policies. The Covid 19 pandemic has worsened increasing unemployment, job insecurity, and mass poverty. For the many already poverty-stricken families the heightened levels of insecurity spurred on by anticipation of a bleak future and exacerbated hardships have also  heightened people’s stress and depression levels, impacting their mental health.

For South Africans the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions also meant that they would not be able to take to the streets to celebrate in their usual way the historical  27th April Annual Freedom Day Celebrations – which are immediately followed by May Day celebrations in the same week this year.

We want to encourage workers around the world to stay focused on the agenda for justice for all workers, despite the lockdown, so that we may continue with the program for national and international worker’s emancipation.

International Racism And Human Rights Violations.

We have witnessed on a daily basis on our TV screens, politicians and religious leaders, assisted by an international army of celebrities across the globe, on COVID-19 awareness campaigns of a grand scale. At the same time we also note with a great deal of concern, that at the height of this pandemic there has been a marked increase in racial stereo-typing and brutal human rights violations directed against indigenous African people in both their native and foreign countries.

We also saw disturbing images of African people undeniably being singled out for indiscriminate random testing and isolation after being stigmatised by Chinese nationals as the source and carriers of the virus to China. Their rights were violated when they were unlawfully and forcibly denied access to, and evicted from their residencies and food stores/outlets, as well as separated from their Chinese spouses. What is even more disturbing is they were also barred from access to sanitation and bathrooms, as well as access to safe environments. This effectively rendering them more vulnerable to the potential risk of exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic and more racial abuse.

Prior to the well publicised COVID-19 outbreak in China, we had also heard allegations of a number of other racially-inspired random attacks by Chinese criminal gangs targeting people and students from Africa. Not much seems to have been done by the Chinese authorities to stem out this rising trend. Sadly, there also seems to be very little protest by African government leaders about this.

When representative African embassies in China were alerted to the problem and asked to intervene they played hide and seek or pleaded lockdown restrictions and passed the buck to the Chinese authorities who simply pleaded ignorance, and chased the Africans away from the police precincts to which they had been referred. The Africans were forced to sleep in unprotected open spaces with no access to sanitation, water and toilet facilities.

ERIEF, an association representing hundreds of South African liberation struggle veterans and former political prisoners, understands and appreciates the historical relationship the indigenous African peoples’ liberation struggle movements have had with China, preceding the very significant bilateral trade relations between African countries and the  People’s Republic Of China.

However, on this 2020 May Day, when we are reminded of the lives and the hardship still endured by the workers of the global community at the hands of corporate giants, we are equally shocked, disappointed and saddened by the knowledge that in this day and age such racist sentiments and acts against African people seem to flourish with impunity in China.

That said, we now call upon the Chinese authorities to take immediate corrective measures and swift action against its Chinese nationals who are involved and guilty in the said racist-inspired abuses and attacks of African people in China.

Human Rights abuses in South Africa

 ERIEF also wants to bring to the immediate attention of the South African people that such racial stereotyping of African people as seen in countries such as China appears to be reinforced by some African state leaders. The South African government’s dehumanising attitude towards the reported brutality meted out against the African majority who are still confined to a life of hardship and abject poverty, is noted with alarm. This systemic violence takes place in apartheid created over crowded townships and shackland squatter camps that still exist in a so-called liberated South Africa.

The government imposed COVID-19 restrictions and social distance regulations that the police and the army have been deployed to enforce have been a challenge to observe for the African people condemned to the misery and squalid living conditions of these townships due to the very problem of the apartheid infrastructure that the current government has done little to reverse.

Consequently, South Africans have witnessed scenes reminiscent of the olden days when the apartheid regime had deployed its army of soldiers and state sponsored brutality in almost all the African townships that were in the grips of revolt against its white rule. However, as it has always been, in the traditionally minority white areas and other minority communities there is a much more relaxed approach in the application of these restrictions.

This is in stark contrast to the townships where in the course of enforcing the restrictions numerous cases of abuse and brutality have been reported. It is alarming to us that a total number of five (5) innocent people have died in quick succession after being brutally assaulted and left unattended to by both the police and soldiers patrolling the township streets.

It is of grave concern to the  ERIEF that many people participating in the global awareness campaign, especially the African government and religious leaders, have chosen to turn a blind eye to these injustices being committed in the name of COVID-19 and in favour of western-foreign aid whose sole purpose is, unfortunately, to re entrench the syndrome of Africa’s dependency on the west.

Neglected ex political prisoners.

For the liberation struggle veterans, who a few days ago quietly celebrated Freedom Day on 27th, April, followed by the May Day celebrations, the outbreak of the COVID-19 has also brought into sharp focus the reminder of the impoverished social circumstances experienced by thousands of marginalised former political prisoners.  ERIEF notes that, despite the South African government’s COVID-19 provisions for a national relief fund, there has been no formalised social relief provision to cater to the desperate needs of the marginalised majority of ex-political prisoners.

ERIEF is distressed by the thought that a significant number of the marginalised liberation struggle veterans, including the elderly, sickly and homeless, together with their families, may be the victims of the reported brutality of police and army’s COVID-19 enforcement in the townships.

 ERIEF wants to remind all South Africans that racism and racial stereotypes that are manifested in several countries constitute an affront to human dignity as well as the values and goals of the national liberation struggle and the authentic program of liberation. Similarly, the reported acts of violence and the brutality from certain elements of the Security forces in our country should not only be condemned, but the perpetrators should face the full might of the law.

The Covid 19 virus and its associated lockdown restrictions and regulations have, yet again, revealed to us of the high levels of social and economic inequalities in our country. These are manifested in squalid living conditions in African townships where access to water and sanitation and other basic needs facilities are either absent or inadequate.

ERIEF calls upon African governments to speak out and condemn racism and all forms of injustice meted out against African people. National and economic sovereignty and socio-economic development of the majority of the population in Africa should never be compromised in favour of Western -based foreign aid and its complex conditionalities.

Makana Trust

Furthermore, ERIEF is very disturbed by the heartless attitude of the  Ex-Political Prisoners Associations (EPPA),  Makana Trust and  Makana Investment Corporation leadership which, instead of addressing all ex-political prisoners and their dependents’s welfare during this time of difficulty, it chose to assume a state responsibility and function of paying the full salaries of the employees of a government institution while thousands of the marginalised ex-political prisoners and their families are left to fend off for themselves.

This is in direct violation of the overall objective of the EPPA and Makana Trust, as well as in contradiction to both entities’ stated constitutions and laws governing a trust in South Africa. It does not make sense that entities such as Makana Trust and the EPPA that have a long history of pleading poverty whenever called upon to assist its  distressed founding members and rightful beneficiaries, the ex-political prisoners and their dependents, are now dishing out bailout funds to a government institution at the expense of the poverty-stricken ex-political prisoners. This is an unforgivable betrayal to all the marginalised ex-political prisoners in South Africa.

Call for justice.

As we call upon the South African government, civil society organizations, workers unions, community and religious leaders to immediately address this injustice and the overall shameful social circumstances of the liberation struggle veterans and their dependents, we wish to also remind the government of the veterans’ life and limb sacrifices that contributed towards the realisation of what is being, both  27th April and May Day, celebrated by millions of South Africans on these historically significant days in their lives.

South Africans need to know and appreciate that as they celebrate the 27th April Freedom Day and May Day annually, the majority of the liberation struggle veterans, the  real foot soldiers of the liberations struggle who made the life sacrifices for these freedoms to be realised and celebrated, are now unemployed, poverty-stricken and some even homeless. Something needs to be done about this sorry state of affair.

ERIEF wants to also take, on behalf of all its member liberation struggle veterans, this opportunity to express its sadness and heartfelt condolences to the loved ones and family of  Cde Denis Goldberg at the news of his passing away on Wednesday 29, April 2020.

As we bid our farewell to and salute  Cde Denis Goldberg’s contribution and sacrifice in the service of the liberation struggle for justice; equality; freedom; democracy and peace we must also spare a thought for the many marginalised liberation struggle veterans and strengthen our resolve to address the dire and shameful social circumstances of all liberation struggle veterans indiscriminately.

Salute, Cde Denis, Hamba Kahle Qabane, lala ngoxolo!

EX-ROBBEN ISLAND EMPOWERMENT FORUM

May 05, 2020

Contacts:

Sipho Singiswa: 071 870 3303

Mojalefa Vinqi: 064 630 7233

Group Pic: Robben Island Museum.

Copyright: Creative Commons.

Why Race Justice?

Gillian Schutte writes about shining the light on whiteness and white privilege.

As a white person privy to a gamut of white attitudes, it is of great interest to me to explore how these divisive perspectives of white privilege proliferate in a way that contributes to an alienating of those who are not white.

As a long-term wife and mother in a Xhosa family, I am also often intimately engaged with expressions of the experiences of black society in relation to white society.

It is the combination of white attitudes and black responses that informs my writing about whiteness.

I do not seek to set myself up as “the only good white” in South Africa, as many of my opposers have told me. I simply mean to shine a light on the unresolved and deceptive premise of whiteness and white privilege, a destructive phenomenon that many whites are oblivious to.

Whiteness is a category that has been recognised to be false by scientists, as well as race and evolutionist theories. The racial category of “white” cannot exist unless in relation to, or in binary with, other classifications in the racial man-made hierarchy that has itself been fabricated and perpetuated by whiteness.

Only by defining the racialised “other” is whiteness able to define itself as a race elevated above other races.

Whiteness exists in a parasitic symbiosis with “the other”, upon which it builds the false global system of white privilege – a system that is dependent on the oppressed “other” for manpower, yet whose humanity it has discarded over centuries to justify its means.

Paul Kivel, author of Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work For Racial Justice, writes: “Racism is based on the concept of whiteness – a powerful fiction enforced by power and violence.

“Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white.”

In the past 50 years or so, this system of whiteness has “granted the other” a chance to join the whitist global economy – but with restrictions and parameters and often as shareholders, junior partners or managers of white monopoly capital that has accrued wealth over centuries through the system of capitalism founded on slave labour.

The manufactured discourse that upholds this unequal system is one that pretends not to be racist while invariably indulging in racist practices. It is this narrative that I seek to unpack along with other contemporary race narratives that have proliferated since the advent of globalisation.

Its lexicon works to uphold and validate neo-liberalism by seeking to distance itself from racism in words, but not in practice.

I have chosen to deconstruct this fallacious model of whiteness in the South African context by drawing from the work of race theorists in other settler societies, such as the US.

This is my attempt to understand the unresolved space of race relations in our new democracy and to unpack the multifarious narratives the white society has constructed to protect its privilege in the new South Africa and globally.

I locate myself as someone who was born into the racist whiteness construct and as such am in a constant reflexive mode of working through this programming.

As an activist I try to work towards genuine race abolition in a context that is available to me. I have little tolerance for the reinscribing of white privilege through the disingenuousness of those who mark their latent white superiority by language of false “reasonableness”, which interprets progress only by their values and attitudes.

Hence you find some “reasonable” white liberals berating me for attacking the core of white selfhood and who hide behind demands for reasonableness when they perceive attack.

This is their last refuge in protecting the underground laager of their zeitgeist. The irony of defending the zeitgeist, built on the historical and contemporary theft of selfhood to achieve white autonomy and dignity and by guarding what was stolen by racial classification, is lost on them.

Surely it can only be a false sense of self that relies on the advancement of one’s dignity by hanging on to subsumed identity theft? How can one “race” own the privilege of selfhood by ripping the experience of self from another through a historically violent, abusive and racist system?

Apply gender theory to this phenomenon if it makes it easier – we all know that an abusive man does not stop his violence until he is forced to.

People cry white guilt when it comes to insulting race justice activists – but one would have to be a sociopath not to feel any guilt about the generational privilege accrued to whites, so gauchly visible alongside the generational oppression heaped upon the Black majority. It is the absolute disgust at the state of affairs brought about by the historical capitalist pursuit of wealth and privilege by a minority at the expense of larger humanity that drives me.

The human suffering, cruelty and psychopathy propagated by this system cannot be acceptable, especially in the guise of being “reasonable”.

I do not want to uphold and perpetuate an arrangement that benefits some and creates indefensible levels of suffering for others.

We should all have the privilege of living with dignity, of being able to engage in intellectual, artistic and spiritual pursuits and have our humanity acknowledged.

Buying into false race and class constructs destroys our common humanity, whether we are engaged in this consciously or unconsciously. I believe that until we are able to rid ourselves of our racist indoctrination and white privilege we will remain complicit in the perpetuation of a system that can only be described as anti-humanity.

Until we have overthrown a method that perpetuates these false divisions, that benefit the rich and elite at the expense of the poor and oppressed, we must put aside our individuality and fight for the rights and dignity of the collective.

In this way my treatment of the race issue is located in a framework of “socialist ubuntuism” or egalitarianism, and I treat class as a race phenomenon in the context of South Africa.

They came, they saw, and they took it all.

My interest and reach lies within the ambit of whiteness discourses in relation to blackness, power and class; and my focus is often on the binary between privilege and poverty.

Over the past two decades various whiteness narratives have popped up from different positions – with the bulk of the white population casting itself in the role of “victims of the black majority”.

These narratives have taken the form of calling high crime rates in farming areas the “genocide” of white farmers, and the diatribe about BEE and that “the blacks steal all the jobs”. Most subtle is the abuse of the “rule of law” narrative to feed unconscious resentment for loss of power and to shift blame by assuming false moral authority.

These narratives seldom take note of the issue of poverty and privilege, but remain rooted in the “us and them” continuum.

The narrative that often escapes scrutiny is the “new liberal double-speak” that pays lip service to non-racism in a vacuum of self-reflection and results in a covert racism that manifests as a subtle practice of resentment towards black excellence, or exaggerated outrage towards black failings, while denying this fact or remaining unconscious to this reality.

This is the language of institutional racism. In my framework I am aware that while most whites are taught to remain oblivious to the manner in which their privilege continues to oppress blackness, not all whites are unaware of their privilege and racism.

There are white progressives, who have what theorists have called “attitudinal activism”, and who do the work towards transforming racial attitudes.

Contrary to what many believe, I do not write on this topic because I hate white people or loathe my own white skin, or because I want all black people to love me, or because I am mean, nasty, aggressive and rude.

I write about whiteness because I cannot sit back and witness the utter destruction that a system of disproportionate white supremacy has caused in the world.

I am passionately against a capitalist, whitist order that has benefited, as well as schooled, white people into a mindset of fear and loathing of the monsterised other and rabid protectionism over their privilege. Compassion for collective humanity is not a whitist practice – instead compassion is reserved for those who look and think like them. It is the opposite of the sophisticated and regenerative life system known as uBuntu.

I continue to deconstruct racism in my writing because I believe that if a critical collective of white people join in the move to obliterate this deceptive consciousness premised on racial falsities and discourses that pay lip service to empty notions of non-racism, then we will stand a chance to regain our humanity.

This opens up an opportunity to reclaim a sense of self that is not premised on the defence of a system that seeks to oppress others – and which will make way for a future where we acknowledge and celebrate our humanity only because every person’s humanity is acknowledged and celebrated equally.

Until then this divisive system of whiteness will make us “whites” redundant to the paradigm shift driven by the very people who have been oppressed for centuries by a bigoted and chauvinistic organism that classifies some as more human than others.

There is another way.

* Schutte is a founding member of Media for Justice, a social justice and media activist as well as a documentary film-maker.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Whiteness is an Ancestral Trust Fund.

By Gillian Schutte

To be born white in South Africa is akin to being born with a trust fund left to the white collective courtesy of our ancestors.

White people can be guaranteed, even before they are conceived, that they will be born into a 500-year-old (colonial history) white-friendly, socioeconomic system created to advantage them.

When a white person is born they are automatically endowed with a set of benefits, securities and givens that not all black people can guarantee.

Of course there are wealthy black people and a black elite – but we are talking about white privilege in South Africa – and all whites benefited from colonialism and apartheid in one way or another.

Most white people continue to benefit from elitism and neoliberalism.

Most white people are reluctant to shift this status quo and lose their special privileges.

Enduring white resistance to transformation and the dearth of moves towards genuine equality says it all.

This is why 21 years into an independent African democracy around 70% of the top management positions are still held by white males, even though white males often complain the loudest about being pushed out of the economy under black rule.

White people are afraid of losing this set of privileges and thus create a lexicon of nonsensical terms such as ‘reverse racism’ and plentiful negative anti-blackness notions that continue to label black people as incompetent and less worthy.

This says more about white hegemony than it does about black potential or black excellence.

To point out the hegemonic nature of whiteness or write about white privilege does not mean that all white people are ‘black-hating monsters’ or that you want white folk to feel immense guilt.

What you want is for white people to notice how this hegemony thwarts transformation and equality and thus robs our future generations of a world that is equal, celebrates diversity and commonality and is pro-humanity not pro-white.

To point out majority black poverty and the enduring nature of systemic and institutional racism does not mean that you think all black people are victims, have no potential or are not fully fledged and successful vibrant people.

To write about this race and inequality means to write about what is wrong and what needs to transformed in our society – especially in a country with a Gini Coefficient of 0.77 and around 53% of our population living in extreme poverty. That means around 27 million (majority black) citizens are critically poor as a direct result of a white colonial history of oppression and continued blacksploitation.

Yes we know not all whites are rich and spoiled and that those white folk born into wealth and economic privilege have it all the more easier than those of us not born into ‘old’ or ‘new’ money – but this does not cancel out the systemic privileges afforded to the whiteness club.

These benefits, securities and givens are not only economic, because, again, we know that not all whites are actual ‘trust fund babies’ – but whiteness still bestows numerous privileges onto those born into it that are often at the expense of, or denied to, those not white.

This is not to suggest that the zygote or the new born baby is personally racist – but white racism is an inevitable fact for white skinned people, even those who perceive themselves to be not racist.

This is because white babies are not born into a race-neutral world. They are born into a world that has been systemically skewed by white colonial history to benefit whites and disadvantage people that are born ‘not white.’

Contemporary neocolonialism and neoliberalism has further entrenched white privilege – to the point that even Marxists would have to agree that in countries with a settler history, racism is the primary premise of white economic and social privilege.

Surely without the historical exploitation of the black collective body and the subjugation of indigenous people in colonies, white economic supremacy would not be entrenched.

The curse of white skin for race abolitionists is that no matter how non-racist or anti-racist they purport to be they cannot escape the systemic condition of whiteness.

Bringing it down to the basics

  • Besides that small percentage of whites that have slipped through the systemic cracks and are also critically poor, on average white new-borns can mostly be sure of the following:
  • They will not be born critically poor.
  • They will more than likely have access to nutrition, nappies, and a healthy mother.
  • They more than likely will never have to watch their mother, father, grandparents or siblings suffer the indignity of the bucket system or porta-potties and then experience the added indignity of having to find somewhere to dispose of their waste.
  • They will never see their mothers or relatives walking over 200 meters to a tap, or 2km’s to a river, to collect water for daily washing, cooking and family hygiene.
  • They will most likely have access to electricity, warmth, hot water, bathtubs, flushing loos and toilet paper.
  • They will more than likely have access to decent housing, education, service delivery and justice.
  • They will have access to an education system with highly qualified teachers, libraries and decent facilities.
  • They will not have parents who can be shot at with live ammunition and tear gassed or arrested for joining a protest around service delivery or better wages.
  • They will be less likely to know personally, or have a family member or friend who has been incarcerated, either for political or criminal reasons.
  • A white new-born’s parents are less likely to suffer the same types of stresses that the majority of black parents suffer from because the majority of white parents have more access to economic opportunities.
  • They live in areas that are closer to work opportunities.
  • Their neighborhoods are built around social spaces, such as parks, community halls, shopping spaces, libraries, schools, restaurants and cinemas.
  • They are more than likely able to afford to use these amenities.
  • Their homes will more than likely have adequate furnishings and domestic resources.
  • They will not have to spend 30% of their meagre earnings on transport and travel long distances to get to menial low paying jobs.
  • If they become struggling single mothers they will still, on average, earn a much higher salary than struggling, uneducated single black women.
  • They will be less likely to be victims of HIV or AIDS, TB, Malnutrition and related illnesses.
  • They will have access to health services and they will more than likely live a longer lifespan.
  • They will not have the burden of the history of systemic oppression to work through.

If compared to middle class black society…

  • White middle class youth will be less likely than black middle class youth to have to financially support family and relatives when they begin to earn money.
  • They will be less likely to have huge economic cleavages between them and members of their extended family if they make it up the economic ladder.
  • They will have less guilt about how they spend money on themselves whilst part of their family still uses the bucket system or has no access to proper nutrition.
  • They will probably not have a husband, brother, mother or neighbour who can testify to having been suspected of stealing, loitering, planning a heist or spoken to like a child by a white shop owner.
  • They will not consistently have to prove themselves by working doubly hard to underscore their intelligence in a white dominated corporate world.
  • They will not be accused of wanting to be ‘white’ for joining the economy and climbing up the economic ladder.
  • They will not be mocked for driving a smart car as if they bought the car at the expense of their children’s education.
  • They will not be forced to adhere to a skewed system that belittles them to gain acceptance in an economy historically built on the backs of their own people’s oppression.
  • They will not have to prove that they are not ‘whining victims’ when they complain or protest against delegitimizing white racist discourse – whether overt or covert.
  • They will also be assured that their views would be the default position and everyone around them would have to work hard to prove their counter views.
  • They will be assured of positive representations of their own likeness in advertising, films and news stories.
  • They will have the security of knowing that if you are white, male and rich could possibly get away with murder because the justice system is more geared towards white males than women or black people.
  • They will never be accused of reverse racism as a way to silence their dissent against unfair privileges bestowed onto people because of their skin colour in a world skewed to advantage some at the expense of the other.
  • They will, on a conscious and subconscious level, be given the message over and over that white humanity is more valuable than black humanity.
  • They will be less likely to be brutalized by the state and state mechanisms.
  • They will never experience racism.

They will be more likely to deny that all of the above is the truth about white privilege. In fact they will more than likely deny that there is such a thing as white privilege and hegemony and label those who shed light on this topic as a race traitor.

But no amount of denialism or aggressiveness to those who write about white privilege and its negative impact on fellow humans is ever going to change the fact that white people deny and threaten those who shake up their comfort zone or question the status quo precisely because they do not want to give up on their privileges and are more than willing to perpetuate the conditions that allow them to continue living with a set of givens, norms and benefits denied to other people.

(A shorter version of this piece was published in Sunday Independent on 02/02/2015)