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.

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