Racism RACISM

RACISM

People think of racism as monolithic but according to philosophers like Kwame Appiah there are many forms and he distinguishes between racialism and racial prejudice. Racialism refers to being born into a specific race and being inculcated into its culture.

In South Africa when we think of racism, we think mainly in terms of race prejudice and for the most part race prejudice is seen as monolithic as well. But there are at least two aspects to racism. On the one hand, it is the feeling of racial superiority and, on the other, the feeling of racial inferiority. The 'superior' race looks down on the 'inferior' with contempt, hatred and fear. The 'inferior' race looks down on itself with contempt and hatred and looks up to the superior race with anger, hatred, envy and fear.

We usually focus on the first aspect: White contempt and hatred for Black people. The reciprocal feelings of inferiority, self-hatred and envy are swallowed up in anger and outrage at maltreatment. But acceptance of victimhood is part of the racist equation. Steve Biko recognised this and through his policy and programmes of Black Consciousness, set out to address the problem. But the idea of a strong, self-affirming Black person was diametrically opposed to the programme of the Apartheid State which depended on a subjugated people with a subjugated mentality. Consequently, Steve Biko did not survive apartheid paranoia

Now in South Africa, we have come up with programmes to put Black on par with White and we hope that feelings of inferiority and superiority will disappear once we have established equity. They do not. They can only disappear after the kind of transformation that Steve Biko envisioned. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions with programmes of confession and forgiveness touch only the surface of Black and White racisms. Conflicts in our country, therefore, remain rooted in perceptions of race and ethnicity.

White racism is still apparent in patronising attitudes under which notions of Black incompetence persist. As exposing racism is considered politically incorrect, racially conditioned behaviour goes unchecked. In the old days, we used to shout racial slurs at one another but in today's society reference to racism has become politically incorrect because there is more interaction between Black and White. So racism is not so obvious and that makes it harder to confront because it stays just below the surface. In daily commerce, regardless of competence and despite superficial interracial hugging and kissing, Black people, metaphorically speaking, still sit at the back of the bus. A glass ceiling obtains for Black people who are not under the government's umbrella. They may not assume responsibility; they must remain servants.

In South Africa, Black people have had to adopt a white culture in order to progress and survive. The imposition of white culture (language, norms and values) gives white people a clear advantage over Black people and even in today's society, in which the status quo obtains, no one examines "competence" and "incompetence" in terms of cultural domination.

Black racism is much more complex because its main ingredient is self-hate.

Black is still not beautiful unless it manifests itself through white norms and values: light skins, straightened hair, adoption of white accents and speech patterns, white values and norms, and Christianity. Lip service is paid to tradition and traditional ways are used to accent, give exotic colour to dress, events, occasions etc. These are manifestations of an underlying self-hate, the desire to be white.

Most Black people still understand and know their place – the back of the bus. They remain victims and enslaved.

Black people are divided racially and ethnically. Though the Congress of the People in 1955 tried to bring all people of colour together as Black people, Apartheid divide and rule policy, which created a hierarchy of races and reinforced ethnic divisions among African people, was more powerful as it was enforced by law. As a result unity of people under the designation Black did not reach too far down. And the various Black races and ethnic groups, looking at one another from a white perspective, extended their self-hatred to one another and took to oppressing one another. And self-hate among Black people still persists.

Opportunistic Blacks become sycophants in order to obtain favours and these favours bind them to the will of White power. And they keep themselves up by keeping other Blacks down.

The majority of Black people are poor – their legacy from colonialism and apartheid. As long as they remain poor, we will never be free of racism.

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