Every day racism: If we don't talk about it, it doesn't exist.

So ok then, let's talk about the largely racist society - a term I used in my last post to describe the world we live in - and some of you don't agree.

Without wanting to attack anybody,  I have to say that so far only "white" people don't agree or in some cases even feel they have to be on the defense when they read this. And whats more, they are mostly white, educated and liberal people, who "love" their domestic workers, give to charities and truly believe that "color does not matter" and "we are all equal". So really they should have the cognitive abilities to see things from different perspectives sometimes - and this would also mean to acknowledge that from a non-white perspective things in today's South Africa are not so rosy when it comes to distribution of wealth and privilege - so why this refusal to look at our society critically and attempt to change things rather than live in denial? and why this radical defensive reaction,  I wonder...

 Does the word racism automatically invoque some sort of "white guilt" against which we can only defend ourselves by immediately jumping on the opposite side of the fence and denying  that there might be any truth in this statement?

Are we so afraid to admit to our white privileges because doing that would mean having to give them up?

And on a purely emotional level, where daily prejudice, discrimination and injustice are concerned, do we really believe the propaganda, that we have completely left the dark days of apartheid behind?

Where I agree, that in this country all the right things are said and done on a poltical level (mostly) to ensure that apartheid and racism don't enter into the equasion, nothing much has changed for not so white people when it comes to prejudice and stereotype.  It is precisely this detached political correctness that allows everyone to hide behind a set of rules and regulations and not question what happens behind all this polished politeness, hidden or obvious.

And yes, I generalise, when I say "largely racist" - if generalising is taking my own experiences and knowlege,  which is obviously limited by time and space - and apply it to the larger picture, but this is precisely what I do - unashamedly I might add.

According to the rules, the written ones and the unspoken ones -  it all comes down to one thing: we're so over apartheid/racism that  we don't even talk about it. Ever.  So if this is true -  I ask myself, and we are no longer racist, how come we live in such a divided society? People might work together, study together, go to school together - by numbers  prescribed by affirmative action or BEE or some other carefully formulated rule - yet socially everybody seems to revert back to apartheid-segregation laws.  How many parties do you go to, how many restaurants do you visit, how many private dinners do you attend, where black and white are not only represented by number but actually mix and socialise with each other?  Not so many, is my guess...so how can anybody call this a diverse and non-racist society?

As this did not make sense to me,  I have started to ask questions, personal questions, questions, that we (white) people normally don't ask other (black) people. And here is what I learned (and for the sake of my typing speed I am now going to forsake the "", when referring to "black" and "white"): These are a only a few of many many examples of today's non racist South Africa, all of it happened to black professional women in the last couple of months, all of it was handled in a politically correct manner, and all of it is "largely racist":

One woman makes an appointment with a well known white GP in Constantia (why she doesn't want to reveal his name is beyond my understanding, but for her sake I can't out him here) - she enters his practise, gives her name and sits down in the waiting area. When  he comes out of his consulting room to call her, he takes one look at her, starts mumbling something into his collar, looks again and stutters: "sorry, I can't see  you now..." and literally runs out of his own waiting room. I have to add here, that she has an English sounding name and her being black must have been a surprise to the good doctor. When she questions the receptionist about the doctors behaviour, she first gets brushed off with: he had to rush to an appointment. When she insits she is not going to leave without a truthful explanation , the receptionist finally caves in and admits: " I am so sorry, I don't know how to say this, but he doesn't know how to deal with you". The black woman is shocked and speechless and leaves the practise, feeling humiliated and angry. But at least through her own persistence, she managed to get to the bottom of the matter and did not accept the usual explanation, where victims of racial abuse get told, that they are imagining things and clearly have "issues".

Another woman notices that, whenever she goes shopping at Clicks,  she regularly gets followed around by a security guard, who does not follow the white women who shop there. She does not know how to deal with this situation, which leaves her  feeling confused, doubting  her own perception,  humiliated and angry. People, even friends, to whom she talks about these incidents, often tell her, that white women also sometimes get followed at Clicks (not me!) and that it is not neccessarily racist. Thereby telling her not to trust her own intuition but rather believe the official propaganda that security guards do not target black people in supermarkets as potential thieves, because that would be racist. Also - she tells me - what could she do? "I can't start arguing with the security guard, who only does what he gets told to do."

Yet another woman with a small baby gets dropped off at a suburbian security complex, where she is visiting a friend. As she attempts to walk past the security guard, he stops her and tells her she can't go in. She tells him she's there to visit somebody and continues walking until he physically prevents her from entering the complex. When she tries to reason with him, he claims, he is not allowed to let anybody in, "who does not park a car" (???).  She refuses to leave and eventually gets the manager of the complex to come out and talk to her. He quickly realises the mistake and apologises by explaining, that there is a nearby construction site and all the workers march into the complex to use the toilets. A new new rule had to be put into place , in order to protect the residents against lawless abuse of their private facilities. In line with political  correctness though, nobody even mentions the word "black" in connection with that rule and yet it was abundantly clear that only black people were prevented from entering the complex and any white person on foot would have been greeted and waved through. How did this black woman feel? Amongst many other things, angry, frustrated and exasperated. She knew she was being treated this way because she was black yet nobody would ever acknowlege her reality, so no point fighting or arguing against something that never happened - right?

Another one? Here is a good one: a black pathologist working in a lab reports a faulty machine. Instead of sending somebody to sort the problem out - as I bet would have happened had a white male doctor reported the problem, the white person representing the company puts the pathologist through an interrogation as to wether she even knows how to operate the machine, implying that it is her incompentence and not the machine's fault. Did she feel humiliated? Angry?Frustrated?  I don't know. Considering that she was one of the first black students in an all Africaans university where the lecturers refused to teach in English, even though they were required by law (which was politically correct of course) to do so - I can't even begin to understand how she must have felt. Most of the black students who started with her, were not able to stand the pressure and gave up, reaffirming the status quo and the prejudice of course that black people are not as clever as white people. The way in which the white lecturers managed to outwit the law was simply by letting the students "vote" at the beginning of a lecture, whether they wanted the lecture to be in English or Africaans. Predictably, with only two or three black students per class, the outcome was overwhelmingly democratic and non racist - Africaans only!

I have many more examples of the same nature, where black women - and men - get subtly or overtly discriminated, insulted and marginalised on a daily basis - but everybody pretends it is not happening.  The emotional impact of this "hidden racism" is in many ways even worse than open discrimination, as the "victims" get deprived of their reality and subsequently their sanity. They get told, it is not so and they are imagining things. They are told, they have issues and they are playing the race card. They can hardly ever "prove" anything, or if they could, it is hardly worth the effort as it will get explained away with politically correct phrases and smiles or at best a fake apology, which does not mean anything as it does  not even touch the hurt of continious racial abuse.

When  later in our conversation, one of the women said to me, with a half smile that she "hates" white people - I certainly felt the sting of that statement but mostly I could relate. What hurt me was that I, by default of my skin color, was part of the group "white" people. At the same time it suddenly dawned on me what it must feel like to constantly be part of the group "black"people in a world where so much stereotyping continues to happen. I also understood how we create this divided society in which dialogue becomes impossible because people learn to "hate" each other instead of understanding each other. There is no room for deeper understanding and personal connection in a professional or political environment, where all the rules are followed by the book and nobody is really interested in why those rules exist in the first place. If we were to truly understand what it feels like to be black or any other shade of color we might stop and think before we rule that post apartheid SA is no longer racist

So - where am I getting at ? Again: I don't want to attack white people, I am one of the group and as such know that it is possible to relate and connect and that many of us really want to do just that but don't know how. I am learning that our South African racism can not be healed on a political level as it is all too personal. We all need to take a step into the unknown and start being uncomfortably interested in the "other". Only by taking the time to connect from white to black out of any political or professional context but in a very personal setting, will we be able to initiate true healing and change. And for those of you who wonder about my relationship with the black woman who hates white people, I had a wonderful time talking to her (we actually spent a weekend together with our families) and I am proud to say that we truly like and respect each other and are on our way to becoming good friends. So next time, you come across an"other" person a different shade from yours, this  could be your chance to cross the universe of racial divide in what might only be a small step for you but could easily turn into a huge leap for mankind ;-)


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