How To Be White And Happy In South Africa

Privilege

It’s tough being a rich white male.

Alright, now that I’ve got your attention …

I’ve witnessed a tectonic shift in this country’s narrative over the last 18 to 24 months. Today, as a white South African, I’m feeling vulnerable. I feel like I can’t speak freely. I feel like I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t. I feel like my character is second to my skin colour, and that simply being white might make me the target of some random act of violence. I don’t feel at all welcome here.

My how the tables have turned.

For the first time in my life I’m well out of my comfort zone. I have felt genuinely guilty for just being white. And yet, despite this, I’m still sitting pretty. The truth is it’s not even remotely tough being me. I live a dream life and I have all the opportunities I could ever ask for.

Being pushed out of my comfort zone has me asking questions about what to do next. White questions like stay or go? Jozi or Cape Town? Do I have an Irish great grandfather? You know, the usual.

Then, from the midst of all the doom and gloom, comes a sliver of hope and a moment of clarity. I am white. I don’t have to be ashamed of being white. I can enjoy and even be proud of being white. I have as much value to add here as anybody else, even if my pale hue points to European descent.

But if I’m going to be proudly white and proudly South African and contribute something positive to whatever direction this crazy beautiful corner of the our continent is headed in, then I think there are several practical ways to achieve that. Bear with me on this.

Embrace your privilege

Much has been said and written about what is now commonly been called white privilege. I’m not going to attempt to explain it any further, partly because others have done so and partly because I don’t feel qualified to speak authoritatively on such a complex topic. I will assume that if you are white and reading this that you have sought at least to understand the notion of privilege and applied some critical thought to the reality of it in your life.

Now, stop shying away from it. Stop being defensive about it. Stop trying to explain yourself out of it. Embrace it.

Yes, you heard me right – we were downright lucky to be born white in South Africa at the time we were. In fact you’d be downright lucky to be born white anywhere in the world at any time, history tells us. In the lottery of the natural world we got a better than average ticket. How we use that ticket is a testimony to our character. As I once heard Doug Rushkoff say, there are broadly two ways to live your life (referring obviously to wealth and not necessarily to skin colour but I think the principle remains): either make enough money to insulate yourself against the problems of the world or use that money to fix them.

Use your epidermal trust fund wisely.

As the world witnesses a distinct, vocal and passionate black consciousness rise out of the democratisation of publishing and media, and as the control of the global narrative slips out of our collective white fingers, we have been presented with an extraordinary opportunity to understand our role in the change and to choose either to run away from it, or to embrace it. Do the latter.

Forget everything you (think you) know about racism

I thought racism was making jokes about black people and calling minibus taxi drivers names when they cut you off in traffic. The degree of sophistication of my comprehension extended at most to believing that racism was a blanket assumption, positive or negative, about a group of people based purely on the colour of their skin. You can see this reflected in a blog post I wrote some years back. This view of racism is more accurately described as prejudice and or discrimination.

Racism, as I now understand it (and I am open to being proven wrong or educated further), is the systemic abuse of white privilege in society. Because this is so much more complex and subtle than just not calling black people derogatory names, we have failed dismally in actively addressing the often insidious and utterly destructive force of racism in our every day lives. 99% of us, it seems, have not had a clue it existed. We thought we were eradicating racism by finally coming to terms with calling “the garden boy” the gardener. How naïve and blind we have been. This stark realisation has been a shock to the white psyche. Any shock of that nature will initiate a response. How you respond is a testimony to your character.

I have also realised that we have collectively (black, white and every other race group on the spectrum) done the necessary process of dismantling and addressing racism a catastrophic disservice by creating a naming false dichotomy. We have believed that you can be “racist” and “not racist” like you can be pregnant and not pregnant and that there are no degrees in between. We have vilified “being a racist” to the point that people are now too terrified to be deliberately introspective about their inherited and learned biases and prejudices.

I’m not at all defending the acts of the outrageously racist and deliberately hateful– these incidences can and should be punished and such people have no constructive role to play in society – but the way I understand racism now helps me to acknowledge and address, albeit painfully, the remnants of the cancerous impact of racism in my own heart and mind. I want to expose it, talk about it, be challenged on it, and deal with it.

To flounder desperately as a white person denying the presence of racism in your world is to attempt to rationalise that, contrary to all evidence, you are a fish out of water. Fish survive in water. If you are a fish, you survive in water. Racism, I’ve suggested, is the systemic abuse of white privilege. If you are white, you cannot escape racism. One might even argue that if you are white, you cannot, not be racist. If there is philosophical merit to that stance, accept it, and get on with it. “Oh well, I have cancer, let’s get on to the chemotherapy then.”

Right now we’re arguing racism and racist behaviour with each other like we have the same definition for it. It’s not surprise we aren’t making any progress.

Understand that you don’t get a cookie

Last year I had an eye-opening debate with a feminist colleague of mine during which she shared a thought that rocked my foundations:

You don’t get a cookie for being a nice guy.

I want you to imagine you have two builders working on an extension of a property for you (did you imagine them black? – I’m just kidding – relax).

They are building two almost identical rooms on either side of a passage. You have given them five days to complete the job. After three days Builder 1, let’s call him Bob, has done three days’ worth of work and is bang on schedule. Marvelous.

Builder 2, we’ll call him Tom, has only completed one day’s work in three days. You’re furious. He is wasting your money, and he has betrayed your trust. Tom has quite enjoyed being a little slow and didn’t even notice he was that behind schedule. You read Tom the riot act, he craps himself and at the end of day four Bob has done four days of work and Tom has caught up to three days of work.

Tom is very chuffed with himself because he did two days’ worth of work in one day! What a miraculous achievement, he cries, and especially for someone who was so slow to start off with! But you’re still angry at Tom because even though he did two days’ worth of work (which is pretty remarkable even by your own admission), he is still behind Bob and still wasting your money and worse yet, he’s happy with himself!

Would you reward Tom for his progress? I wouldn’t.

Spoiler alert: Bob is black people in South Africa. Tom is white South Africans, who realised with a bit of a start in the mid 80s and early 90s that we had been unimaginably and inexcusably disgusting human beings.

Many white South Africans have consciously addressed their race-related prejudice and bias by changing their vocabulary, actively engaging in nation-building initiatives, having real conversations, building meaningful relationships, etc. But advancing to the point where we are now more decent human beings does not justify a reward. If we have somehow gotten there we’ve just started our journey. We’re on square one. We don’t get cookies for getting to square one.

Stop expecting Jacob Zuma to be your president

Happiness = expectation – reality.

You’re pissed off with Jacob Zuma because you think he is a useless president. Nothing about Jacob Zuma’s tenure as South Africa’s president gives any real evidence to the contrary. Here’s the problem though – I don’t think Jacob Zuma has any intention of being the loved and appreciated president of a democracy.

I think, and please bear in mind this is my completely unqualified opinion on the subject, that Jacob Zuma is a chief, actively building his chieftainship. And to be fair to the man, he is very good at that. If you stop thinking of Zuma as the leader of a democracy and attempt to understand his decision-making process as the autocratic leader of a tribal community, you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration and incredulity. His is the chief, we are his villagers.

Again, I am in no way excusing his actions or decisions as the president of our democracy, I am simply attempting to change my expectation in the interest of progress.

Zuma or no, politicians won’t save us. We have the utterly dysfunctional ANC on one side, the ankle-biting, opportunistic smurfs on the opposite side and Julius the chili in the middle of that stale sandwich.

As election time looms I’m seriously considering voting for a guy in a red beret who seems intent on beating me out of my cosy Bryanston home with a big stick. Not even Woolies moving sweets out of the checkout aisle had me this confused and conflicted.

Recalibrate your view on the Nelson Mandela chapter

I saw a tweet recently that read: “‘But Mandela …’ – white people proverb.” I sadly can’t remember who the author was.

The day Nelson Mandela was released from prison is carved out vividly in my memory. We were at my grandfather’s house in Edenvale. All the grandkids were horsing around outside. All the grown ups were inside, in a circle, watching the TV silently. Not much was being said. I don’t know if my family knew what to think.

The rest is history. Nelson Mandela, in an unprecedented display of almost messianic benevolence and forgiveness, told us that everything would be ok. We (white people) had repeatedly and remorselessly done unthinkable things to our countrypeople and here we had the single person we had been told was the greatest threat to white domination and prosperity telling us everything would be ok.

He said remarkable things. He made remarkable decisions. He broke down formidable barriers. He wore that no 6 jersey. He embraced the very people who had trampled him into the dirt his entire life without hesitation.

And we lapped it up. I mean, who wouldn’t?

What I’m about to suggest has every chance of being misconstrued terribly but I hope you’ll understand my hypothesis. Madiba’s character and his act of forgiveness was such an utterly extraordinary occurrence of rare superhumanity – perhaps never before seen and never to be repeated – that it gave us (white people) the delusion that decades and even centuries of mistreatment of our compatriots could be magicked out of thin air overnight.

Then came the TRC and again an unparalleled display of forgiveness and we believed the work had been done. All that was left was to get your BEE level up to scratch and you were rainbow material.

Of course genuine progress was made and lives were changed. I sincerely believe tens of thousands of South Africans of all races made a concerted effort to “move forward”. But this is the problem with racism. It’s a complex system. You can change all the plasters you like but if the sores are caused by cancer you have to intervene aggressively.

What we needed was an ongoing commitment to doing the work around understanding and actively reversing the long-lasting and ingrained implications of decades of apartheid. We needed to have tough conversations. We needed introspection. We needed to address class distinction, language barriers, and poverty.

Instead we hoped we’d win another World Cup because that seemed to do the trick the first time.

Ok, I’m generalising and being slightly facetious, but you get the point. The work we didn’t even necessarily realise we had to do since 1994 is now the emergency intervention we have to take 21 years later. Our 21 year old democracy, brought up by two very different and almost irreconcilably estranged parents, is now going off the rails.

Actively change your perspective

As white South Africans we have the luxury of being able to choose whether we’ll insulate ourselves against the problems in our country or use our means and influence to address them. If we choose the latter we need to acknowledge that eradicating racism is going to take generations to achieve – we’ll never get to see the fruits of those efforts, but our grandchildren or great grandchildren might. That said, we simply can’t ignore the role we have to play in that process, or let the depth and scale of systemic racism dissuade us.

In the face of such a monumental challenge these suggestions will seem inane, and yet so few of us even bother to attempt the basics. Start by spending time in places you normally avoid. Try having a conversation with people you normally ignore. Learn Zulu and Xhosa greetings. Use public transport. Invite black colleagues to share their stories and experiences with you, even in open forum. Listen. Volunteer at your local police station or an inner city school. Go have dinner at your domestic helper or gardener’s flat, home or shack. Read as much as you can. Use social media to find and follow black people with a distinctly different view to yours rather than using it create a white echo chamber around yourself. If you feel threatened by what they’re saying, you’re in the right place. The road to an authentically New South Africa is paved in increments of paradigm shifts.

But more than anything else, let’s speak up when we see blatant or even subtle racism at in social contexts and at work. Let’s make laughing at the jibes and jokes socially unacceptable. Let’s risk offending our peers and call people out. Let’s have the raw debates and conversations. Let’s have them publicly. It quite literally is the very least we can do.

A final parting thought. A valued, trusted and incredibly patient friend and colleague of mine has helped me begin to grasp that the rising tide of black consciousness we are witnessing is not anti-white, or even necessarily anti-racist. It is a public war against attempts to simplify or deny the incredibly complicated realities of privilege, supremacy, oppression and systemic racism. Without a sincere attempt to understand, engage and combat the depth and breadth of these issues, white South Africans are at risk of having no constructive role to play and being made redundant. I think that would be a terrible shame.

As always, your comments are welcome.

This entry was posted in Life. Bookmark the permalink.
  • derekraisch

    This is good. People must own their fear in order to become individuals, and if they can’t sleep at night for fear of being called a racist – do something about it. Confront it, as you indicate. Others can be far less self-congratulatory about what they did in the 80s, what titles they read or which anti-Trump post they last Liked. Racism and the stoking by Zuma gets the Media train engine going – as this depresses so many people into unproductive inaction I suggest they click-click out of their gates and walk down the street and engage with real people. Go to Checkers rather than Woolies ;-). Oh, and the views of those with double or triple foreign passports is always discounted.

  • Hey well done Mike, you nailed it.

  • Sue Clarke

    This read has been great. “The road to an authentically new South Africa is paved in increments of paradigm shifts. ” .

  • Lisa Collyer

    Thought provoking, thank you.

  • Larsen Bjorn

    Thank you for a an interesting piece. I would caution, however, against your conceptualization of racism, since it is an area of hot ideological contention. Your understanding is derived from critical race theory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_race_theory . CRT is fundamentally hostile to liberalism and its primacy of individual choice and freedom. Untangling this is a very interesting project (basically Kant v MacIntyre with some Heidegger thrown in), but beyond the scope here. It is this characteristic that gives credence to the idea that movements like RMF are flirting with fascism. It is fully sufficient to deal with racism by understanding that it is ultimately linked to a denial of INDIVIDUAL dignity – racism is always suffered at individual level, not at a collective race level. This is also the constitutional position in South Africa. This view is ultimately also more empathetic (and emphatic) than the collectivist position of CRT, where a an individual is reduced to a mere cypher of a social abstraction or chosen category (race being the favorite of CRT). It also equips one far better to deal with possibly greater evils, such as speciecism and sexism. I value individual choice and freedom, and thus reject the CRT construct of racism. Now – it is very important NOT to confuse a rejection of CRT and its offshoots with racism, as the charge will inevitably come.

    • Thanks Larsen. I’m not smart enough to understand even half of what you’re saying, but I did find the “CRT” view of racism, if that’s what it is, to be a helpful way to broaden my perspective.

      • Larsen Bjorn

        Although I abhor socialism in all its guises, it provides some of the best critiques of identity politics, on which your understanding of racism is based. http://isj.org.uk/whats-wrong-with-privilege-theory/

        • Scott Harrison

          “I abhor socialism in all its guises”
          I abhor fascism in all its guises.

          • Larsen Bjorn

            Hi Scott, I see you are replying to each of my posts… I’m somewhat flattered, and would be even more so, if you could perhaps display some subtlety or even comprehension, instead of constructing straw men. You might want to tread that ISJ article, it shows up quite well where you have it wrong. For the record, I think my stance is also far more empathetic than what yours could possible be. I would recognise someone as an autonomous individual, not a mere cyphre of a social group. What truly gives one moral worth is your agency and choicemaking abilities, not your membership if a socialy constructed group. As for guilt – what you really mean, is that I must bow to your ideology. No chance there, my friend, I’ve seen where such thinking leads to. But.. I’ll let you have the last word, I”ve spent enough time here.

    • Chris Allsobrook

      racism = the systemic abuse of white privilege
      racism = the denial of individual dignity
      i don’t see how the second one captures it or how the first one is ‘fundamentally hostile to individual choice and freedom’.
      what are you, rambo?
      are you or have you ever been a member of the freedom foundation?

    • Scott Harrison

      “racism is always suffered at individual level, not at a collective race level. This is also the constitutional position in South Africa”

      Not so. Racism in South Africa has always been collective, pervasive, institutional, systemic. That is the whole point: colonialism and
      apartheid were precisely NOT simply personal discrimination.

      • Larsen Bjorn

        Scott – you are confusing the formation of policy with the ultimate effect of such policy. A collective does not have a consciousness or a nervous system. It cannot feel pain. Suffering is ALWAYS at individual level. And even if a lot of individuals are treated collectively, it does not change that fact. The reason why you say what you is because your beholden to the tenets of identity politics, which is essentially an ideological position. It is strongly dismissive of human agency and individual autonomy, and thus worthy of rejection.

        • Scott Harrison

          Would you apply the same cold logic to Rwanda, to Armenia, to Nazi Germany? So according to your clinical argument, the Jews didn’t suffer as a people, but one by one. This might prove some kind of semantic position, but it seems to me like an oddly cold dismissal of a trauma that was imposed on an entire race of people. Indeed – Tom, Dick or Harry suffered individually as a result of The Group Areas Act – bit how can you dismiss collective suffering? I’m simply trying to grasp how you can write off the whole idea of collective suffering….

        • Scott Harrison

          “A collective does not have a consciousness or a nervous system. It cannot feel pain. ”

          There is such a thing. It’s called “empathy”.

    • Scott Harrison

      “your conceptualization of racism … is an area of hot ideological contention. ”

      This sounds like academic cant to me. Read Segal: The Black Diaspora. I don’t think the millions of victims of white supremacism would argue that it was an area of “contention”.

      • Larsen Bjorn

        You are missing my point, and I do not think it’s for a lack of exposition. The ideological battle around the meaning of racism is screamingly evident. There are essentially three schools underlying this: liberalism, which gives primacy to the individual, classical leftism which emphasises economic class, and the new kid on the block, identity politics. The latter has the least substance but the highest social media utility and thus tries to make up for it with mid-brain directed manufactured outrage. It’s actually right there in your post: you speak for “millions of victims” as a collective, completely ignoring the obvious distinction between the circumstances of an actual victim, say a slave, and a modern descendant of such living today. But dare one “victim” exercise individual thinking, and break rank, and he gets called the most vile things. Thus it is not only an identity based position, but also a fiercely policed one. Also note that the mere fact that you have a strong view of something is not sufficient to disprove a contrary view, or worse, that a contrary view does not exist. Referring me to a book that you like does not cut the mustard either.

        • Scott Harrison

          Okay Larsen, we can leave out the book (although it’s a helpful read). I still don’t see how your analysis (liberalism, classical leftism, identity politics) avoid the elephant in the room which is the oppression of millions of people under the apartheid regime. And I return to your contention that “racism is always suffered at an individual level, not at a collective race level”. How can you consider the following Apartheid-era legislation to be acts of ‘individual racism’ : The Race Classification Act, The Group Areas Act, The Mixed Marriages Act, The Immorality Act, the Bantu Authorities Act, Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, Bantu Homelands Citizens Act of 1970 (etc, ad nauseam)? You disagree with my referring to “millions of victims” as a collective – what else would you consider that to be? And, as another example: the millions of African slaves of the Transatlantic slave trade?

  • Spiritualist

    Great article and I agree with most of what you said. Unfortunately too long a read and most people would not take the time to read the whole article… perhaps you could break it up into about 3 parts? I am sure many more people would read and take it all in then.

  • Serban

    Urrggg too many of these articles about white this white that from another white writer who ‘gets it’ and by being so eager to embrace his privilege gets to point at the ‘problem’ whites who don’t get it. Look, man, I know you mean well but with all these race-based analyses (I’m not singling you out) all boil down to some platitude around being aware of privilege or something like that. That approach works well for abolishing feminisim, racism or any indeed any form of ‘ism’ but in SA’s case the reason we’re sucking at progress isn’t because of white privilege (which yes, most certainly exists) but because of actual policy failings. And all these race-based perspectives on SA’s failings all suck at providing actual concrete steps to alleviating poverty, eliminating extreme inequality, providing education, healthcare, roads etc. Instead they offer some generic ‘be aware of your privilege’ statement that amounts to nothing. Not that I dont think as a white male I shouldnt be aware and try break down my unearned privileges, but even if everyone did so our youth unemployment rate would still sit at over 40%. So yeah privilege is there, be aware of it, dont contribute to it, but no the reason we’re getting poorer isn’t because white X or black Y.

    • WastedLook

      Brilliant. Well said. Finally…

    • Thanks for the comment Serban. How can you know that “if everyone did so our youth unemployment rate would still sit at over 40%”?

      I can’t see how the trend around white disinvestment, brain drains and apathy aren’t in some way linked to those critical statistics. Policy failings sure, but the private sector drives actual change. And the wealth and influence of the private sector, for better or worse, sits in the hands of white people like me. I’m asking the knee bone to acknowledge that it may be connected to the jaw bone. Nothing more.

      • Serban

        The underlying assumption you’re making is that if white capital behaved in ways X, Y and Z we would see large and beneficial changes to SA. I’m saying that thinking is a red-herring. When it comes to economic progress at a macro level concrete items such as property rights, functioning courts, independent media, protection of civil liberties, delivery of services (etc ) are proven ways to alleviate poverty. Lamenting white privilege may score social points but asking whites to change their behaviour (again not specifying in which way it should change) because ‘reasons’ is ineffective. And that’s the issue I take with such broad generalisations around race – they lack any real actionable steps but aren’t short on moral judgement. Now again I’m most certainly NOT saying whites don’t need to check their privilege, I’m saying asking people to not be racist assholes is good, but focusing efforts on policies that are proven to improve the lives of the poor is much better.

        • Bernard Anu Moshabane

          I agree that effective policy guides the potential for growth, but I dare you to take into consideration the resources required to see the results from implementing said policies. Did you know from the 5 000 dams that are registered on the database of the department of water and sanitation, only 320 of those are owned and controlled by the state (similar stats exist for our landfills and other resources that would be assumed public)? This means that the state buys/rents critical resources from private individuals/companies and sells it back to the public with a nominal mark up. How can a government run efficiently if it does not own its countries major resources? I recently found out that even our reserve bank has private ownership??? The willing buyer willing seller policy was ushered in by the ANC in the 90s (Mandela’s kumbaya strategy) and has continued to fuck us over ever since. My question to you is would you be willing to consider the very real impact on white ownership the overturn of this policy would have on the greater good of South Africa?

          • Serban

            Suspending private property rights to redistribute land according to your skin pigmentation? Sounds like a great way to encourage more white disinvestment, brain drain and apathy ;)

          • Bernard Anu Moshabane

            Skin colour is not the qualifying criteria, the community having a vested interest in where their resources come from is. Why should a community with low employment and minimal skills have to buy water from someone who inherited a dam from his grand father?

          • Bernard Anu Moshabane

            When it comes down to it, he with all the gold makes all the rules. The majority of South Africans do not have a stake/vested interest in the economic well being of this country. How then could you expect the majority to understand what it does to an economy when the president replaces your finance minister at the drop of a hat? The movement of #WhiteSupremacymustfall is GLOBAL and is directly in line with all the land, gold and resources white families have accumulated through their history of conquest and the racial disparities this has caused in Africa, Australia, Latin & Central America etc. This is not just a South African phenomenon, its a global agenda looking to reform the structural inequalities our human history has led up to.

          • Serban

            When you strip it down there are two paths. One is to try and steer SA into better waters through a combination of good policies that encourage development to reduce income inequality and provide stability. This takes many years, its boring, requires good policies and doesn’t directly tackle SA’s racist past. Its the path of forgive and forget etc. The other path is to say the above is a pipe-dream and forcefully redistribute assets by suspending property rights in the name of historical redistribution. Which one is the best for SA? Looking at Zimbabwe – they have done a great job of addressing inequality. Too bad they cant afford food as a result

          • Bernard Anu Moshabane

            Why are these the only two paths Serban? Isnt the whole point of development that we learn from the mistakes of others and take all parties involved into consideration? Your example of Zimbabwe (classic white South African response at that) is not the only available route to the redistribution of wealth. As you mentioned, the forgiveness part has taken place on the part of black South Africans. Now repatriation is in order for the wheel of justice to come full circle. An example of this is how Germany pays reparations to Israel for their instigation of the holocaust. Germany even takes it a step further by teaching their students of the horrors of their ancestors in attempt to make sure they are empathetic and do everything in their power to make sure history does not repeat itself. In South Africa we’re still fighting for students who dont want to be taught in Afrikaans. Its a damn shame…

          • My_opinion247

            The role of the State is not to own all resources – even Mother Russia and China gave up that pie in the sky idea. It is quite simply not the best use of the scarce resources which the State does have, and also would force the State to spend more resources on e.g. additional expertise which it does not have and which is not its core business, to effectively manage said newly acquired resources. In the end it neglects both.

            The State is however supposed to enable and facilitate an economic environment conducive to growth, and let the private sector do their business without excessive meddling. Using your dam example purely based on numbers and not volume of water, in the time the private sector built 4680 dams, the State only did 320. Now imagine if both sides can work together (with each side focusing on their respective strengths) what we could achieve

            You should be able to see for yourself how well excessive regulation and control has strangled local growth once the State poked its nose in everywhere. And of course those newly “acquired” assets are now available to the party apparatchiks to dispense patronage, because the party sees no difference between it and the State. And it is downhill from there

          • Bernard Anu Moshabane

            No, the private sector did not build a majority of those dams, the previous government did. And yes I agree with you, its not about government owning all the resources, just the critical ones like water and most especially the reserve bank. Efficient government would be opening up under resourced industries to the private sector like the British government did with their railways in the 90s to raise capital and improve service delivery (mind you the British government still has a major stake in this business and regulates it).

          • Ikhwane –

            The government is the custodian of the national water resource through the National Water Act.

        • John Hersey

          I’ve written a lengthy response on an economic view point as a separate post, which may interest some of the people in this discussion.

      • Sean Mac

        Mike, you make many good points in your article, but I feel you do not quite understand why and how Pres. Zuma’s building a chieftainship makes a mockery not just of his white constituents, but the black ones he fought for to free them from Apardheid.

        Very simply, South Africa’s economy is one of the emerging market leaders. When people look to emerging markets, they look to invest in South Africa due to its stability, robust currency, and the infrastructure on a physical, and legislative level. Our resources, both in minerals, and arable land is un-paralleled. Our knowledge-base is on another level, and is coupled with a can-do attitude.

        But the foreign investors are already stressing at a time when the WORLD ECONOMY, not just ours, is failing. Mr Zuma is not the only reason our economy is tanking, please understand that. So why would foreign business want to invest in a country run by a man who is well known to be corrupt, and who is not on the same page as the rest of the world?

        Due to his gross mis-management of his treasury, and his building a chieftainship, he is driving the assumption that we live in mud huts and ride Buffalo and Zebras to work. He is also reminding us that too often, African States have bloody revolutions to save a nation from their saviors, and that costs investors millions. Why would foreign money want to be spent here, when it is known that power is being abused? Why would they want to invest in a Presidency that has no clue as to how World Markets react to in-stability in our policies (9/12 as Minister Gordhan so eloquently put it)? Why would they invest in an economy where its leader goes on the record to state that a gentleman with a Diploma in Finance and a record of corruption on a municipality level is the most qualified Finance Minister he ever hired (and after Minister Nene was hailed world-wide for his policies)? Why invest when you need to pay him a “facilitation fee” to spend your money?

        We have a President who says all our problems started when Van Riebeck landed in the Cape, so tell me why foreign investment would want to spend their money here?

        So, how can I be called a racist, if my issue is what he is doing to the economy, and how that affects EVERY SINGLE South African?

        No investment, no jobs.

        No jobs means higher levels of crime, and anger towards the haves from the have-nots (Black and White people). A wee recipe-for-disaster considering how we have twice in the last ten years had mass panic in the streets due to Xenophobia, created by an under-lying anger towards different people who have more than others. That will become a catalyst to go after anyone who is better off, regardless of race, country of origin, or beliefs.

        I agree with you on many points, but blindly accepting the status-quo to avoid offending people is plain silly!

        Please remember that the greatest evil, is when good people are seen to be doing nothing. Help educate our people, so that we can exercise our democratic right to vote poor leaders out, not have poor people throw out leaders based on incompetence.

        • Sean as a business owner I understand with brutal clarity. I wasn’t excusing his actions, I was framing them so we can all have a more proactive conversation about it. I am suggesting shifting the onus for change to the individual instead of the elite or collective. But I appreciate your feedback.

          • Sean Mac

            Oh okay! Maybe I should waited for my morning cuppa-coffee to have taken control before I read your piece, and mis-understood your point! Hahaha!!!

  • Mahfouz

    Yes. But also, give back the land.

  • Mphethi

    Black consciousness differentiates racialism at the individual level of prejudice with Racism which is systemic and collective use of economic, social and political power to oppress and exploit. Liberals would like to believe the systemic does not exist and that the pursuit of “individual” liberty is enough. This belief has got us to where we are. It is ahistorical and acontextual.

    • When did we have a system that stood for individual liberty?

  • Shawn Lambie

    Thank you Mike I appreciate you standing out from the pack and putting out. Fully agree there is lots of action steps you suggested to getting out of you zone, that requires crossing a boundry line. Cheers

  • Marc Frazier

    A lot of the same points could apply to the USA. I am white and have lived in both places. I was disgusted by the situation in south Africa (White racism) and it is the main reason i left to return back to the USA. I kept having to remind myself that it is a very new country. When i got there i thought “oh Mandella was amazing, there must not be anymore racism” I realize this was naive but its honestly what i thought. I hope things change there but the seeming anti-white sentiment is to be expected after so many years of institutionalized apartheid. Good luck to you all. Its a beautiful country and the people i met there, black and white, were some of the nicest people ive ever met.

  • Yaron Assabi

    Mike Stopforth I like the thought process . I always feel betetr when I am part of the solution whcih is easier said than done when you are out of your comfort zone or your controlled environment like your business . You could have an impact on Youth employment by joining the IAB Transformation Council and the Education intiative in collaboration with MMA “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

  • Pingback: How to be white and happy in South Africa | The South African()

  • Alan

    interesting advice on how i can personally address my privilege – thanks. I look forward to the day when race is not an issue in SA, so will do all i can to contribute. However this article does not live up to its headline – how will this lead to my happiness?.

  • Ikhwane –

    Mmmmmm. Interesting points here and there but when taken as a whole I suspect the authors guilt has become a pathology. Besides he is clearly wealthy and it is interesting to note how many wealthy whites attempt to co-opt the new political elite though appeasement. My guess is that if the economy begins to falter, Mike will send us his missives from Australia.

  • susanna

    I applaud you for your bravery in writing down your thoughts. It is a sensitive and complex topic that has had varying impacts on our lives, including mine.

    It is only a start, this dialogue. Well done to you and the people who cared enough to leave their comments below. I hope more people get the courage to ponder and share their thoughts… only then can we develop ourselves and lessen our biases.

    I have had the privilege of meeting amazing south africans of all colors. I sincerely hope everyone can work together to make this country even better. Thanks

  • Roger Saner

    Thanks Mike. Your piece blew me away. It was so…unexpected. You hit all the nails worth hitting. And shown a depth which…well, I’ll be honest – surprised me. Thank you.

    My own journey has been similar – a few year’s back I was proud of myself of being part of the Rainbow Nation, because we’d collectively come out of Apartheid and so clearly I was part of the “we” that got it right. Yeah. About that.

    Then I had a partner of mine study critical race theory at UCT, under one of the well-known South African academics in this area (Melissa Steyn). It blew my world open. I read a lot. It was hard, but good. I engaged in enough race dialogues to wear me out, but learnt about how things like “safe spaces” are themselves set up to avoid discomfort for white people, and what’s so bad about a bit of discomfort anyway?

    Regarding Larsen’s comment about CRT – he’s individualising racism, denying that it has any systemic power or influence over non-white people’s lives. Yeah…good luck with that claim. He’s missed one of your points, that when we think that racism is only about prejudice (saying unkind thing based on someone’s skin colour) then we think that correcting racism is about making individuals nicer. But racism is about prejudice plus power – the power of economics and who gets to be included/excluded based on race. The key problem with his position is that it ignores systemic thinking: that’s it’s possible to have a racist system without racist individuals.

    Larsen misses that individual choice and freedom are not granted equally – that the texture of our society is raced. He doesn’t believe it because it doesn’t affect him, but if he had the empathy to listen to a perspective that’s not his own, then he may learn something. Since he’s so into philosophy, I’d recommend he reads Charles W Mills “The Racial Contract” where he builds on the work of John Stuart Mill’s “social contract” but actually showing how the racial contract has observable evidence to show its existence (more so than the social contract).

    And I think when someone of the calibre of Jonathan Jansen writes that critical race theory is what opened his eyes and gave him the language that he’d been seeking to make sense of it all, it deserves to be taken seriously (this is in his final chapter of “Knowledge in the blood”). Interesting, Jansen doesn’t use CRT with white people, because he believes it’s too difficult for white people to hear about, because so they (we) respond with rage. That’s pretty damning for our brittle egos.

    But for those who can look past our own egos, and are willing to learn from a different perspective, it’s strangely life-giving. It’s made me a better person, at least.

    Lastly, the best advice I’ve heard about engaging with race is Peggy McIntosh (she of the “backpack of white privilege” – one of the first white academics to “get it”): “Be harsh in your analysis, but gentle with the person.”

    • Thanks for your comment Roger. I’ll try not to be offended at how surprised you were by my purported depth and substance!

    • Scott Harrison

      Great comment. I also spotted Larsen’s narrow view of racism. Wish it was so simple!

      S

  • TheRealMidnite

    Racism is the “systemic abuse of white privilege in society”? (bold letters yours, not mine). I still think you need to think about this a little more… Even if that statement was correct (which it certainly is not), it would still be problematic. Would it be okay to have “white privilege”, as long as you didn’t abuse it, or used it for good? (Hint – people using their privilege for good only happens in movies and comic books, Bruce Wayne). If this “white privilege” actually exists as Allen popularized it, using it in any way sustains it, no matter the intention (in my opinion, Allen wasn’t just overrated; he was wrong – Du Bois got it right).

    I’m not even going to really address the idea that you need to be white to be racist – it suffices to say that anyone believing that are themselves beholden to some fantastic racist beliefs. I’m really glad that you, for the first time in your life, was jettisoned out of your comfort zone. But your thinking suggests to me that you’ve merely stuck your toes out beyond it before jumping back in. I have no idea what it must feel like to live in that kind of bubble, despite my dubious “epidermal trust”. But that might just be because I’ve never been rich.

  • Alistair Longman

    Thanks for a great piece of truth, Mike. The rising tide of black consciousness is probably the only inevitable route for a black population that has seen very little change at a practical level in this country. The fortunes of our children are as inextricably linked to their skin colour as they were 30 years ago. Even though some of us don’t like to admit this.

    My concern as someone really keen to be involved in the actual transformation of South Africa is that the voice of a while male has been heard for far too long. There’s a sense that there needs to be white “hush”, which is valid. But it does beg the question as to the practical role a white person can play in engaging and combating issues of racism, and being involved in
    transforming this nation.

  • paeprior

    Mike You take a far too optimistic view! We whitey’s have to acknowledge that we are subject to the rule of rural chiefs with no formal education. What this means that is the following (1) corruption will be rampant & institutionalised (2) law will be selectively applied (3) infrastructure will break down (4) cost of living will sky rocket (5) if we want our kids to get a good education, the only option will be to send our kids overseas to uni (6) our kids will need to be taught to be totally self reliant to survive (7) it goes without saying, we can expect no assistance or support from the state (on the contrary, its going to be a massive counterweight to our efforts to uplift ourselves) (8) to protect our wealth, we need to move as much of it offshore as possible. If you think the Rand is bad now, it is will be totally worthless in twenty years. (9) The hardest part is that to survive we may need to take decisions that go against many of our morale principles. .e.g. paying taxes will become an act of insanity, as your money will simply end up in funding fancy cars for chieftains. It definitely not going to end up helping the poor people of South Africa. Truth be told, the chiefs in SA couldn’t give a stuff about their own populace.

  • John Hersey

    Great article Mike.
    .
    We have conflated problems in South Africa, and it’s difficult to address that adequately in a few short paragraphs.
    .
    If everyone in South Africa were lily white, we’d still have problems of inequality. (99% vs 1%)
    Having the black vs white dimension, is confusing and hijacking the discussion.
    .
    Unless we address Economic Inequality, and take it off the table as a discussion point, it will continue to derail any other progress.

    .
    Our ‘white’ economic system is fundamentally flawed.
    Here is the problem in simple terms.
    .
    No person can survive on this planet, without access to land and natural resources (Land).
    .
    We have an economic system, that grew out of Feudalism and protecting the rights of the “king” and his monopoly of the Land as his source of power over people and against competing feudal lords.
    .
    It’s moved on a little since them, but essentially, 0.5% of people monopolise the ownership of Land, and the other 99.5% of the population, have their labour enslaved as a result.
    .
    Don’t get confused by the insignificant amount of physical land under your house, or the vastness of marginal economic land held by farmers, that’s not what I’m talking about. We are no longer an 18th century agrarian economy.
    .
    Then WE came up with the ‘brilliant idea’, that if we only employ 50% of the people, we’d tax them 50% of their wages, to feed the unemployed 50%.
    .
    Rhetorical Question: You understand everyone is still getting fed at this point, so there’s no shortage of capacity to generate the economic wealth, to feed these people?
    .
    The problem is, we are allowing 0.5% of the population to sit on their bums, not working, not paying tax, and own incredible valuable Land, all of which “value” is created quite simply by the very existence of the rest of us, DEMANDING access to Land to survive, and then the labour we exercise to generate out survival needs.
    .
    It’s the presence of other people, that gives Land it’s value. It’s community, that gives Land it’s value. It’s infrastructure development, that gives Land it’s value.
    .
    We are pouring the taxes derived from Labour of 99.5% of the population into the value of Land, held by 0.5% of the population, and we just gifting it to them for free wealth gain when they sell it, or determine their Rentals.
    .
    What should be ‘taxed’, isn’t the Labour of productive people, or the Profits of an entrepreneur trying to improve himself and his employees, but the Monopoly of Land, which in essence belongs to all the people.
    .
    It’s not tax, it’s Rent, payable to society i.e. all the citizens, for the rights of some who think they have the need, or extraordinary cleverness to best use it, to have Monopoly of it.
    .
    This is what a properly function economy should look like in Mathematical terms:
    Production (Economic Wealth / GDP) = Rent (Land) + Wages (Labour) + Interest (on Capital)
    .
    BUT, with out current “Feudal” economic system, this is what it looks like:
    Production (GDP) – [Rent (Land) + Interest¹] = [Wages (Labour) + Interest²].
    .
    In other words every bit of surplus wealth we create, is accruing to the Monopolist of Land, as Rent. (or the bankers who finance them, as Interest)
    .
    If we “tax”, Land’s Economic Value, and use it for public purpose and a Universal Basic Income (UBI) for every single citizen …
    .
    ~ Everyone has an equal share in the economy of the country, from birth to death.
    ~ Wages would rise; (No need to accept any job if you have a UBI)
    ~ Monopolists would use less Land, freeing up land for other participants, and surplus wealth would go into investment (Proven recently in Middle East).
    ~ Land use would become much more efficient, improving the economy (Pareto Efficiency)
    ~ Marginal Land prices would drop, making entry easier for new participants. (100 % employment potential)
    ~ Resources would become much more expensive, and we would use them more efficiently, which is good for the planet.

    and probably a zillion other good reasons.
    .
    Here’s the most important point I think.
    .
    South Africa led the way, in overcoming the huge seemingly insurmountable hurdle of Apartheid; how disparate races could live together in the same space, and I’d like to see us move to the next step, and show the world how WE can resolve Economic Inequality, with the simple scribble of a pen, regarding how we raise public revenue and address all social economic issues.
    .
    Notes
    The economic system above is based in the Writings of American economic philosopher and politician, Henry George, and his book “Progress and poverty” (1879), which is free in the public domain as an audio book (Librivox), and is discussed as Land Value Tax, LVT, Earth Sharing, Geoism, Georgism, etc.
    .

  • Scott Harrison

    Thanks for a clear, well considered article Mike. Have you read Eusebius McKaiser’s “Run Racist Run”?

    I “get” everything you’re saying. The problem with the discourse of “whiteness” articulated by whites is its inevitably onanistic. Like, “ooo, am I a good white? A naughty white? Am I loved or loveable? Should I learn Zulu? eat at a Chesanyama?” Maybe we must just accept that we’re on the wrong side of history, that the stain is too deep. I’m not suggesting we collapse in a heap of self flagellating tears. I’m suggesting nothing more thabn a stoic acceptance of our exit from cenrrw stage. Im saying that whiteness as a narrative, as the milieu, the sort of grande motif, is going to be changed by whatever form the black narrative chooses to manifest. This is the problem with the whole magic trick of whiteness world-historically: it has – very effectively as it happens – owned the narrative. Now it must let go. Frankly what I say, do, am, is now the embarrassing little sideshow. Our time in the Big Top is up – and a right royal f-up of a circus show it was. But like a phantom (white) limb our whiteness wants to insert itself over and over again in a kind of Freudian phallic insistence of its own importance – which perpetuates the long death of the narrative. No solutions mate. Full marks for trying, for seeing our sins etc for what they are. But the winds of change are black: inevitably, inexorably black.

    • Thanks Scott. I think, and perhaps I did a poor job of articulating it, that I’m trying to say the same thing. This is not our time, and we are not welcome. And I’m ok with that. That said, we are still here, and may as well make the best of it we can. Or leave. Either way, be proactive.

      • Scott Harrison

        Hi Mike, its weird, I’m debating with Larsen (above) and I come away from the exchange feeling angry and stupid. And yet my experience in South Africa in particular of devastating human cruelty, callousness, indifference and the almost banal imposition of suffering on others leads me to the conclusion that he is wrong. Perhaps I should take my own advice, and keep quiet – silenced by the yea-and naysayers.
        Best, Scott

What Clients Say...

I organised TEDxPretoria on 27 September 2013 where I invited Mike to be a speaker and share his ‘Idea worth spreading’. Although he also had another event on the same day he showed up early, enthused ready for action. Mike not only has amazing talent as a presenter, he is also knowledgeable and passionate. I would definitely recommend him.

I saw Mike speak at TEDxPretoria.

Accenture had to opportunity to collaborate with Mike on an engaging panel discussion on Digital Disruption as part of the inaugural Social Media Week 2014. Mike’s expert opinion on Social Media / Digital and its implications for businesses and government as they seek to remain relevant in this digital era was extremely well received!

I saw Mike speak at Social Media Week.

Mike’s participation at Tribe Thursday made the event! If you’re looking for a razor-sharp intellect who is not shy to mix it up and really get people thinking then Mike’s the man! Unconventional, outspoken, lateral, and thoroughly entertaining Mike’s speaker debate at Tribe Thursday ensured we had the jagged edge to keep people talking!

I saw Mike speak at Tribe Thursday http://www.tribe-x.co.za/.