White Guilt as Bread and Salt

4 04 2008

By Daniel 

 

I stay in residence and as a result I eat in a dining hall at least twice a day. We wait in line to receive our standard meals, where if we wish we can also take bread and juice, but condiments like tomato sauce, vinegar and salt are usually placed on our tables. Most meals I return to the serving stations to ask one of the kitchen staff for some item-  usually bread, salt or a glass for juice; anything that might have run out. I ask as politely as possible. Something like, “excuse me, is there any more bread?” Increasingly, the expressions I have been met with would convince anyone that such a question is an utterly insolent affront. Usually the eye-brows narrow, and she looks away before shaking her head.

This occurrence has become commonplace in my dining hall, so much so that it is now a regular meal conversation. I once defended their attitudes. I do have incredible respect for the people who wake up every morning to feed those of us who are fortunate enough to go to university. People like them are, in my opinion, the real philanthropists. They give all their time and energy working a job that pays just barely enough to live on to make our lives more comfortable. And this is true the world over. This is why I can’t stand watching the media venerate people like Bono and Oprah as philanthropists. I doubt they have any idea what it means to really give. Neither do I. This formed the incentive for my apologist stance. My closing sentence to a table with far less excuses for the kitchen staff was something like, “we shouldn’t expect cheery helpfulness from them. I might also have a bad attitude if I was in their position.”

Perhaps it’s white guilt, who knows? I support affirmative action. Every time I’m reminded of the increasing difficulty I will face when finding a job, I remind myself of my limited experiences within townships, and the fact that in these experiences I was always only an outsider, someone foreign. Not even, it seemed, African; even though I’ve always lived in Africa. Recently a similar conversation about the kitchen staff ended in a full on debate about race (It has become clear that if you speak Xhosa or Zulu you will get not only what you ask for, but sometimes also that cheery helpfulness). A Zimbabwean black guy proposed that if you’re white, no matter where you’re from, you’re not viewed as an African by other black people. This is because you have not experienced African hardships. “No matter what your living standards, if you’re white you and your parents have not lived in townships.” The argument was compelling. Maybe this would explain the overarching attitude of many of the kitchen staff.

But even if it explains their attitude, does it excuse it? In the last few decades, perhaps very few, we’ve come to view racism as a totally ludicrous, unjustified prejudice towards a person of another colour. What about reverse racism? We here have a people and culture totally raped and destroyed for over 400 years. Maybe that justifies some prejudice. But it has to be less about colour and more about class. Consistently, people of colour who do not come from a disadvantaged background hold no racist views. This would suggest that what we call reverse-racism is nothing more than classism. In fact, it has never been about colour. Colour was the most noticeable physical difference used to bolster a prejudice which was never about anything more than wealth and gain for the few. This is why it saddens me to sit with my black friends in the dining hall who talk about how “pimping” they’re going to be once they enter the business world. One can only be wealthy at the expense of the lower classes. That is how the system is set up. To ‘be pimping’ in that system is to say that it is ok how it has treated our brothers and sisters, not only in African townships, but all over the world. That striving to want to live like the white oppressors is the story of the new South Africa. Freud would have classified it as a syndrome – identifying with the object of ones hatred. Although in this case they no longer hate the white man, if they can identify with his money.   

I’m not calling for a revolution, not in the communist sense anyway. Change will come. Right now all I can do is change myself. And do so by accepting that the world is healing, and just as a wound heals by forming a scab, so too will people who feel hard-pressed by the system harden themselves before the scars of the past fully disappear. So I shall try to remain polite and respectful when asking for more bread or salt, regardless of whether I’m offered the same demeanour.   

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17 responses

6 04 2008
Bongza

My man, stereotypes is everywhere in South Africa, in fact we don’t have a South African, we have got Zulus, Fred Khumalo, Jacob Zuma, and Xhosas Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, and other ethnic groups, we will never achieve rain bow nation since we are different! Rainbow nation has got different colours which means we are also different!so rainbow nation my foot!

7 04 2008
lmkateko

“Consistently, people of colour who do not come from a disadvantaged background hold no racist views,”Daniel I think you got this sentence wrong. This is generalisation with no evidence at all. Are you saying that always people of colour who comes from disadvantaged backgrounds behave like dining hall workers? I once stayed in res those people are good sometimes not all of them surely. If few people behaved in a racist way towards you, that does not mean that all people from disadvantaged background holds racist views.

In terms of township your limited township experience, we have got a lot of black people who does not know kasi at all, so it’s not only white people. Lastly, whether you are black or white if you go to Grahanstown township they regard you as a an outsider as long as you can’t speak Xhosa properly.

7 04 2008
Danmanik

Thanks for the responses guys. This is a topic that has become somewhat taboo given our new supposedly colourblind age.

It does seem a rather sweeping generalization that people who do not come from disadvanteged backgrounds do not hold racist views. However, I think this is increasingly the trend. And my evidence is also my pwn experience and testimony from others.

Secondly, I did not say that everyone from townships hold racist views, nor did I even insinuate this. This is definitely not true. My point is simply that more black people in townships hold racist views than people living in urban, hiistorically white areas. This is not only my assumption but a fact that I have been told from people who live in townships. Also, it is logical that for people who do not live with white people, or any people of another race and culture, that there is a higher chance of regarding them as an ‘other’.

Finally, not all the kitchen staff are racist. Perhaps, none of them are. Maybe, you guys could provide another explanation for the attitude which I described. And also, many of them are really nice. The fact is merely that this is happening, and it is only a conversation topic that has arisen this year (at least in my dining hall).

7 04 2008
Mzoxolo

Mkateko are you trying to say we treat people as outsiders because they can’t speak isiXhosa properly. I disagree, in fact you should know better–you spent more than two years in Hlalani and you were not treated as an Outsider. Instead you got special treatment. I remember you telling me that you don’t have to approach girls–they approach you. Is that being treated like an outsider?

8 04 2008
lmkateko

Mzoxolo, one of the famous liars in G.sport. Township people label people with all stupid names, I’ll start with solidiers you call them B0-Tshepo why this labeling if you are the same people. People from Zimbabwe and Limpopo you call them Makwerekwere, why this labeling if you think you are the same. Lastly, you call those people from Ethiopia, Bo-myfriend. Mzoxolo, being in contact with one another have different implications, you can’t avoid it, this will stay with us forever.

8 04 2008
mzoxolo

Mkateko, I still maintain that we don’t treat people as outsiders. Do you want us to refer to Ethiopians as “my enemies” instead of “my friend”. As for the soldiers, it was only one exception–that guy looked very much like the real Tshepo so a mistake was made (where he was also called Tshepo). I really can’t comment on makwerekwere because it seems as if it’s a country wide problem. I really don’t buy your statement.

9 04 2008
dangirl

I was going to go on my own rant about race but, instead of being accused of being a racist blog I’ll just leave my two cents here.

I’m over this race. Why does EVERYTHING have to be about race? Why should I feel guilty for being a white person? No matter how much I try to think back to when I was a child, I do not remember experiencing apartheid and I bet most of the readers of this very comment will agree with me. It’s over! There are no genetic differences between people of different races so why should we segregate people according to this? To me it’s all about what you do with your life. If you had to take a white person and a black person from the same economic and social backgrounds and gave them a task to do, you’d never be able to predict who would succeed in that task because on a biological level we are all equal, it’s just how you are brought up and how you choose to live your life. I do agree that, because of this, this previously disadvantaged story has some sort of play but I came from a poor household until my dad found a better job and now I am at university. Does that make me PREVIOUSLY disadvantaged?

This argument may not have much of a structure but all in all I am just so over hearing about race. The more you talk about it the more apparent it becomes so all those for the abolishment of this continued apartheid, move on and talk about something else.

10 04 2008
danmanik

Thanks for the response dangirl. I’ve been waiting for just such a comment – because, a lot of the time, I feel just the same. But I’m not quite ready to move on and talk about something else. I feel we’ve opened a good space to talk about these issues and (the beauty of the internet is) if you’re tired of this topic you can click elsewhere.

One usually feels guilt when they feel they have done something wrong. This, I shall show, is not the guilt I speak of.

I don’t hold any racist views. My oldest friend is Xhosa; he comes from Nyanga in Cape Town. My parents were always opposed to apartheid and its segregating laws. They both had black friends when they were my age. For this reason, my mother told me she was once beaten up by racist white men. I come from a poor household. I’m paying for my place here at Rhodes. So I’m not in a position to say I have profited from the old order. But, I am still privilaged. And If you are able to read this then so are you.

So what’s with the guilt If I don’t feel I have personally done something wrong? I think it need not be anything about the past. It’s rather a feeling I get that things are not right. In Zen Buddhism true compassion is synonymous with intuitive wisdom. So, for a second, stop thinking so much. Thinking propagates seperation. And one can always find arguments to avoid guilt. It’s much harder to find arguments to feel it. However, to respond, you don’t have to feel it.

I don’t remember experiencing apartheid when I was younger either. But I see it today. I see it when I step onto a bus that’s almost exclusively for the black lower classes. Although there exists no law that limits there modes of transport to these busses, you’ll seldom see a man from Sweet Water Township in Cape Town travelling to Durban via SAA.

I’m tired of race too. But such dialogue can ease the proverbial ‘valve pressure’. When I speak of race, it’s not a biological term – such a term does not exist in reality. Race is now a socio-historical term – although I will not get into the theory. This is how one can be a racialist without being racist.

There is an ongoing debate in the lexicon of race-talk about whether talk of race perpetuates racial issues, or whether it helps to deal with these issues. What do you think?

For those I study with, watch The Fourth World War. I’ve shared it in TVNews 3/dan. For those I don’t study with, watch it. It’s big-picture, alternative voice journalism; conspiracy theory with heart.

10 04 2008
Currently Disdvantaged

I always hear people talking about “Previously disadvantage,” what about the “Currently disadvantaged” are trying to pretend as if it doesn’t exist? That would be a grave mistake.

10 04 2008
dangirl

Well I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength with this issue and I agree that there is a toss-up between talking about race to perpetuate it or deal with it and that is not so much my issue. I do believe that talking about it will lead to understanding and, therefore, prevention (if at all possible), but, at the same time, I think it’s time to focus on another issue and stop CREATING race. The best way to exemplify this is in simple university assignments, particularly relating to journalism. How many times have you been told to make sure you’re sources are of all races to give an ‘balanced’ point of view of the issue. But who is to say that speaking to two white men and two black men will give a balanced view? For all we know one black man on his own could have more power than the rest of them put together. This is regardless of the issue discussed. It is this sort of thing that creates the racial segregation we have today. Instead of me looking at everyone for who they are, I now walk around more aware of the races around me.

Now I know that losing racism in the country could take years but South Africans need to know the possibility is there. I lived in Cameroon for a year while my dad completed some contract work. Yes, I went to an American school but I spent my days with kids of all races from all over the world, as well as the locals. Not ONCE was the issue of race raised, nor did I look at someone as blue, green or purple. Oh wait, I stand corrected, race was mentioned: ‘Oh, you’re South African, don’t you hate us black people?’ After explaining that I had no direct link to apartheid, they quickly got over that factor and we all became the best of friends. We still are today. When landing at Joburg International Airport, now O.R. Thambo (don’t even get me started on name changes), I was still blase to race and it took me a while to get used to the groupings at my high school. After seeing that we can live without such issues it just frustrates me how, to this day, almost 20 years after it’s abolishment, we continue to classify people according to race, and not who they are.

So yes, I do understand that there are still those who are stuck in their racist ways and those who claim to not be. And I agree that things are not right. But on an institutional level changes in perspectives need to be made in order for such points of view to change elsewhere.

In the mean time Dan, live life doing what you think is right and lose the guilt.

10 04 2008
Anon

Who ever uses the words black and white or labels people based on their skin colour, to me is a racist. I’m saying that you classify and you segregate yourself! In other words, it’s you white and ‘them’ blacks! Two different people? That surely won’t change! Whites will remain white people even if you can go and stay in Joza or Fingo Village, you will remain white and different from other black residents! As far as I know this is how racism started, white people saw themselves as different from blacks or other races, and they then attached connotations to the differences seeing themselves as superior and others as inferior!

New whites opportunists are now claiming that they are not racist, just because of BEE and the political system no longer in their side, so they want to catch in? For instance, in SA there is a lot of white girls being in love with blacks, where were they before the political system change? Being in love with blacks is the way to go?

Lastly, we don’t have currently disadvantaged people, we only have previously, we are now all equal, and there are no longer universities or positions served for whites only, so blacks are now advantaged as well. It’s just that blacks don’t read and are lazy; no wonder why we have high black university drop-outs?

Special thanks to the writer of the article!

10 04 2008
Mntu

Anon you are the worst racist, simply because you are scared of using your real name!

10 04 2008
dangirl

So what was meant to be a move away from racism has turned in to something completely off topic and, outrightly, racist. Especially when ‘me’ brings in the coconut terminology. The fact that someone of a particular race is identified as an outsider because they have relations with another race is racist! It’s so easy to apply the usual stereotypes to each race to see someone as the ‘other’ when they go against these stereotypes but if there were more of a blurring of line between the two then these stereotypes would slowly disappear. Maybe more relations between the two races will ultimately end racism because, as the generations go on and on, ‘white’ and ‘black’ together with be the ‘other’.

10 04 2008
lmkateko

I love the topic,however, I’m not happy with the comment I just deleted,because someone just messed around with my name!

10 04 2008
Me

I thought a university is a place where people can voice their opinions and be challenged. But now the creators of this blog are resorting to censorship. I have posted something now it’s removed. No wonder why you are regarded as people who are removed from the society, it’s because you are scared of discussion. You just censor people.

10 04 2008
lmkateko

Me, you are right, but university is not a place where you can create bad reputation or abuse other people’s name like ‘mkateko’. I removed the comment just because you abused my name.finish and klaar.

11 04 2008
Me's Friend

lmkateko me knows your writing and agument style, no matter how hard to try boy. Now you are making us angry, If you don’t want us to sort you out please return that post, otherwise….

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