Gcobani Qambela
Gcobani Qambela

David Saks and the naturalness of white contempt

In Ubuntu: Curating the Archive (edited by Leonhard Praeg and Siphokazi Magadla), Ama Biney notes in the chapter “The Historical Discourse on Humanism: Interrogating the Paradoxes” that Aimé Cesaire notably made the case that Hitler’s crime was mainly that “he applied to Europe colonialist procedures, which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of India, and the ‘niggers’ of Africa in the clinical and methodological gas chambers that killed almost 6 million Jews”.

Biney continues that “what remains particular about the pernicious [dehumanising] legacies of the experience of enslavement and colonialism, though, has been the insidious impact of continued racism in the dehumanisation and racialisation of African [read: black] people and the prolonged conscious and unconscious treatment, perceptions and attitudes that allowed and continue to allow for Africans to be treated as semi-animals without historical agency”.

I was reminded of Biney’s chapter as I read David Saks’ troubling ” ‘Hitler got it right’ goes multiracial” contribution to the Mail & Guardian Thought Leader last week. In the piece, Saks looks at a “sample” of just under eight tweets/Facebook comments in trying to show the “scores of South Africans who propagated [Nazi ideology] material via social media and the blogosphere”. He says that in his 17 years of “monitoring anti-Jewish trends at the SA Jewish Board [he has] never seen anything [like this]”.

He climaxes the piece by noting that in these eight social media cases he shows, an overwhelming number of these tweets/comments were by black South Africans a growing number of who, according to Saks, have “enthusiastically” embraced “Nazi ideology”. What interests me here is not so much the politics of Israel versus Gaza, more than in showing the problematic ways in which Saks makes not only racist remarks but demonstrates, as George Yancey argues, the extent to which to be black is to live in a “world of white normativity and white meaning making that creates the conditions under which black people are always already marked as different/deviant/dangerous”.

Saks begins with noting that although the African National Congress (ANC) has distanced itself from a member who also formed part of spreading anti-Semitism messages; he still tries to build a weak case that the silence by Gwede Mantashe in some strange way facilitates acceptance by the ANC of what ANC members do. Even when they do not hold official position in ANC.

It’s not a coincidence that Saks invokes the ANC, and then concludes blacks are now anti-Semitic in South Africa because, like many white supremacists, Saks sees the ANC as constitutive of being black.

I ran a quick search of “Hitler”, “Jews” and “Gaza” on Twitter in the period between July 13 (when most of tweets cited by Saks were posted) and July 21 (when Saks piece was published) and found plenty of anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler posts by whites, in particular by white men, and found many black people who spoke up against glamourising Hitler in efforts to support Gaza. Yet these black people who challenge the use of Hitler in efforts to stop Israel terror in Gaza are absent in Saks’ sample. Even when they are invoked like Zwelinzima Vavi, this is not done to show that not all black South Africans are pro-Hitler but to deflate his statement by placing responsibility of comments from someone in the ANCYL on Vavi.

Saks’ approach is lazy and is such predictable scapegoating of black people for an issue that goes beyond any one racial group. Tweets glorifying Hitler have been picked up across many racial groups, not only in South Africa but United States, Europe and the Middle East. Saks’ article is in the tones of white supremacist work seeking to establish the savagery of black people. His emphasis that he has never seen “anything” like what he sees with these black people is an effort to establish blackness as oneness with barbarism. Yet, what is scary looking at both his article and the comments on it is how careless and yet so easy and normal this contempt seemed to come to him and many of his commenting readers.

Melissa Harris-Perry has this notion of “fictive kinship” under which she makes the point that when an individual black person or in this case fewer than eight black people do wrong, what follows is usually a collective punishment of all black people. As a friend of mine reminded me, in this case, even though hundreds of black people marched in Cape Town and Johannesburg for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador a week ago without supporting Nazism, “the behaviour of a few blacks is taken to implicate the entire population” the friend said.

Saks read a few tweets and biasedly chose black people to paint a particular pathology. It’s chilling that such disdain comes so naturally.

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    • Pax

      I agree with the writer that generalisations, especially when applied based on race, are neither good nor helpful. It would probably be fair comment that the stated policies of a political party, in this case the ANC, certainly reflect deep anti-Israel sentiment, and may also be anti-Semitic. Certainly the statements from Duarte were ugly and crass, and presumably reflect party policy. However it would be a mistake to generalise the position of a party to the position of the wider population in general.

    • Pax

      ‘Aimé Cesaire notably made the case that Hitler’s crime was mainly that “he applied to Europe colonialist procedures, which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of India, and the ‘niggers’ of Africa in the clinical and methodological gas chambers .’ I would have to disagree with Cesaire on this, based on the actual history of the holocaust. Hitler’s methods in the extermination camps were an application of a method use by the Aktion T4 previously used to euthenaise Germans considered sickly or genetically inferior. It was first used in mental hospitals in Germany on German patients. It was regarded as a form of ‘biological cleansing’, or even ‘genadentod’ or mercy killing. Whilst horrifying and shocking, this is a completely different objective compared to colonialism of another territory or people, to exploit resources or for economic or political reasons. Unfortunately so many metaphors have been applied to these horrors, that the factual truth of matters is often not considered.

    • Steve

      You write ” …is such predictable scapegoating of black people for an issue that goes beyond any one racial group”. The statement by Saks that “Up until very recently, hard-core anti-Semitic attitudes were all but unknown in the black community” gives the lie to your statement, as does “Alongside the many vicious anti-Jewish comments are malicious attacks against Muslims and Islam and exceedingly nasty racially loaded exchanges between blacks and whites”. I guess your motive is clear, and explains how and why you make the leap to say he demonstrates that to be black is to live in a “world of white normativity and white meaning making that creates the conditions under which black people are always already marked as different/deviant/dangerous”. Actually, you claim this for yourself, and you are just playing the ace of race, again.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Anti-Semitism is racism.
      I would expect you to stand up and fight against a call to exterminate your people so I’m not sure why you expect Mr Saks to sit down and take the exact same situation quietly. I don’t think objecting to being the target of a genocide makes someone a ‘white supremacist’, I think it makes them prudent.

    • Walter

      You’re obviously missing Saks’ main point, to wit: why are black South Africans suddenly embracing Nazi ideology when they were basically classified by Hitler and his cohorts as sub-human too?

      Methinks this is just another attempt for blacks to be classified as victims, by yourself.

    • MLS

      David Saks said:

      “Of all the examples quoted above, it will be noted that most emanated by black South Africans. This too, is SOMETHING NEW. Up until very recently, hard-core anti-Semitic attitudes were all but UNKNOWN in the black community”.

      “….as to result in growing numbers of black South Africans enthusiastically embracing Nazi ideology, even though this was almost AS RACIST AGAINST PEOPLE OF COLOUR as it was against Jews?”

      I don’t think that David Saks was saying that it is only black people making anti-Semitic remarks and glorifying Hitler. That would be ludicrous. The reason he singled out a few comments made specifically by black people is because it is unusual, and by inference, not unusual in other racial groups to make such comments. He is questioning why it is happening now, and considering that Nazi ideology is racist, and black people are also victims of racism (like the Jews), why would some black people “embrace Nazi ideology”.

      David Saks also did not imply that black people in general are anti-Semitic. He was referring only to a sample of eight tweets which he used to illustrate his point that such anti-Semitism, expressed by a few black people, is a new phenomenon in South Africa, and his concern is that it appears to be a growing trend.

      How is that “scapegoating” of black people when it goes without saying that anti-Semitism is not unusual in other racial groups?

    • Another place

      A thoughful response, but my understanding was that the emphasis was on the fact that this was behaviour/language that has not been evidenced to such an extent before, amongst the black population of South Africa. We are all so insular. It is as easy to make a claim about “Europe colonialist procedures, which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of India, and the ‘niggers’ of Africa in the clinical and methodological gas chambers that killed almost 6 million Jews” as it would be about Sadam’s regime’s extermination of the Kurds or the countless other such examples globally, (which have led to the demise/exterminaton of entire cultures) that did not originate from “colonialist” procedures. Our own Continent has its own sordid tales of genocide and deliberate extermination in the name of the usual “suspects” of power religion of sense of superiority (usually linked to cultural “otherness”) or just plain greed. Its a story as old as time and this conflict is just another pathetic chapter. The human race is very adept at hating and killing for no good reason at all.

    • JohnbPatson

      How do you know the race of twitter posters?

    • Baz

      @ Momma Cyndi …thank you agree with you on your comment-
      Let’s tolerate and build each other tp point that we DON’t see cutural differences or what ethnic group you belong to. This race card & harping on past errors isn’t going” to fix things”
      I was radiculed at school for being English in promiment Afrikaans community BUT SURVIVED and have moved on forgiving those who have hurt me. Let’s move on &
      stop holding grudges.towards one another. Oui Vey !as my Yiddish ex boss would say.

    • mtuka

      Valid points, Pax. Thanks for approaching this issue so soberly. As people I think there is more that brings us together than pull us apart.

    • Zeph

      What Momma Cyndi said!

    • Conrad

      Interesting piece, however, some critical comments might be in order. This works the other way around as well, i.e. “the behaviour of a few whites taken to implicate the entire population”, as is ironically suggested in your own heading. Why ‘white contempt’ when you are actually referring to David Sacks (who can defend himself here)? Why also paraphrase Aimé Cesaire’s highly problematic generalisation about Nazism the way you did? Surely somebody with your demonstrated nuanced thinking cannot take such a blunt, generalising comparison seriously?

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      I guess Cesaire was unaware of the Roman Empire, the Norman conquest of England, the Ottoman Empire, Napoleon’s conquests or the Austro-Hungarian empire, to name but a few.

      Though it’s just as silly to equate one insulting 9Gag Hitler picture with ’embracing Nazi ideology’.

    • Cam Cameron

      “Hitler’s crime was mainly that “he applied to Europe colonialist procedures, which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of India, and the ‘niggers’ of Africa in the clinical and methodological gas chambers that killed almost 6 million Jews’ ”

      If their paper had proceeded from this false assumption, all that must follow must be as tainted as their starting point.

    • Peter Win

      Gcobani,

      You accuse David of being a white supremacist – grossly unfairly. I can equally make the claim that you are a black racist – just as (un)fairly – with even more justification than you had.

      I’ve read David’s article. In it, he quotes facts – and asks questions.

      By contrast, you have assassinated his character, used emotive language – and accused him of racism grossly unfairly.

      If we (as readers of the M&G) were to hold a vote, I know who would be chosen as the more extreme.

      And before you make claims about me : I am white, hate the corruption in SA, and am not remotely Jewish or Israeli.

      So, if I disparage the ANC for:
      – Zuma’s daughter being appointed to Chief of Staff at age 25 (ultimate nepotism) – totally uncontested
      – the Gauteng ANC Whip being accused of stealing millions;
      – Thandi Modise’s shame of her farm (animals starving);
      – to the Free State’s disgusting revelations re health, racking up R700m debt
      – and Benny Malakoane’s insistence that cadre receive preferential healthcare, over-riding the doctors and putting his man into ICU;
      – Zuma and the ANC ducking and diving re nKandla
      – and the Head of the SABC being appointed despite lying on his CV !

      Not to mention the Rand Refineries criminal debacle…

      Again, by stating those facts, do you now consider me a white racist ? Or white supremacist (even though I have nowhere stated race…) ?

    • theinbetween

      The point David Saks is making that the people quoted above are not your average South African. They hold a government position, this gives them some power and influence over others. As such it could be argued that by making the statements they did on social media they’ve violated our hate speech laws. “In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action” in this case against an ethnic and religious minority in SA. This kind of speech coming from political office bearers is not harmless, it subjugates.

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/author/gcobaniqambela/ Gcobani Qambela

      @Conrad: At no point in my article do I make the claim that Saks thinking is representative of white people *as a whole*. What I do say is that his thinking *is* representative of white supremacist thinking. Are all white people racist / white supremacists? I’d like to think not. Is David Saks making white supremacist claims in his article? Yes, he is. Is his thinking unique? No, there are plenty of white people who think like him (and I support this by providing a link supporting this).

      This is not a case of some type of ‘reverse racism’ — arguing that is the lazy bioring, and so predictable troll online comment. I did not say those statements / tweets are acceptable. They are not whether they come from a Black person or any other ‘race’. David Saks has not supported the conclusion he reaches beyond those few tweets while he makes larger conclusions and generalisations about *all* black South Africans. Nowhere in my article or the title do I attribute all such thinking (like Saks) to all white people. Simply saying one has been observing a topic for 17 years does not in itself constitute evidence, I want him to support this through all the reports and papers that have been written to get to that point. But he won’t — because he knows there is no evidence to make these types of sweeping generalisations about black people. I couldn’t make those statements unsupported about whites, why is it so easy for you all to see what he has done about black people OK?

      continued…

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/author/gcobaniqambela/ Gcobani Qambela

      @Pax: I can accept that critique (in your second comment).

      I’m not going to respond to other comments / questions (most of which are already addressed in my article anyways). You want real engagement? Show me you have read and thought through your comment(s) and haven’t just fingered my article for quotations to give currency to white supremacists.

      Thank you for reading.

    • Steve

      To say that Saks “makes larger conclusions and generalisations about *all* black South Africans” is plain dishonest.

    • Fanta K

      Good article Gcobani. You should write more!
      Notice how the white supremacists are quick to accuse you of racism or as they prefer to call it “black racism” (whatever that means).
      White supremacists in our society are products of centuries of conditioning so the greatness of Aimé Cesaire’s criticism of colonialism is lost in their delusion.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Gcobani Qambela,

      I have just re-read Mr Sak’s article. Nowhere does it mention, or insinuate “generalisations about *all* black South Africans”. In fact, it laments that both anti Jewish and anti Muslim comments are made. Maybe you should go back and read what he said.

      (by the way, I am not Muslim or Jewish (or any religion) but I have been blessed to visit Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. My personal opinion is that all parties have crossed the line between tenacious and stubborn)

    • I Say

      “White Supremacy” is a term frequently used to stifle conversation.

    • http://thoughtleader.co.za/davidsaks David Saks

      Have just seen Mr Qambela’s response to my blogpost. The only point I wish to make here is that in listing recent cases of especially vitriolic comments about Jews by black South Africans, the intention was not to scapegoat the black community but rather to show that even within their ranks such appalling viewpoints are starting to take root whereas in previous years they had been all but non-existent.

    • J.J.

      @ Momma Cindy

      Those who have the most power have the most power to compromise.
      Those who are driven into a corner has the most to lose by compromise, because they have already virtually lost everything else.

    • Momma Cyndi

      J.J.

      So you are in favour of only one party in this dictating terms and the other party should just dig graves and fall into them?

      This is a very complex war. It is about Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, USA and gods know whom else. This is about more than just two groups of people. Like so many wars, it involves a whole bunch of folk who have no business being involved in it

      I heard ‘Imams’ calling for the annihilation of every Jewish person on earth and I heard ‘Rabbis’ claiming their divine right to subjugate the ‘philistines’. Which do you think is right? In my opinion, both are just as wrong as eachother

    • J.J.

      @ Momma Cyndi

      Don’t put words in my mouth. I’m stating a fact of (human) nature which you could apply to any David & Goliath situation anywhere in the world, politically or otherwise. This is an issue of proportionality. Anyone who can’t see that is wilfully blind. I opt for honesty. My statement stands.

    • Graham

      David,
      and the whole point of Mr Qambela’s response is to highlight that eight twitter posts (out of a population size of +-30 million) does not really constitute a view “within their ranks”

    • nguni

      @ Fanta K
      Being in denial about black racism shows us what an ‘unbiased’ opinion you have on these matters. I suspect the author holds similar views and is therefore unable to accept that Saks did not generalise about all blacks, he just said antisemitism was something new amongst blacks.

    • Momma Cyndi

      J.J.

      You may want to remember that David won in that wonderful little fairytale.

      Don’t grab a tiger by the tail and don’t use a bazooka to swat a fly. If both sides could understand that basic concept, we wouldn’t have this silly little war of theirs