Gillian Schutte
Gillian Schutte

I know whiteness through and through

Racism is alive and living in the confines of the whiteness construct. This year alone has thrown up many local and global racist incidents that prove that we are a long way off from a post-racist society. It seems to me that whiteness is losing the plot and in serious need of deconstruction — hence I have made it my business to write about it from a deconstructive perspective. I will share these articles on this platform … to keep the conversation going and hopefully provide some balance to Brendon Shields’ fatuous offerings on matters of race.

Let me begin with the minstrel cake.

In April this year the social media world went into shock as they beheld the Swedish minister of culture perform a clitoridectomy on the sculpted vulva of a human-sized cake, which took the shape of an African woman and played out as her undergoing forced genital mutilation. She then fed it to the black-faced artist who screamed in agony as she sliced through the baked labium — much to the amusement of the white guests. The inside of the cake was blood red and the guests smiled and ate of the black female cake-body, seemingly oblivious to the macabre nature of the whole affair.

The response from feminists all over the world was visceral. They called it racist, misogynistic and hateful. Many black women expressed outrage and hurt, given the historical referencing to the Saartjie Baartman narrative.

As a white woman I was sickened to the core and momentarily at a loss for words — and it was this response that got me thinking about how deep the construct of whiteness really goes. It took me a while to grasp that the horrible, misdirected and grotesque tastelessness of this gastronomic protest art actually successfully made a point about whiteness.

It exposed the European cake eaters as savage in their non-responsiveness to the horror of the act in which they willingly participated, apparently ignorant to the notion that the “art” was in the observation of their behaviour. This, I think, is what was so disturbing to the white gaze, which was forced to gaze upon itself and try to make sense of the primal nature of it all.

It disturbed the white certainty of rationality and possibly pointed to our own complicity in the insulting and grossly insensitive act of the eating of an African woman’s most private body parts in what became a reversal of the anthropological participant observation ethos.

It certainly got me thinking about my own upbringing in a country that was built upon the dehumanisation of black people while I was trying to make sense of what appeared to be an uncanny physical manifestation of feminist writer bell hooks’ thesis on “Eating the Other”. I was forced to ask myself if it is really possible for those of us who grew up white in South Africa to fully transcend the inevitable unconscious hold of the whiteness construct, even those of us who are in interracial relationships.

Furthermore how much does the same macabre insensitivity to blackness play out in the day-to-day lives of white South Africans that we may also be oblivious to?

Having our cake and eating it
I know whiteness through and through. I was raised on it. I’ve lived it, I’ve eaten it and mostly I’ve heard it: at tea parties, at dinner parties, at braais and pubs and family gatherings … and all in all I have come to the sad conclusion that, besides the miniscule number of renegade white folk who may or may not have authentically transcended the whiteness trap, whiteness has largely remained a static and unyielding phenomenon in South Africa.

This is thanks to the liberal legacy of the Nelson Mandela epoch, which created a situation in which there is no real pressure on whiteness to change.

While white concerns remain central to the master narrative — in the economy, in the press, in film and popular culture, whiteness in South Africa remains an obdurate monolith mostly in denial of the social, political and cultural privileges still accorded to whites in our unequal society. It would seem though, that whites are carefully taught not to recognise white privilege just as males are taught not to recognise male privilege.

This is evidenced in the average white dialogue around race in which whiteness is often presented as victim to the “savagery” of blackness in the form of endless whinging about crime, corruption, inefficiency and BEE. From intellectual discourse, to mainstream chatter, to barely-educated braai banter, whiteness is always sure of one thing — superiority over other races — particularly the African race. Whether it is disguised in liberal equanimity or downright racism, this whiteness discourse espouses the same learnt notion that white is right — even in a so-called rainbow nation.

This mythical rainbow nation, it turns out, is none other than the “liberalist” enfant terrible that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) gave birth to while South Africa was dealing with the labour pains of a reconciliatory-premised transformation. Though it was established as an emotional clearinghouse for the traumas and atrocities experienced and committed in the days of apartheid and as a catalyst for healing the nation — it turned out to be the motherfucker of all fuck-ups for blackness.

In fact it did nothing for black folk, who were apartheid’s rightful victims. Rather it alleviated white folk’s guilt and annulled their fear of a retaliatory bloodbath. Hell, it even allowed perpetrators of racist and heinous crimes against humanity to develop a newfound camaraderie with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Cyril Ramaphosa — all three of whom have since been appropriated by the white liberal narrative as icons, mascots and success symbols. Viler though is that this trio is also held up by the whiteness construct as empirical evidence that some black folk do indeed contain intelligence and humanity, because, after all, they display the same gentle virtues, rationality and corporate acumen as whites.

But it is the image of Mandela that has been most “eaten” by whiteness, to use bell hooks’ term again when discussing the ways in which whiteness creates a false gastronomically expedient relationship with the “other” through the romanticisation of blackness for the purposes of cultural commodification — (just one example of the many she describes).

When apartheid was in full swing, the black freedom fighters could not have foreseen the commodification of their struggle in the contemporary profit-driven smorgasbord claimed by whites in South Africa — a banquet table laden with delectable and marketable black cultural commodities, such as Steve Biko T-shirts, Ubuntu slogans and Madiba Magic. As Winnie Mandela allegedly did not say — Mandela’s aging smiling image is used by certain white folk as a fundraiser in a wheelchair — so shameless is this Madiba Magic feeding frenzy.

Mandela’s smiling effigy has also become a symbol of reconciliation in South Africa and is held up by liberals as a sign that progressive political change is indeed taking place. His image has been appropriated, re-colonised and stripped of a revolutionary history to be devoured as a symbol of white liberalism and logic. Thus the previously demonised Mandela has miraculously become an icon in the West and has created a kind of denialist insanity in the average white liberal mind. He’s cute, he’s old, he smiles a lot and he somehow absolves white folk of their guilt — much as Jesus on the cross absolves Christians of their sins. Like the Jesus icon, he is not really real — he’s kind of a fuzzy deified construct through whom one can transcend all sorts of racist misdemeanours.

But when it comes to the rest of “them” — as in those “blacks”, who by their mere presence do not absolve white folk of their guilt and who cannot be directly commodified and consumed, those who have the cheek to beg at robots, who dare protest their poverty and demand dignity and who at times have to steal to survive, well white people generally say disgusting things about “them” real black folk, using a veritable plethora of terms. Sometimes it is outright racism — like “those monkeys can’t run a country” to “fucking kaffirs” (often in Virgin Active gyms). Other times it is simply changing their accents to some sort of monosyllabic phonetics when talking to the gardener or the maid. Many times it is the overuse of the words “us” and “them”, as if indeed, black folk are a different species.

In fact much racist white banter seems premised on the fact that “they” may not belong to the human race at all, as the father of “absolute knowledge” Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel suggested in the early 1800’s when he posited, with great white man authority: “The Negro, as already observed, exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state. We must lay aside all thought of reverence and morality — all that we call feeling — if we would rightly comprehend him; there is nothing harmonious with humanity to be found in this type of character.”

And here we are, hundreds of years later and 17 years into a “rainbow nation” and mainstream white racial banter remains the same dehumanising rant, albeit delivered in less erudite language.

But these mainstream racists are openly despicable and easy to spot.

It is the liberals that espouse a so-called post-race epoch that need to be watched out for because it is this uber-privileged class of white folk that has become even more dangerous to blackness than the outright white supremacists. Members of this echelon have been the direct beneficiaries of the TRC and it is they who have cleverly constructed a new liberal “discourse of disguise”, largely designed to dupe fellow humans into believing that they are not white supremacists even while they maintain their stranglehold over the dominant discourse of knowledge and capital. They are largely the educated and academic class of self-appointed gatekeepers who have been forced to move over slightly and share the institutions of higher learning and business with black folk.

Despite their polite liberal façade, the white folk that populate this class most often secretly believe that black people are not nearly as learned as themselves and that they lack the type of leadership skills needed to run these institutions. Thus they often set about sabotaging the black folk in these positions of power by withdrawing their moral support and using subtle and insidious put-downs camouflaged as supportive language. Behind closed doors though, and safely with “their own”, they openly critique blackness with smug little laughs and comically raised eyebrows and nudge-nudge wink-wink commentary, in a sort of “having their cake and eating it” ritual.

When they are called to book they draw upon their vociferous “hegemony-denial” and make up nonsensical and expedient new terms such as “black supremacy” while conjuring up new fields of learning aimed at disproving their “god-given” privilege.

This is white dominion at its best.

As someone who grew up inside the construct of whiteness, that for over four decades has dished me up a platter of privileges, which I’ve oft imagined I have long since rejected — my disgust at the black minstrel female cake eating debacle has, incongruously, also left me asking the hardest question of all — is it possible for white people, myself included, to ever fully transcend the whiteness construct or are we all vulnerable to being exposed and tripping over our own unconscious programming by some genius provocateur?

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • The Place of Sara Baartman at UCT
  • In Tambo they trust
  • Some Remarks On A ‘Good’ University
  • Justice is fundamental in dealing with the effects of mass trauma
    • Gerhard

      I think you should ease up on the generalisations and perhaps direct your most syntactical prowess toward more constructive endeavors. You, my dear, like the whites you judge now only ( unless of course you had the balls to do so pre-1990 and I have yet to read it ), have yet to come up with a single solution. You, like the whites you only now choose to lynch, sit behind your glowing screen and judge and complain and spit at everyone who, I’m assuming, has ever wronged you for what I can only assume to be a social misstep or preference.

      Why don’t you try something new and exciting, all of you, stop repeating what we already bloody know and direct your considerable free time towards solutions. Else you’re nothing more than politicians…although your vehement venomous writings do read like a bit like a failed-revolutionaries’

    • Elbie Henning

      I was in Europe at the time of the the provocation art cake-eating gathering. I asked almost everyone I came across, including Scandinavians and some art critics and scholars how they saw it. I was quite obsessive, eventually, because no one seemed to understand where the event took me and how it got to my own archeology as a white South African. Your post did. Not in broad strokes, but very deeply and specifically.

      I think mostly about the psychology of our ‘eating habits’ – how deeply we build our selfhood on the signs that are in our everyday life. It is a whole cognitive restructuring that is required by individuals to escape form the uberness, but it also depends on what is offered by the social menu. So, the signs you make in your (very eloquent) language, is one way of changing the menu.

      Gillian, what disturbs me even more than the ‘eating patterns’ of adult white people is how white children are fed from the same menu – not just in SA.

    • Momma Cyndi

      I notice you don’t mention the ‘artist’ who made the cake and who set up the entire exhibition – could that possibly be because Makode Linde is not white?

      As despicable as both the “eating” of the cake and the practice of female genital mutilation is, it is not a South African custom so tying it into Saartjie Baartman is very insulting to her – and South Africa in general. We have many faults but we are not barbarians

      You make some very good points. They are horribly over-shadowed by your shrillness. I get it that you are horribly ashamed of your lack of pigmentation but it does get in the way of your message. Maybe use better examples or maybe keep it to one idea?

    • mike venter

      I have read a few of your articles and you come across to intense. Like Gerhard say, ease up on the generalisations you are now coming over as the other side of the coin.

      You try too hard to justify your whiteness and being married to eerrrrm, a black person, your tirade seems fake.

    • Heinrich Becker

      There is a saying in Afrikaans : “Waar die hart van vol is, loop die mond van oor”.

      This lady has obviously decided that racism is her thing. To cherish, to admire from various angles and to display in various ways. Must keep racism alive…it is such a boring life out there…

    • Max

      OMG! You really do take the cake artwork so literally that you believe it reveals the terrible racism and misogyny of Europeans! Wow! You believe the entirety of white people is one big conspiratorial anti-black danger zone and the cake reveals and proves this!

      You really need to read this review of the racist cake:

      You describe the artist as “black-faced” implying that the artist is a despicable white racist.

      The artist who made the cake is a black man.

      His name is Makode Aj Linde. This information changes things somewhat doesn’t it?

      One would expect more visually literate and nuanced insight on thoughtleader.

    • Scientist

      What interests me about social scientists is they make up words like ‘whiteness’ but can’t define them exactly. What is whiteness? Is there a similar blackness? Or Asianness? Or Jewishness? Or tall-people-ness? Whiteness is defined as some ethereal, intangible unconscious set of attributes (reminds me a bit of occult mysticism with its vagueness) but which don’t have much measurable link to actual racist practice or behaviour – which are pretty easy to define if you are a simple person. Much like ‘Jewishness’ or ‘Judentum’ which Streicher said wasn’t the same thing as actual Jewish people, whiteness is something which you can accuse people of even if their deeds, speech and behaviour are completely non-racist. It’s a cop out, and it sure isn’t scientific.

    • Dave Harris

      Thanks for having the courage to speak out again Gillian.

      Mainstream media, education and justice systems are the genesis of this normalization of whiteness and the abnormality of blackness in western societies all over the world. Of course, here in SA, it was exacerbated by the brutality of colonialism, followed by apartheid’s draconian laws which sanctioned the transfer of wealth to the tiny white minority and its collaborators over the centuries to reinforce these stereotypes.
      The only way we can overcome this white supremacy is through the transformation of mainstream media and our education and justice systems.

      Its gets worse than just the “endless whinging about crime, corruption, inefficiency and BEE”, the brazen personal character assassinations of elder black statesmen is a disgrace that has polarized our society.

      Not only do these apartheid collaborators that perpetrated this crime against humanity, now deify Mandela, Biko etc.

    • Scientist

      This is the part I find so funny “white folk that populate this class most often secretly believe that black people are not nearly as learned as themselves “. If it’s secret, intangible, unmeasurable, how on earth does one draw this conclusion? It’s like saying that Chinese people all secretly believe the Myan prophecies and that pigs are gods, but they just don’t actually go out and say it, so you would never know, but it’s true anyway. (And you can still confidently make this assertion). Even the social scientists of the 50’s at least tried to keep their methods in the realm of observable reality and actual, validatable theories or hypotheses. But it seems such intellectual rigour is no longer needed.

    • Dave Harris

      Its folks like you that prevent us from moving forward. Name-calling and unleashing your bile on Gillian when she speaks out against our festering cancer of racism shows the extent of your contribution to “constructive endeavors”!

      “stop repeating what we already bloody know ”
      Trying to shut Gillian up brings to mid that famous line from a Few Good Men – “You can’t handle the truth!” Can you?!

    • Scientist

      “In fact much racist white banter seems premised on the fact that “they” may not belong to the human race at all”. OK, nice bald assertion. Now – provide some statements in simple English of all the white liberals, or whomoever else, stating that black people are not human. Since the writer is so confident that liberals (not white supremacists as she notes, I am sure she can find some quotes from them, but let’s not have any strawmen here) think that black people are not human, how about some actual factual proof/ argument/ logic/ actual quotes to back up the statement? Easy to make sloppy generalisations. Hard to argue intelligently.

    • Scientist

      And please note – none of this alters the fact that racism is a shocking, terrible form of human behaviour – but it remains incumbent on people to argue clearly and not fabricate, invent, generalise, create strawmen or unverifiable arguments.

    • Qobo

      To those who find this blog well-intentioned and not overly strident, do a simple semantic exercise – rewrite the blog, replacing all the generalisations about white people with generalisations about black people. You will then realise quite how strident, opiniated and uncharitable it is – do yourself a favour, try it, and realise the author by adopting a more extreme rather than a more nuanced position has weakened the many valid points which I have no doubt she has to make. And depleted the strong argument that could have been made that respect needs to be shown to all races, especially to black people in this continent.

    • Lucky Ntuli

      When I was growing up,seen many of my own 180 days of detentions. I had the same now “guilty” take care of many of us. Shame now they are “guilty”. There are many horror stories yet to be told about how these now “guilty” actually risked their lives for this country.

      PC correctness is vile. This is vile!

      Any thoughts on Nkandla!!

    • Mr. Direct

      You know, I am not ashamed to be white, and I will not appologise for it. NOT EVER.

      If you think somehow I have a debt to pay to society because I lived in South Africa pre 1994, think again. I lived here, and took the opportunities that were available, like everyone else would. I did not make the rules, and I did not have the power to change them either.

      If I were in another country, it would not have changed the outcome, I would be as successful as I am now. Perhaps even more, because I would have been able to stand on the shoulders of giants…

    • Swedish

      The para about the demo against female circumcision is extremely dishonest – clearly the demo was designed to create awareness to stop this practice and thereby protect black women from abuse. “They called it racist, misogynistic and hateful.” Is the author really saying the Swedish were celebrating female circumcision? Provide proof of this – it seems like a rather basic lie to most semi-intelligent readers.

    • Laurence

      Yes, yes, yes. all this is true.
      I, too, have great contempt for those who have unsolicited contempt towards another, by virtue of difference in race, religion, etc.
      Looks like many white folks racist side is fed daily by many – it seems like most – of the newspaper articles, the ANC being the main culprit. I like Times, M&G, Sowetan, Citizen, the Guardian in the UK, and the Sunday independent. Admittedly i chuckle at Spartacus, the Marxist / Leninist little paper, but is still has many good points. As do they all.
      it looks like the country is being torn to shreds by greedy politicians NOW. Just like the rest of Africa has been destroyed. and who suffers most ? Poor black people.

      i conclude that the country will be better run by white people for the good of all. This is not racist at all, it is just the way an engineer would solve the problem: no emotive content, just statistical best practice.
      remember that conquerors write the history much more than the conquered. this is true as far back as recorded history allows us to see.
      so now what are we going to do now ? do you wish to allow the ANC to continue doing what they are doing, because of … ? what this article says ?
      then everyone suffers, the poor black people most of all. forget about everything past, and employ statistical best practice.

    • Jeremy

      C’mon Gerhard – generalisations? I thought she described you to a T.

    • jandr0

      Dear Gillian,

      Parts left out by you regarding the cake-eating:

      The macabre cake was designed by Afro-Swedish artist Makode Aj Linde intended to highlight the issue of female circumcision.

      So an Afro-Swedish artist contributes a cake to highlight the issue of female circumcision (which is most prevalent in Africa, hence the decision to do a black cake?), and a white person decides to support the initiative, and now the white person is racist? Seriously?

      A bit more logic and a bit less emotion, please!.

      PS. What worries me, is that I can understand your emotional reaction (as I also did not enjoy the video at all), yet you furthered it by only representing the one side of the story. Clearly you should have been aware of the other (ostensibly good-intentioned) side of the story. In all fairness, you should have presented both sides. While I don’t like the video and the cake-eating approach to highlight female circumcision, I guess I dislike unfairness even more.

      PPS. I think (and I agree it is only my subjective view) that your reaction shows your latent racial hangups (because you immediately fixated on the “white person eating black person cake”), while those Swedish are so at ease with race that they focused on the real issue: female genital mutilation. Hhmm, despite all your vociferous claims, deep inside you may have MORE racial issues than those Swedes! Your vociferousness also supports my psychological conjecture.

    • Diliza Muthwa Ndlovu

      Great article, great deconstruction. Unfortunately, real human beings like you have to strip themselves naked for the obvious to be accepted by Gerhard and others like him. Only when you take extreme measures such as this do they acknowledge and then ask u to move on. They want to keep their advantage. Unfortunately, no one has found the perfect formula. It will take blacks a little while to achieve the balance – white South Afrikans are the worst racists in the world and everyone sadly knows that. Keep working at it and it takes self-sacrifice and at times self-humiliation to make the point. Thanks for the article.

    • Sam Slyme

      I skimmed your piece, which was enough to get a general sense of your serial obsession with gender and race and your general sense of victimhood and “deprivileging” . Perhaps readers will be struck dumb by the impressively “technical” appearance of your dyscourse, and conclude that you are saying something so erudite that they would reveal themselves to be yokels by merely opening their mouths. Full marks for deploying your postmodernist verbal skills so deftly that you deprivilege your would-be opponents before they can unzip …

      Your obsession with gender and race is, of course, useful for someone with little of real interest to share. There is always a bandwagon for the jobbing journalist to join, and what better bandwagon in ANC-ridden South Africa than race? If you have few positive interests, there is always a living to be made out of abuse provided you choose your victim carefully. And what could seem more daring, yet be safer, than crucifying the white male? Crucify him, deny him employment, blame the world’s ills on him, accuse him of rape (figuratively speaking) and change the rules of evidence until you are sure that he will be unable to defend himself from even the most spurious acccusations … Considering that adult white males make up less than 4% of the population and that every available legislative tool is used to marginalise him, his resilience must be galling. Still, so long as you are enjoying yourself we wont repoirt you to the Gender…

    • Free us from the ANC

      I think you are hanging out with the wrong kind of white Africans Gillian….sheesh! Virgin Active is obviously not a good place to be if you are to be believed. If you are correct in your sweeping generalisations, then whiteness is a really bad thing. Ouch!

    • kaizer

      Thanks a lot for a great and illuminating read.

    • DeeGee

      Please can I book an appointment to see you as soon as possible so you can determine for me whether I am part of the good group or the bad group. This is vital to me being able to carry on with life. Goodness me! Oh, and do you teach your children those choice words you use? Thought Leader indeed!

    • Piet Boerie

      Talk about painting all with the same brush. The mere fact your call yourself white makes you racist and your generalisations are a private school kid musings.

      Cant touch Brendon’s honesty.

      You should really change your company you keep or people you come into contact with.
      It smacks of advatange and privelege us mere non uni-graduates trades people fail to understand. You see at this end we get on with it, pick up the tools that built this country while talkers talk do’ers do.

      Your pre-occupation with race is best left to you liberal white guilt.

      It is bourgeois intellectual masturbation. Does it make you feel better?

    • Tim

      This whole tirade reminds me of the Life of Brian where the members of the People’s Front of Judea (or is it the Judean People’s Front?) are debating what the Romans ever did for them. Oh, I’m sorry, is referencing satire something that has been inculcated into me as a whitey, therefore it has no value because it is a whites only thing?

      Your whole argument is ludicrous and the more you pontificate about ‘whiteness’ if there is such a thing, the more you reveal your own insecurities and bigotry. Someone commented on one of your previous posts that you are obviously incredibly uncomfortable being white, I tend to agree.

      It’s also very easy to spout furiously about whiteness on a blog and then not even engage the people who respond to your posts. Ivory tower? (That’s also white)

    • Leon Postma

      You write as if there is no racism from the “non-white” sector of the world. Open your eyes and stop seeing the world through pink glasses like you and all the pink liberal humanists do. Racism has always existed and always will. As long as you have more than one culture, more than one political system, more than one of anything actually, you will experience the “we and them” attitude. You can break it down to the most simplest of all differences in the working or civil environment.

      The blacks can convene a “Black Lawyers Convention”, a “Black Business Convention”, and so we can go on. They (the Blacks) even have sayings like “Black is beautiful”. I suppose you have never heard of these things before because it seems as if racism only exists when it is committed by Whites. Racism will never disappear. We are different. I do agree however that it must never be used to mistreat or look down on someone else. Respect is the keyword!

    • Tofolux

      What is at the centre of racism is that it is extremely political and it is the practise of certain political actors exploiting the issue of race to forward an agenda. For Joe Public, your political affiliation is “recognised” based on your views around racism. In SA the fact that is was structural, sytematic, lawful, forced etc conjures up painful memories. Our greatest sin is that in 1994 we did not have a govt policy on national unity and reconciliation. Our (govt’s) goodwill believed that non-racialism would be a result of democracy. How wrong we were. The attitudes today is as ingrained as it was pre-1994. In our context, we have failed to deal and interrogate white attitudes eg Helen Zille’s accusation that Simphiwe Dana is a ”professional black” Not only was that insult highly offensive, media deliberately failed to deal with it. What has been remiss is the huge failure of media to lead on nationbuilding. We have vacuum and yet what dominates our national conversation is diabolical.What occupies discourse is loaded with cyniscm, combative, hostility, sarcasm and a malevolent exercise of sinister finger pointing. The paintings of elders with private parts exposed and the drawings of individuals gang-raping a women is demeaning and insulting and yet we are led to believe that this ”world-class” or ”metaphor” despite our SA background. It seems that sum1 is hell bent on a ”arab spring” and to what end. We r being deliberately distracted and…

    • Hugh Robinson

      @ gerhard Right on. What I find annoying is the continued white guilt trip. I get feeling Miss Gillian had painted herself into a corner a long time ago. The result is that instead of looking at the failing of black and white on balance, trying to make sense of the disparities and commonality, she makes excuses for one Race while blaming the other for every shortcoming.

      What I have always failed to understand is that we have four races in SA. Three did quite well for themselves in modernising and learning while the last despite [ albeit limited ] universities and trade schools did nothing to lift themselves preferring to wait for the government to do it for them.

      The latter’s majority still waits with begging out while the other three are progressing moving forward without BEE and other hand outs. The same then blame something that goes back 300 years when in reality it is the last thirty is that count.

      Maybe in place of blame it is the second class mindset not to blame and not apartheid or history? The bad attitude and lack of mutual respect of some that push others away. The cursing in public of another race in own language not realising that some do speak the lingo.

      I suggest to gain some perspective that you learn your local languages go into the street too hear what is being said in the safety of own vernacular. Then use all your will power to get your mind around that every finger pointed at whites three are pointing back. Then say so what, live & let…

    • Mila22

      No matter how erudite and true the core message may be, your comment unfortunately collapses right at the start. “Observe and investigate the facts objectively; then build the argument.” (Phil101; Journo101; Logic101…)

      I re-post Max’s link.

    • Kusta

      The comments in disagreement with this article prove precisely what Gillian has so eloquently penned. Gillian, thank you for writing this article, it is obviously not the first or last time these views have been expressed. What I find ironic though is the defensiveness epressed by those who benefit from whiteness whenever it is exposed. As a black person who suffers everyday due to whiteness and white supremacy(can we differentiate between these two btw?), I find myself constantly flabbergasted by how these benefiaciaries either do not recognise this priviledge or blatantly ignore it like it does not exist. As a man, I have to constantly interrogate myself/views/manner of interactions with women because I acknowledge that being a man gives me certain priveledges which I took for granted before people like Gillian pointed them out to me. If you do not recognise white priveledge, rest assured that you are being dishonest to yourself and consequently perpetrating ideologies that ultimately give rise to racism.

    • Reducto

      @Hugh Robinson: “What I have always failed to understand is that we have four races in SA. Three did quite well for themselves in modernising and learning while the last despite [ albeit limited ] universities and trade schools did nothing to lift themselves preferring to wait for the government to do it for them.”

      But only one was squashed into tiny ecnomically unviable homelands for the purpose of being nothing more than cheap migrant labour.

      The best of the best was reserved for one race. The other two were discriminated against, and treated like second class citizens, but given far more educational opportunities than the majority, who were treated worse than third class citizens.

      I fail to see how you can deny this. You are sitting in a position of privilege, having grown up with the best provided for you, never having faced what the vast majority have faced, and yet you judge them.

      I find it doubtful you would have made it very far had you grown up in a tiny homeland like QwaQwa, a tiny scrap of South Africa, the purpose for which was to dump people.

      Personally I am not a fan of Gillian and her brand of liberal-bashing (although she makes a few good points), but you are incredibly dishonest in your assessment of the situation.

    • Kusta

      BTW, Gillian is generalising and rightly so, for you can not speak about whiteness on an individual perspective. Since when do we have to have to be specific when we talk about patriachy?

    • Freedom Charter

      “i conclude that the country will be better run by white people for the good of all. ” Not true, laurence, not true AT ALL. The country is best run by the best people, regardless of race, and it is completely unjust, unfair and plain wrong to say one group or another are better. SA belongs to ALL who live and work in it.

    • Vince

      Love the phrase ‘disturbed the certainty of white rationality’ Gillians articles are always thought provoking, pseudo rationality is a pillar of white dominance ,but to be totally aware, interaction between emotional and intellectual is essential.No matter how we rationalise our dominance,how we deal with ourselves and others in our own reality,we cannot divorce ourselves from humanity,but that s one of life s paradoxes we will always struggle to over come.Life of Brian,Statistical best practice indeed,but ultimately without the angst and ‘shrill’ insights of writers like Gillian, we will continue on the road of mutual slavery and self destruction

    • Karney

      @Sam Slyme spot on, Gillian assumes that whites pre1994 are a homogenous evil bunch who should all be guilt ridden about their whiteness and if you’re a white male well then zip it. Whites including those born frees need to pay penance ….. Gillian life goes on ; I doubt you’ll find many whites who don’t admit they benefitted from apartheid but they don’t drag the ball and chain around with them. They simply, are getting on with living.

    • GrahamJ

      Gillian misses the entire point. Discrimination is never based on skin colour, it is based on perceived weaknesses of the other group, real or imagined. I am ‘inferior’ to Doctors because they have a PhD or an MMD and I don’t. I am ‘inferior’ to my manager because he has greater skills than me. I am ‘inferior’ to my wife because she can cook and I can’t. Skin colour isn’t the issue.

      One form of discrimination was apartheid, it discriminated against people who were perceived to be different in behaviour and culture. The fact that it could be conveniently associated with melanin was co-incidental; suppose all peoples were white or black, how then would apartheid have identified the different groups?

      No, pigmentation has little to do with this and perceived competence or capability or arrogance has a lot to do with this.

      If you changed your missive by replacing the word ‘white’ with something else such as ‘historically more developed than others’ and replaced the word ‘black’ with something like ‘historically not as developed as others’, would that help end the arguments? If you don’t like my words, think of some that are more politically correct or that you do like.

      But drop white or black, they are just a red-herring to suit incandescent whiners.

    • Sean

      South Africa today is a great example of one extreme being replaced by another, from the Nats to the ANC and I for one find it to not be a very positive example.

      A fact I have come to realise in my life is that what was an anathema when I was a youth is in fact the only solution to most conflict, compromise !

      The world would be a much better place if it were ruled by people who are able to see issues from the perspective of all parties involved and who are intelligent enough to find that unique solution which pleases the majority.

      The fact is, we all have to live in this world and no one group should be victimised or vilified.

      You Gillian, unfortunately do not represent the voice of reason, but one of the extremes.

    • Alex S

      Excellent piece and to be honest, I had given up on hearing from like-minded whiteys.
      I wholeheartedly support what you say and agree with it.
      It’s right on so many levels.
      I thank my friend Aragorn Eloff for posting it on his Facebook page which alerted me to it.
      Please continue writing. Besides Paddy Harper of City Press, there’s few white columnists I enjoy reading.

    • Crispin

      Well, I tried substituting ‘black’ for ‘white’ and it was not racist, just did not resonate. Once you have made the necessary point that racism is not the only form of oppression, and that all people are capable of these distortions of the human spirit, I don’t think Gillian is being unreasonable. Since I listen a lot to white people (by which of course I mean people like myself who are described and treated by society as white, even though we know such a category is ultimately nonsense) and to black people, I can tell you straight: there is immense ignorance on what actually happens in the lives of black people, on the part of whites. Not so much the other way round. And the racism of which black people speak is real, frequent and harmful. For the life of me, as someone who is often around black people, and who gets frustrated by the thoughtlessness and limitations of people, black and white, there is just nothing that compares with that white racism from black people. In fact, perhaps the most frustrating thing is when black people tend to lose confidence in themselves because of it. And if white people want to stop being seen as homogeneous, the answer is to stop acting homogeneous.

    • neil

      Life is not simply black and white. I have travelled all over the world and I have seen these divisions everywhere.. Unfortunately, it’s a human trait. Sometimes it’s about whether you live on a mountain or in the lowlands.. or if you’re a traveller or a settler.. or if you’re a South African or a ‘Kwere-kwere’ or Xhosa or Zulu.. It’s a lot harder to pin down. This ignorance is in no way the preserve of one particular race.. In certain British villages it used to be about whether or not you were local or from the next village. It is about the fear of the ‘other’, and it should certainly not be confined to any one racial stereotype

      As for the final question – ‘Is it possible for white people.. to ever fully transcend the whiteness construct or are we all vulnerable to being exposed and tripping over our own unconscious programming by some genius provocateur?’ I would say, only when people stop seeing things in black and white.

      Today’s inequality in SA, is as much to do with the ANC ditching RDP in favour of GEAR, AIDS denialist presidents, and Zumaville style corruption as anything else, surely? With better leadership, better housing, education and health care, South Africa could’ve been well on it’s way to dismantling the former apartheid system, and growing beyond it, instead, it seems to have just replaced racial apartheid with economic apartheid.

    • Stephen Browne

      I see this sort of behaviour all day every in Constantia, where I work. A despicable sort of racism that falls back on the cruelest of human behaviour, the patronising half smile. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why the staff at the Constantia Village Pick and Pay were so stand-offish (they would barely acknowledge my presence), but after observing the way the average Constantia resident (read: white) spoke to them, it made sense. A simple ‘Hi, how are you?’ to a cashier is usually met with shock and suspicion. Thankfully if you drive 2 minutes down the road to the Plumstead branch, the new South Africa so longed for is far more in evidence. Employees go out of their way to help out, and interact with refreshing honesty – this in one of the busiest, most cramped stores I’ve ever seen. While I couldn’t say for sure, my guess is the customers (something like 60% white) are people who have seen harder times, and see no shame whatsoever in doing a menial job. Their interactions, and the response they get, are hence not tainted with the thoughtless pity of the neighbouring area.

    • Rory Short

      @Gillian, you are endeavouring to address what is a psychologically deep problem. So trying to put emotion to one side, my reality is that I was born in 1939 in Johannesburg so was there at the onset of Apartheid and lived through it until its official demise in 1994. But, if you think of it, Apartheid was just a more ‘in your face’ type of racism than the racism that was in existence in SA in the preceding centuries. As a consequence I could not help but to unconsciously ingest some of the racist thinking that was abroad in my community which happened to be white English speaking. At a conscious level however, because my father was politically active, he was a member of the Torch Commando for instance, from the onset of Apartheid I was filled with revulsion for Apartheid as I understood it from what my father explained of it to me. As a consequence I was an anti-Apartheid activist all my life. However this activism did not address my ingested unconscious racism which lay dormant in my unconscious mind. Over the years however, as bits of information, which challenged this unconscious racism, slowly accumulated in my mind, I was brought to the point where I became aware that my thinking was conditioned by the unconscious belief that non-white people were not quite human like us white people. Uncovering this unconscious belief was both a shock and a relief because having come to see it I could freely lay it down as the lie that it is.

    • jandr0

      @Tofoloux: You say: “The attitudes today is as ingrained as it was pre-1994. In our context, we have failed to deal and interrogate white attitudes eg Helen Zille’s accusation that Simphiwe Dana is a ”professional black” Not only was that insult highly offensive”

      Why only white attitudes? You are suggesting that there is a grouping of people who are inferior because (you think!) they have an issue with race. That makes you a racist!

      Helen Zille’s “accusation” is made on the premise that Simphiwe Dana is building a career on what it is to be black, i.e. a “professional black.”

      Note VERY carefully, that Helen Zille did not infer any thing regarding whether that makes Simphiwe Dana good or bad due to being a “professional black.”

      Therefore it is not racist. If you view that as an insult, then you need to get over yourself. We are ALL human beings.

      But at least you are not at Gillian’s level of self-flagellation and distortion of truth.

      racism: A set of ideas and social practices that ascribe negative characteristics to a particular racial group who are mistakenly assumed to be biologically distinct. [Knox, P., Pinch, S., “Urban Social Geography, An Introduction.”]

    • Richard

      Could somebody enlighten me as to what the point of this article is? I understand that the author has issue with her skin colour, but I am trying to work out what she is attempting to do with that piece of insight? The skin colour is taken entirely out of any type of context – which is not actually how the world works – and does not appear to be attempting to achieve anything. Perhaps it is simply a piece of self-analysis? In that case, a good idea might be for her to work out what “whiteness” means to her, and by extension to other white people. I am of the school of opinion that says there are reasons for behaviour, and these should be understood as a part of any attempt at constructive analysis. Otherwise it is just a sort of visceral scream.

    • Boitumelo

      I am on your side. I am happy you said everything you said, especially the bit about Mandela deity. I am often regarded as hateful or unforgiving by saying the things you have just said. “is it possible for white people to fully transcend the whiteness construct?” yes it is. It begins with this kind acknowledgement and insight.

    • Partial Observer

      Gillian, whatever the merits of the concept of ‘whiteness’, I’m not going to comment on the race issues you raise. However, I am tired of the constant berating of liberalism, particularly when couched in jargon-laden postmodern discourse designed to hide arguments behind a wall of imposing terminology. After over a decade in graduate departments decoding endless postmodern texts, only to discover that many had little to say, you’ll forgive my weariness. Your chosen ‘isms’ are academic power plays like rational choice or behaviorism, and detract from any points you’re making. Particularly when addressing a wider audience.
      So I’ll be blunt and hopefully clear. Liberalism is better. Yes, that’s right, I said better.
      Every freedom you enjoy has a common source. Free speech? Liberal. Universal suffrage, human rights? Liberal. The tolerance and anti-discrimination that are the preconditions for your own marriage? Liberal.
      Thank God we have liberal constitution. Imagine the totalitarian horror if postmodernists had created it? (There’s a sci-fi novel in that!). Certainly we need a hefty dose of black consciousness and socialism to redress unjust imbalances, but only in the context of fiercely protecting our freedoms.
      So by all means exercise your liberal rights and attack whiteness (and maleness). I will try to live up to my liberal ideal of tolerance while reading them. But please, stop with the liberal-bashing and just say thank you.

    • GrahamJ


      You are wishing too much. I am proud to be South African, I am proud to be Catholic, I am proud to be a qualified engineer, I am proud to be a father, I am proud to have been a fooballer, I am proud to be honest, I am proud of my respect for others. I like others with similar education, similar skills, similar beliefs and similar talents. I like mixing with them. I am less likely to mix with those who I perceive to have different priorities.

      I am like billions of others. Stop calling me a racist. I am not. I am a realist. Live with it.

    • The Critical Cynic

      none of us remotely close to perfect – not one.

    • Mr. Direct


      Good post – completely agree…

      “Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition.” – Alexander Smith