Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

What is ‘genuine white racism’ anyway?

And how do we know it “runs rampant”?

I am prompted to ask the question by this comment by Carlos Amato in a very scholarly and thought-provoking article about that Zapiro cartoon:

“Genuine white racism remains rampant in this country,” he writes, “but such indiscriminate accusations will not help to defeat it. Zapiro, who was one of South Africa’s fiercest cultural warriors against apartheid and then an equally passionate contributor to the nation-building project, deserves better than to be so glibly typecast.”

Now, I happen to agree with Amato on pretty much every point in his article. Cartoonists are in the business of being unfair to their subjects. It is their job — quite literally — to distort those whom they mock. And yes, while this rape cartoon pushed the boundaries (Amato does not buy Zapiro’s argument that the rape metaphor was unrelated to the earlier rape trial, at which Zuma, incidentally, was found not guilty), this does not mean that the cartoon does not make a very powerful point about “the grubby cult of power”, as Amato puts it.

Indeed, thinking about my earlier post about how, by attacking Zuma, Zapiro may unwittingly have prompted reactionary sympathy for the man, I am now starting to wonder whether, by attacking Zapiro, the geniuses in the ANC Youth League and their fellow travellers the Young Communists — who sound like a retro-ironic folk-rock band but, sadly, aren’t — won’t swing opinion back in the other direction. My own evolving response to the whole debate is swaying back toward the cartoonist.

But Amato’s assertion worries me for some reason: this declaration — “genuine white racism runs rampant”. I don’t dispute that South Africa must still tackle the assumptions of racial superiority and inferiority as well as any violence that may result from it, but I feel compelled to ask a couple of questions here, inasmuch as because this is the kind of throwaway assertion I myself might have made, given similar circumstances:

1. Precisely what constitutes “genuine white racism”? That Zapiro is not and never has been a racist I have no doubt, but not everyone has his liberation-struggle credentials. Does “genuine white racism” refer to dinner-table references to “Afs”? Conviction that the maid is stealing the Ricoffy again? Barring blacks from your oord? Calling black South Africans the k-word to their faces? What?

What makes it “genuine”? Are there degrees of racism? Are some kinds of racism worse than others? And how can white South Africans know in their own minds whether they dislike Jacob Zuma — or any other politician who happens to be black — because he or she is black, or because of what he or she has done or stands for?

People need to know these things, so that they are able to assess whether they, or their colleagues or friends, are genuine racists.

2. Once we’ve defined genuine white racism, we can assess how “rampant” it is. After all, what defines whether something is “rampant” and how does Amato know that white racism is everywhere? A search reveals that “rampant” has a couple of different meanings, referring to “growing luxuriously” or “marked by a menacing wildness, extravagance, or absence of restraint”. Is this true? Is “genuine white racism” everywhere? Difficult to tell, because if “genuine” racism refers to matters reported to police, it’s difficult to argue that it’s everywhere, and if it refers to racist assumptions, there’s no definitive study of the unpoliced thoughts and opinions of white South Africans. So, difficult to say, really.

Amato might well be right about genuine white racism being rampant.

Still, this statement is problematic, because it’s the sort of throwaway comment that, among other functions, helps protect the writer from criticism that he himself is a racist. (I know this only too well; been there, done that.) Defending Zapiro against accusations that he is racist must necessarily be contextualised in the light of real white racism, as if every discussion around every debate must be inoculated — if you will — by a disclaimer of the evil of apartheid or white racism. The writer offers up this acknowledgement of the wrongs of the past and the present; now discussion may continue.

(Small things, I know. I blame my interest in these sorts of statements in my own extended period of study at Wits. I think they were hoping I’d come out more unquestioningly left wing than I did.)

The point is that we should think about the generalisations we make, and why we make them, and look to a time when we assess every argument on its merits instead of its demographic and political component. Then, maybe, we’ll defeat genuine white racism. And any other kind of racism there is.

  • amused reader

    We should draw a line between racial discrimination and racism.

    The very word has become so fatally flawed that maybe we should just ban it and get on with solving our numerous ‘actual’ problems, rather than ones that more often than not exist in our heads.

    Our problem in this country is that very many people in the country are poor and disadvantaged, it is no longer an issue of race. Race gets in the way of solving this problem, rather than assists.

  • Carlos Amato

    Hallo Sarah
    Ja, I’ve been wrestling with the phrase “genuine white racism” meself. Because all of us, of all races, are in some measure racist — whether or not we consciously overrule all the false narratives and real cultural fissures we have inherited. And if someone who is patently a “genuine white racist” — i.e. someone who lacks the knowledge or wit or will to perceive his own racist heritage and think beyond it — had drawn Zapiro’s cartoon instead of Zapiro, I suppose it would have to be deemed a racist cartoon.

    Maybe Zapiro’s intense anger toward his targets suspended his internal racism-o-meter. But then again, he is so accustomed to distributing his mockery in all directions that perhaps he doesn’t have one. Perhaps by having no fear of being accused of racism, he has demonstrated that he has moved beyond racism. Perhaps he engages exclusively with the ethical standards of every subject he satirises, not their melanin levels.

    Great blog!

    I am now going to paddle back to the shallow, sporty end of journalism. Much less confusing.

  • Po

    I wonder if anyone has never been racist, even if accidentally.

    I really enjoyed this blog post Sarah, but I feel saddened by the fact that every time the word “race” or “racism” appears in a Thoughtleader blog post, rampant genuine racists from across the board use the comments section as a sounding board for their tired rantings.

  • David Bullard

    I have no idea whether this Amato character is real or not but all I would say in defence of my hugely popular article last week is this. Ever since JZ was found not guilty of rape both Zapiro and The Sumday Times have decided that the judgement didn’t suit them and continued to portray JZ as a rapist. Please tell me what the difference is between that and the ANCYL threatening to go on a killing spree if court judgements don’t go their way? Both show disdain for the judicial system. If we are to defend press freedom there hase to be some integrity and that integrity is sadly lacking at The Sunday Times of late.

  • Sentletse Diakanyo

    Racial bigotry is equally distributed among all races. It is only suppressed or moderated by varying degree of tolerance possesed by each individual. Certain unexpected occurrences have a remarkable tendency of dispensing this bigotry in subtleties or overtly. Anyone claiming to be devoid of this natural quality of humans is deceiving him/herself. It is more like claiming to be pure of sin.

  • Garg Unzola

    There’s no such thing as white racism or black racism, etc. There is only racism, which is stereotyping an individual of any race with perceived qualities of that race.

  • JOhn

    Poor South African Whites!

    They still don’t knwo which way is up and which way is down.

    Nobody will tell you what racism is, because it’snot like you really want to know. You are pining for superiority again. Bitter that your White “brothers and sisters” the world over have evolved way past your Neanderthal urges and have not time or interest for your fancy tales of “Brave Boers” and other such nonsense.

    Wake up and learn you’re no better than anybody else. Nobody has time to hold your hand while you try to rejoin the world that left you behind at least 20 years ago.

  • Jon

    “Racist” is just PC codespeak for “I disagree with you”.

    Especially, “I disagree with you but I cannot dispute the facts you raised or rebut the gist of the argument you presented.”

    Ergo, “genuine white racism” is just a frustratingly hyper-intensive form of the above.

    Not so?

  • Madoda

    To me it would be difficult to find a generally accepted definition of racism because the concept is used ,abused and misused.



    Yes, I really hate racists who aren’t genuine. You know.. the ones who make racist remarks, but actually feel empathy, rather than antipathy. The trouble with those whites is that blacks don’t realize that the pale-skins are trying to be extremely friendly. They are being deceptive and blacks don’t know where they stand. Should they get offended or ask for their cell phone number?. It’s a big problem and Carlos Amato was smart enough to elucidate it.



    If Carlos Amato is available, perhaps he can tell us roughly what % of South African whites fall into his “rampant racist” category.

    My gut feeling is that it is probably more than 50%.

    Can we defeat “genuine white racism” ? Yes, but only if we transform it into “fake” white racism!


    Btw, I think that Zap’s cartoon in this week’s Sunday Times was…weak. It seemed to me that Zap was trying to protect his arse with the Zumen by portraying Mbeki as another rapist of the judicial system. So, in this regard, I have to conclude that Zap was cowardly. A braver cartoonist would have taken another stab at his victim. After all, Zuma was victorious, but purely on a technicality and, if a danger to the judicial system prior to the verdict, he is more of a danger after it.

  • Dante

    You get race-realism, which is saying that, due to genetic factors, the races have different strengths and weaknesses ineradicable by enculturation. Then you get racism, which is saying any particular race is superior as a result of this. It’s an important distinction but one entirely lost on the PC.

  • vic

    David , both parties may be showing disdain ..but one is threatening to kill people in the process.

    There is a huge difference.

    Taking the pi$$ is one thing ….taking a life is another.

  • Rodney King of Sydney

    Funny, most people are actually classist or culturalist. Take a black person in SA who embraces white culture and ways. His fellow blacks call him a coconut. His adoption of western ways though may see him propping up the bar at Wanderers discussing golf. Similarly, successful snobby professionals from lets say France, Australia and Zimbabwe may have a great affinity with each other and be derogatory towards people who work with their hands.

    Nationalism used to be a massive force of seperatism and antagonism in the western world – leading to the biggest carnage ever known. Multinational employers across a huge range of cultures now work together to exploit anything that can be exploited in the name of EBIT.

  • Currently Disadvantaged

    ‘Tis sad indeed when most people don’t know (or understand for that matter) , the true definition of “rascism”!
    Rascism can be incurred on ANYONE of differing rasces, not nescessarily white-on-black or black-on-white.
    If an American Indian casts a racial slur at an Eskimo, that, by default is a case of rascism.
    Once people undersand this concept, then maybe they’ll start using the term more carefully and there won’t be as much hate on the planet.

  • Maczomba

    Ryland Fisher has said it before, but allow me to reiterate: all South Africans are racists. We cannot help it. It is the default setting.

  • Perry Curling-Hope

    @ David Bullard

    People with an investment in a particular political stance will insist that the ‘showerhead’ attached to the Jacob Zuma caricature portrays Zuma as a rapist.
    It does not.
    It portrays him as an idiot, or at least one who is uninformed and given to unfounded beliefs upon which he then bases decisions and actions.
    This is rather disturbing emanating from the pretender to our highest office.

    The fact that the utterance concerning the relationship between HIV/Aids and showering occurred during the rape trial is of no particular consequence.
    It would have been a display of a lack of intellectual capacity regardless of when it occurred, and is deserving of public derision.

    People who are determined to hammer political capital and point scoring out of something do not bother with logic or reason.
    The assertion that the ‘rape of justice’ metaphor in Zapiro’s cartoon is invalid because Jacob Zuma was acquitted of actual rape at some other time is absurd.

    The ‘logical’ assertion that by extension, the showerhead attachment or the cartoon ‘therefore’ represents a rejection of a court judgment is neither logical nor based upon a valid premise.

    Public threats to go on a killing spree are incitement to violence, and are illegal, regardless of the circumstances giving rise to such threats.

  • Kick the mime

    Some provoking comments here. If prejudice gives wings, Red Bull would have no tag line because we would all have them. We do not like what we do not understand or agree with and so it is easier to call someone a racist than engage their arguments.
    I do not like bigotry (where racism and racial discrimination inhabit), it reminds me too much of why nations go up in flames after the books of known subversives have been burnt in bonfires of political vanities. Let us burn t-shirts with the faces of known presidents in the knowledge that we do not read books much and have no need to burn them. In effigy, we can start burning our humanity to soften the way for when we burn racially categorized bodies. In this rainbow nation of ours, racism is not dead, but it sure smells like something dead to me.
    God made the nations of one blood, trust us to make it complicated.


    @ Perry Curling-Hope,

    “Zumalema” is a case-book study of how bullies transform themselves into victims.

    But once the future of South Africa’s democratic system is left to judges, rather than to the intrinsic strength of the democratic system, then it really is all over. Like The SABC, South Africa, has in its entirety, been handed over to lawyers. Sooner or later, nobody will even have the energy to follow the legal shenanigans. We will all turn round and say ” Let them get on with it” and… they will!

  • Siobhan


    Well said. it is alarming that the level of critical and analytical thought amongst the general public is so under-developed. The inability to understand metaphor, analogy, and irony–especially in the contex of satire–is a major handicap in trying to unify South Africans around the principle of democratic freedom of expression as the best defense against abuse of political power. If anyone doubts it, just look at the ire directed at Zapiro,Hogarth, and, prior to his conversion, David Bullard. Swiftian wit is lost on the majority of our people and that fact is evidence of another sort of impoverishment and malnutition: the impoverishment and malnutrition of the mind.

  • KJ Elsdon

    I’m with amused reader on this one – for God’s sake stop navel gazing and get on with running the country efficiently!

  • http://Na Abduraghiem Johnstone

    Clever Artist – but not racist
    To have used rape as a metaphor is clever and timely.
    Rape is such a horrendous and common act in South Africa that the cartoon spawned so many ambiguities lending (more) credence to the caricature.
    To focus on racism, smack of visual illiteracy and the current SA narrative.

    We need to full frame the notion of rape and the judiciary.
    If we remove the gaze from Shapiro and focus the camera on rape and the judiciary what will we find?

    I have followed Shapiro’s cartoons since his first UDF poster was launched and have observed since, then there has been (of recent) an inclination to racially stereotype especially the ANC Youth League cartoon premised on Darwin’s theory.
    I then registered my umbrage with the ombudsman Franz Kruger when the cartoon appeared. He has refused to respond.
    The rape as metaphor cartoon is a poignant and clever piece of art. It has caused enough confusion for the middle road to be found i.e. focussing the camera on rape and the judiciary. And this time the art might lie in the montage of the pictures.

    Good thing about this cartoon, I am convinced we have to take the constitution to the people in cartoon form
    p.s Carlos, give my love to Bianca and Ben.

  • say _ it_like _is _but_cannot

    Hello Sandra. I am a genuine white racist. I am, because I am told I am, by the ANC hierarchy and its tribe of Baboons. You see immediately racist. What Joy.

    In Vodacom adverts I am told that I am as thick as a brick and subservient to Blacks.

    Those whom hold office will at the drop of a hat tell me that because I have a degree of logic, am immune to their BS, and have an opinion that I am a white racist.

    I would love to call a spade a spade but cannot. I would love to have the power to verbally spar with those who insist on labelling me a white racist. Those who persistently try to make me feel guilty of being white while all the while claiming their unwarranted words are not equally racist.

    Unlike the majority of Black South Africans who claim the polished Halo of revolution and their brand of Racist non-racialism, I am not ashamed to say I am white Racist.

    However I am selective in my application of my brand of racism. I treat with respect those who have and hold down a job with integrity and hard work. I treat with respect those who find it within themselves to treat me as an equal. I treat with respect those who see crime and corruption and do something about it.

    But do not hold back on those who say, “White man shut up this is no longer your country”. “You cannot tell us what to do.”

    Them, I call a spade, and care not a Zot to say it.

  • GUS

    Rampant white racism compared to what? Rampant black racism. Don’t hear too much about the latter.

    I think black folk in general, and the ANC in particular, need a final solution to this white problem. The white population has been reduced by about 20% since those glorious strugglers surfaced from obscurity. Yet with AA and BEE (constitunialised theft in my view) and other forms of rampant discrimination they are still not able to make any inroads into the modern economy. So what are they going to do? Turn this place into a barter economy once again?
    My view about Amato, pale and other shades of male captains of industry and all? Your a bunch of f……. cowards who don’t have the balls to stand up to your normal schoolyard bullies. Guys, they may just come and screw your wives and girlfriends or boyfriends nonetheless. But with your PC-mindedness, you’ll probably call for a general amnesty.
    The real balls belong to Zapiro, Zille, Kadalie, Ramphele & so on.
    Sorry guys, time to take a stance. I’m with the girls. Good luck with Zuma, Malema, etc. They will surely see their backsides in time to come.

  • Tharollo ya ‘Nete

    Racism, based on my limited experience, is not about colour, but about predudice: it’s in everyone of us. And may I add that just like language, it is inherited trait. The question then, is how do we root it out? Cause if we don’t, our children are going to learn it. And if they do, what kind of people will they make;what kind of legacy will we leave this country?

  • Rory Short

    Racism is based on categorisation which is an innate human capability. Without the ability to differentiate and categorise the things around us we would not be here.

    Racism, sexism, ageism etc are perjorative terms used to refer to the misuse of the results of categorisation. These terms are used to refer to categorisations when the results of the categorisations are used inappropriate and usually with negative consequences for the parties fitting one of the categories.

    All human beings have the ability to misuse the results of categorisations. Thus the phrase ‘white racism’ is in itself racist because it is taking a category of people, whites in this instance, and attributing racism to them only and this is a misuse of the categorisation. I am correctly categorised as a white person but I am not a racist.

  • Chris

    Does rampant white racism equate to rampant black tribalism?

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  • Walter Pike

    The phrase ‘genuine white racism” is in itself racist. Maybe its time for South Africans to get over themselves and their obsession with racism.

  • Lianna

    Dear Rodney King of Sydney,

    In reply to your comment that “successful snobby professionals from lets say France, Australia and Zimbabwe may have a great affinity with each other and be derogatory towards people who work with their hands.”

    No true blue Aussie is derogatory towards someone who works with their hands. That’s unAustralian in the extreme and the offending person should be shot on sight. If you’re South African – that should be question no. 1 on the citizenship test.

  • Bonginkosi


    I beg to differ. People take offence at the things they chose to take offence at. That does not mean lack of sophistication!! There are two words in Zulu that mean two forms of satire. Ukubhinqa ukubhuqa. People understnad these concepts from a very long time ago. It’s not for lack of sophistication that they take offence.

  • Bonginkosi

    Is it a logical thing to say that if racism has no clean and tidy definition, then any person who chooses to group a certain kind of behaviour as racist may very well be entitled to do so because of the lack of clear definition?

    Just a thought.

  • Mike

    “JOhn” There is always a respondent to an article with nothing useful to say except to denegrate the author. “JOhn”, you seem to be a “typical” racist who has nothing positive to add. Your insults are mindless and only exemplify the endless sea of stupidity out there. Oh, and at least most of us can type properly, perhaps we “CAN” feel superior about that. Perhaps you would be so kind as to define racism for me and while you are at it, explain to me how black south africans aren’t living in the past as you claim white south africans to be. Remove the log from your own eye chap.

  • Garg Unzola

    They say a racist is anybody who is winning an argument with a liberal.

  • Monica Seeber sent from Prague

    I think Zapiro has shown poor judgement. I don’t know him personally, so have no idea whether he harbours racist sentiments in his heart. I did not personally read the cartooon as ‘racist’ but I can see why some others might see it that way, and while I agree that it’s the political cartoonist’s job to hold politicians up to ridicule, thereby making powerful points about their behaviour, I think the cartoon IS open to the ‘racist’ interpretation by those who are ultra-sensitive.

    Is racism ‘rampant’ among white South Africans? The arguments expressed here take self-examination to a high degree. I don’t think we need to ask a million questions and probe our deepest feelings to figure out that many (maybe most) whites are: wary of blacks; misunderstand them; fear them; think they are dirty; that they are dishonest; that they eat funny food; that their leaders are inherently corrupt…and more…

    Nor should we be surprised to find that many (maybe most) blacks are: wary of whites; misunderstand them; fear them; think they are dirty; that they are dishonest; that they eat funny food; that their leaders are inherently corrupt…and more…

    Shall I continue? Substitute ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’ for ‘English’ and ‘French’ or ‘Chinese’ and ‘Japanese’ or ‘Jews’ and ‘Gentiles’…

    If you believe that the above, and similar feelings about the ‘other’, add up to racism, then the human condition is, sadly, inherently racist. For heavens sake, let’s stop this endless mindless vicious name-calling.

  • Canada


    You sound and appear genuine in your question, but let me cut the crap.

    Racism is racism, no need to qualify it. Historically white people in this country have had this mistaken belief of superiority over black people and for others more than others this sickness continues unabated.

    We have a fashionable appropriation by some blacks especially politicians to resort to racial shelters when it suits them.

    I raise my kids to respect people irrespective of their colour,religion, creed, gender etc, etc.

    And lastly to obey and fear the rule of law. What kind of sick parents will find it acceptable to stand beside their children who have killed a black person faceless or homeless.

    If my kids were to kill a homeless white person and this information is proved accurate in the court of law, as parent to demonstrate restorative intentions, I will offer public apology on behalf of my family and “disown” their behaviour -meaning they must serve society for their crimes without my help

    The same principle apply to every black person who robs or break into people’s property and commit acts of rape, torture and kill

    For as long as we treat other people with disdain, because they are racially different from us, the more we should be prepared to live with the consequences of the backlash. Ask the US what price it continues to pay for raping other peoples oil and natural resources.

    There is nothing racial about Zapiro’s cartoons from my perspective, as a respectable educated blackman, it is what it is-just a cartoon/satire

    If you want to make it racial, go ahead but do not assume all black people share that nonsense.

    If you go around talking about having showers after sex with HIV infected women, you surely deserve to have your cartoon depicted with a shower on your head, because clearly you are stupid.

    If George Bush can be stupid, why cant Zuma

  • Canada


    You are correct to a certain extent, but David Bullard peddled racism under satire, which is different from Zapiro.

    I can assure if you are a journalist wherever you might be, and were to make a caricature or a satirical metaphor of Jews intermingled with Nazism or Gestapo officers in uniform, it will be your last day at your job.

    Why black people have to imbibe dehumansing and disrespectful projection of current issues under the guise of satire is ridiculous. If this is what people do in their houses fine, let them keep that to themselves.

    Injustice and pain is not defined by the perpetrator,but the victim. White people who in their lifetime have had no experience and concept of racism all of a sudden have an insatiable desire to define racism.

    I am an african born and bred in the dusty streets of Sharpville, I still have a copy of dompas-that is defition of racism by experience not some esoterical, academically cooked definition.

  • bheki

    Well, when the Pietermaritzburg Judge confirmed every allegations made by Mr. Zuma I did not expect Zapiro to withdraw his disgusting cartoon. But I expected him to publicise another one showing the Judge “raping” the jusctice system. What did Mr. Zuma say which was not confirmed by the PMB Judge. Instead Zapiro decided to ‘validate’ part of the Judgement and insult Mr. Zuma and the President Mbeki. Double standards, is it because Zapiro cannot insult the white Judge?

  • Canada


    The judgement never made any pronouncement on the guilt or innocence of Zuma please blackman.

    The judge’s comment on executive interference is a fair comment for some of us, who are neutral in this intercine. Sam Shole has written a very good and educative article in todays paper about the judgement.

    Read it carefully, calmly and very analytically before embarrassing a lot of us as a black people.

    When did we surrender the power and the right to be ourselves, rather than Zuma-ites or Mbek-ites


    You are incorrect when you write…
    “I can assure if you are a journalist wherever you might be, and were to make a caricature or a satirical metaphor of Jews intermingled with Nazism or Gestapo officers in uniform, it will be your last day at your job.”

    Zapiro has on at least two occasions portrayed Israelis as Nazis and has got away with it!

  • SlolaS

    I think all white South Africans should watch this: