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.