In tribute to Mandela’s vision for a world that is rid of racism, I have created this list of nine things white people can do to assist in the transformation of South Africa.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Mandela)
By examining our history and not denying it we will understand how the past resulted in white privilege at the expense of an entire nation of people and how this still plays out in structural racism today.
Understand structural oppression
We are recipients of unmerited privileges on a global scale by virtue of our skin colour. Once we know and recognise this reality we can then fight for a system where no one is privileged according to their skin colour or gender.
Guilt never did anything for anyone. It is self-centred and unfairly demands that the victim comfort the perpetrator. Shake your guilt and replace it with a passion for change and equality.
It takes years of reflection to undo the indoctrination of the whiteness construct and we can so easily slip into learned non-reflexive assumptions and language that reproduces racism.
Be fearless in correcting unconscious racism in yourself if it is pointed out to you by a person of colour. Do not brand the recipients of your unconscious slip-ups “oversensitive” or “racist” because they have called out or responded to your racism. We are all human and not perfect, so be kind to yourself and to the diverse people you interact with.
Speak out against racism whenever and wherever you see it. Never ignore racism. By calling it out you are challenging the dominant discourse and making room for a new discourse that is open and equal.
Be aware of how the media institution pushes a certain anti-black view of the world and how it mostly lays the blame for all social ills at the feet of black people. White hegemony has everything to do with the lack of transformation and poverty in this country too.
Listen to and be guided by those who are oppressed by whiteness.
White people have been the default of social relations and public discourse for so long that many are unwilling to listen to other views. This often plays out in public arena in South Africa. White, and particularly white male, gatekeepers, have the privilege of being heard and often they actively resist the views of black people and women.
Look around you and ask yourself if what you see is fair. Ask yourself if your psyche could endure the social conditions of deprivation and perpetual oppression that the poor are forced to withstand? Ask yourself if you could handle being blamed for all crime as if this is a natural condition of being white? Ask yourself how you would respond in a white saturated corporate environment as a black person who is forced to work at least ten times harder just to prove that he or she is worthy of the position. Ask how you would survive in the face of the dominant discourse of whiteness that reflected back to you limited, depressing and untrue reflections of yourself.
By asking these hard questions you begin to understand the negative and limiting impact of the whiteness construct on people who are not white.
Make a commitment
Make a lifelong commitment to unlearning personal racism and deconstructing structural racism. When you no longer ignore racism you become an agent for change.
By transforming yourself you help transform the world into one that can leave a legacy of love, diversity and egalitarianism to the next generations.