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White people can be among the most racist

The response to my last blog on black racists proves what I have known for a long time: South Africans are still heavily divided along racial grounds and they find it difficult to have a discussion on the issue without losing their tempers.

I have never had so many white people agreeing with what I wrote. And I have never had so many black people disagreeing.

I suppose I could have chosen any headline for the blog, but I chose to focus on black racists because of the disturbing trend where blacks hide behind accusations of “racist” when their arguments fail against white people.

This was in no way a defence of white racists. I abhor white racists and black racists with equal measure and I understand the hurt caused by apartheid and other inhuman practices mainly perpetrated by whites.

In fact, it is clear to me that many white people in South Africa, still to this day, remain racist. But that is not the point.

What I am trying to do is to facilitate some kind of a discussion, through this blog and through my book, on what is still a hugely important issue for South Africans.

We cannot just pretend that more than 300 years of colonialism and more than 50 years of legalised apartheid did not exist. We cannot pretend to suddenly be the “rainbow nation” without dealing with the issues that caused us so much hurt in the past.

And one way of dealing with it, to get the conversation going, is to prevent anyone from being able to call anyone a racist – even if the person deserves to be called that.

One day I was on Radio Sonder Grense, taking calls from listeners on the issue of race, when a gentleman called in to complain about “blacks stealing our farms, robbing my neighbours and raping our women”.

On the surface, it was a racist statement but I decided to engage with him and interrogate his statement. I pointed out to him that, surely, in a country where the vast majority of people are black, one would expect the majority of criminals to also be black. But that does not mean that all black people are criminals. In fact, I said to him, the majority of black people despise crime as much as he does.

Afterwards he said to me that I had a point. I wondered about this a lot. Was he saying that I had a point because he wanted to get rid of me? But what I realised was that this was probably the first time in his life when he was being engaged on this topic by someone who had a view that was different to his.

This was probably also the first time that he engaged a black person who spoke to him from a position of authority. Maybe the only black people he normally engages are workers and others considered to be “lower” than him in society.

So while the gentlemen no doubt had racist views, his entire life he had probably been groomed to become a racist. But if he is prepared to listen to different views, then he would probably be able to deal with his racism at some point in his life.

The issues of race and racism are hugely complicated and cannot be dealt with in a blog where one is constrained by how much one can write. Inevitably, one will tend to reduce a complex argument into one that is very simple, which is not always helpful.

But if this blog can assist in getting some kind of a discussion going – without anyone feeling threatened – then it would have served its purpose.