Siya Mnyanda
Siya Mnyanda

White people must stand up against white racism

When I was in high school, my headmaster used to say that evil triumphs when good people do nothing. It was not till I matriculated and grew older that I could fully comprehend and appreciate the gravity of his words. Racism, of any nature, defeats the ends of the reconciliation project we’ve been working towards for the past 22 years.

For us to embark on this journey, black leadership called upon ordinary South Africans of colour to forgive the white minority for the atrocities perpetrated against them through apartheid. Many have argued that this was done with little or no remorse shown from white South Africa. This divorce settlement from apartheid meant that white people could still retain the wealth and head start they dubiously acquired through this despicable and oppressive socio-economic regime.

If we are to ever achieve the free and fair South Africa we’ve been working towards the project now requires white South Africans to do their bit and speak out against white racism. If this does not happen, and soon, then I’m afraid we might be in some serious trouble.

When I was 16 I pursued an inter-racial relationship. This was before I had come to terms with the fact that I was gay. I never received any resistance from my friends, both black and white. The same was true of my family. I assumed the same would be true for her especially because I considered her family relatively progressive, but I was wrong. I would later learn that her family expressed having reservations about us being romantically linked because I was black. This was despite the fact that they had warmly accepted me as her friend for years prior and that we came from very similar upper middle-class family backgrounds.

What I found even more surprising was the backlash that came from our peers on her side. Disapproving comments ranged from “jungle fever” to others calling our innocent teenage affair “immoral”. Being the hothead adolescent that I was at the time, I reacted and took one of the girls to task. To my surprise and utter dismay, most of our white contemporaries either defended her or simply kept quiet and said nothing. This would be the first of many times I would notice this trend whereby white South Africans do not stand up and speak out against white racism.

I can recount dozens more stories between then and now and in all of them, white South Africans have continued to be silent in the face of white racism.

I do not recall any strong or notable white movements against the actions of the likes of Dianne Kohler-Barnard, Alistair Sparks and most recently Chris Hart and Penny Sparrow.

Unfortunately, such silence plays into the hands of the ruling ANC which continues to use emotional blackmail when canvassing for votes by playing on the justified fear that white people condone racism and would reinstate a form of apartheid if they would come back to power.

Because politics is largely a game of perceptions more than performance, it also doesn’t help that most of these perpetrators are in some way or the other associated with the DA, a party comprising mostly of white people. Such an association is not good for both reconciliation or democracy and it is no wonder the DA is trying to be seen as taking a harsh stance against racist behaviour through disciplinary action of its rogue members.

The only way white South Africa will rid itself of white racism is from within. It is unfortunate that silence reads as an endorsement of racism and in turn perpetuates it. Our post-apartheid reconciliation project is thirsty for white voices and requires white people to do what Steve Biko recommended — actively “involving themselves in an all-out attempt to stamp out racism from their white society”. Our democracy desperately needs this if it is to stand a fighting chance at survival. Silence is no longer an option.

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