Myth and myth-making can be traced back to the origin of our species and is the archetypal language through which our spiritual and creative selves make sense of our world and fashion meaning.
The mythic imaginary though, is not entirely free of religious or political bias. While certain archetypes are common to the collective human psyche they manifest traits according to the tenets of the cultural, religious or political beliefs of different societies. As much as myth symbolically reveals eternal ”truths” about humankind’s psychic existence it is subject to norms and values expressed by different collectives. It is the “Once upon a time” that connects us all as it denotes phenomena that occur in nonlinear time, everywhere and always.
Nowhere was this clearer than in the recent media fracas around the weeping white waitress and the wicked black non-tipper.
The storyline goes like this …
… once upon a time in 2016, Oxford student and Rhodes Must Fall leader Ntokozo Qwabe got caught up in a moment in a restaurant when he asked his colleague what the going rate for a tip was. His friend, Wandile Dlamini, a radical trans activist, took the bill and wrote down the words “we will tip you when the land is given back”. According to Qwabe’s delighted retrospective rendition of the event on his Facebook page, when the waitress received the bill she began to shake and finally burst into tears.
Qwabe’s social media narration could easily be construed as containing boastful overtones. Many felt that he was proudly aware of hurting a young woman for no reason other than her white skin and they found this to be cruel and unnecessary. The young woman was immediately cast as victim. In their minds she was working class – the proletariat. Vulnerable and defenceless she thus required their protection.
In no time there was a massive outcry from liberal and conservative white South Africans (and some less radical blacks). Qwabe was viciously berated for his insensitivity, his pettiness, his “dickheadedness”, his cruelty and his wickedness.
On his side of the fence, however, black people (and a few radical whites) read his tone as forthright. They said it was his right to tip or not to tip and though he may have been a bit of a dick to her – and probably should have attacked the entire white economic establishment instead of a poor lowly-paid waitress – his appreciation of the note scrawled to her by his friend was not without grave historical context.
But white society at large would not stand for this. The waitress’s tears had won them over and ignited the collective animus. Men, in particular, leashed forth their heroism and rallied an army of sympathisers to take on their cause … which was ostensibly to rescue the damsel in distress – but really was more about a wish to eliminate the wicked dark prince and silence his kind … his kind being those rebellious natives who started the Rhodes Must Fall movement.
Back on the other side many black folk said that although they may or may not have tipped the waitress and may or may not have chosen her as a target of their rage, they were also impatient at white people’s inability to give back what their ancestors had stolen over 350 years ago.
Moreover black people are tired of white people’s tears, they said,
Discussions on social media platforms proliferated and much of it was around how white tears can be a tool of oppression in that they are often used to silence black critique of whiteness. They agreed that whites have used their tears to normalise abnormal social cleavages when they cry tears of pity for the plight of black people living in abject poverty and then go back to their own privileged lives having done nothing but prove to themselves that they are good people who cry. And how are these tears even useful when they reinforce white privilege, many asked? Furthermore, white women often cry tears at the same time as they cry foul when accused of being racist or while practising lateral violence. Many, they said, will tear up when a black person calls them out on their micro and macro-aggressions.
So in all, they agreed, Qwabe’s critique of the waitress’s tears, though somewhat mean, was not invalid.
White folk, however, were inconsolable. A veritable mini-war grew in size and the constructed narrative around the event took on the dimensions of an epic fairy-tale. There was no doubt that this particular situation had touched a deep archetype in the masculine white imaginary and had ignited a collective war-like need in them to strategise and amass violence against this young black man who somehow signified all that was going wrong in the kingdom … a kingdom in which they had remained the majority landowners long after the so-called liberation of the oppressed.
Ashleigh Schultz, the waitress, metamorphosed from ordinary hipster waitress into Snow White. Her alabaster skin, dark locks and blue eyes sparked the phantasmal of thousands of Prince Charmings. They cast Qwabe in the role of the abhorrent – the wicked dark prince who had dared to slight a woman who belonged to them. Like the weeping princesses of the fairytales of their childhoods, her honour had to be protected.
Every white “braveheart” (and a few black ones too) offered the maiden in distress his service as well as Qwabe’s head on a platter. Her life took on the proportions of a mythical tragic figure – destitute, homeless, vulnerable, poor and beautiful. Like many fragile heroines she had the added burden of an ailing mother at home and she had to work her delicate white hands to the bone in order to support her. Both heroine and victim she inadvertently fuelled the flames of white male eros, and many virtually scorched themselves in their fight to protect her from the dark and malevolent forces of blackness.
Unable to actually split open Qwabe’s head with a lance or lynch him for real in a constitutional South Africa, they found other ways to attempt to conquer and undo him. In the boardrooms of certain un-noblemen the head knights in shining armour devised a plan to begin a fundraiser for Schultz while a like-minded knight living abroad started a petition calling for Oxford to revoke Qwabe’s scholarship with immediate effect.
Like the power-hungry land thieves of long ago fiefdoms they lost their heads somewhat and began to act like madmen, throwing nonsensical sentences around articles in which they paid deep homage to their own act of kindness.
One Lord Roman (I kid you not) – had this irrational drivel to say in the online publication incongruously called The Rational Standard.
“The snivelling sycophants of a failed ideology spread their bigotry throughout Twitter. Accusations of ‘privilege’ and ‘whiteness’ permeated the weekend. No arguments were made; only insults. We were called ‘right wing assholes who want to teach blacks a lesson’. We were called ‘ultraconservative rape apologists’. ‘Racists’ was the preferred term for most. The toxic culture of victimhood bubbled to the surface, devouring with it the positive intentions and outcomes of the campaign.
The reaction to the campaign from the left was one of utmost envy. The voluntary donations, sent by donors from all over the world proves a very pertinent point – the market will always achieve what it feels it wants to. The left beg and plead with the state to fund them; the market required a few tweets to fulfil a need. The left burn art, buildings and books; the market quietly donates to a humiliated, working-class woman. Feminists called the campaign ‘sheer violence against black pain’. But the donations steadily trickled in – hundreds of emails and tweets of support accumulated.”
I can only put this nonsense down to feverish and fraught neoliberal obtuseness … but anyway …
… from this narrator’s perspective – it is hard to know whether this is the madness of the knowledge of a paradigm coming to an end – or just more humdrum white people fuckery. The point is it is bad behaviour. Nay – it is despicable behaviour. Even more so it is violent behaviour. Going all out to destroy a person’s life for expressing his political views is both pathetic and pathological. Trying to get Qwabe’s bursaries revoked and his distinctions rubbished is just bloody … as in bloody-minded and bloody stupid. But further – the R100k (or more) raised for the damsel in distress is stained in blood – the blood of the years of brutal oppression of black people by white people. If Schultz accepts this sanguinary as valid then she is most definitely part of the problem.
These white heroes, sadly, are unable to compute the dimensions of violence in their chauvinistic campaign against Qwabe – against black people and against women.
They think they are rational and kind and brave to boot, but in reality they are motivated by their intolerance toward a “clever black” giving lip to the pristine and frail white lady.
And how many times in the history of slavery and colonialism has the white masculine construct of the pristine and frail white lady and her tears caused great harm to black people? Black men have been flogged, jailed, lynched, and hung as a white masculine response to white ladies’ tears in relation to blackness. Wars have been started in the name of white women’s tears. If we were not living in a hybrid neoliberal neo-colonial democracy at the tip of Africa in 2016 – this twar would no doubt have manifested in a bloody battle with swords, stakes, guns, Bibles and the many horrendous items imperialist men use to maim and kill the other.
The thing is though … this white people madness is not going to stop the inevitable. The land will be seized back. In myths and fairy tales and parables and fables it is seldom the Overlord who is victorious in the end. These tales favour the will of the oppressed and this contemporary narrative is no different. The oppressed will push back the dominant discourse of whiteness to make way for equality. Cultural imperialism and economic dominion will be overcome.
Maybe then all humans will finally live happily ever after … in an egalitarian socialist democracy.