Forgive me for only waking up to this now. I’ve been away in a place where it was hard to find a 3G signal, so missed the opportunity to spend the tail end of the festive season arguing about the same thing we argue about the rest of the year, the incurable condition known as whiteness.

Dog in handbag
Possible example of vile white practice

Whiteness is an affliction which, in me at least, manifests as the urge to cringe when white people pronounce surnames like “Hlophe” and also to say sorry a lot. (We’re very good at saying sorry for everything in South Africa, except the things that matter.)

Anyhow, long story short, while reading an actual real paper copy of the Saturday Star, I stumbled across a piece I’d been avoiding after two lovely weeks of writing and game drives (the latter a symptom of white privilege), Gillian Schutte’s new year letter to whites. I agree with many of the points she makes, though it did give me queasy flashbacks to my masters coursework at Wits (IrigarayKristevaSpivakDerridaDeleuzeBahbaComaroffetcetc), and I’m somewhat perplexed by her call to whites to stop “jumping into national debates that do not concern them”. I would have thought that as a South African citizen a national debate concerns me by definition, but maybe that’s just me going all rainbow nation.

Hipsterism: another vile white practice?

What I’m really interested in, though, is this paragraph:
“White people, please just shut up for once and listen. Not everything is about white people being accused of racism. Sometimes it is about the black middle class and whether or not they have adopted vile white practices.”

“Vile white practices.” What are these? She does not elaborate and, since at no point does she indicate she has any sense of humour when it comes to this topic, I assume that this reference is not ironic. (Irony being a vile white practice — see below.)

So I’ve taken it upon myself to speculate on what vile white practices would be, particularly vile white practices adopted by the black middle class.

Pet ownership, obviously. But what else?

Caring in a deep and meaningful way about rugby and cricket?

Lapas, klinker brick and swimming pools?

Irony, posting photos of your meals to Instagram and other accoutrements of hipster subculture?

Wine snobbery?

Getting sensitive about personal space in queues?

Complaining? More specifically, bonding with others in queues by complaining? (White people love doing this, I notice.)

Definite vile white practice

Tweeting about issues? Signing petitions? Calling for others (preferably somebody else) to do something?

Tuscan houses and gated estates? (Perhaps the defining irony of our age is the fact that both Nonhle Thema and Dan Roodt live in Dainfern.)

Correcting other people’s spelling and pronunciation of English words?

Having food allergies? Refusing to use Aromat because it’s bad for you?

Refusing to eat carbs? Hating the smell of KFC?

Employing maids and gardeners (but calling them “helpers”)?

Hating taxis and complaining about how badly they drive?


Disfiguring otherwise perfectly stylish motor vehicles with plastic red rhino noses?

Buying chinos from Edgars? Wearing cheap shoes?

Going to Cape Town for the holidays (as opposed to Giyani or Mthatha)?

Buying homeopathic remedies from Dischem? (Everyone knows that homeopathy is muti for white people.)

Yoga and pilates classes? Meditation? Thai massage?

downward facing dog
Another possible vile white practice

Ordering salad with mineral water and dressing on the side?

Eating organic? Vegetarianism? (Even more un-African than pet ownership.)

Horseriding? Mountain biking? Swimming lessons for your kids?

Obsessing about being skinny?

An obvious problem with speculation of this kind is the fact that it fails to take into account class differences; the whiteness symbolised by thatch lapas and klinker brick bungalows is very different to the whiteness symbolised by yoga and low-GI bread. Unless the writer is more specific about the role of class in vile white practices, it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty what such things may entail.

Nonetheless, the quest for clarity goes on. Any suggestions from your side would be most welcome.

low GI bread


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.


Sarah Britten

During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.

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