Gillian Schutte, Thought Leader, January 2, 2013
I have decided to start the New Year with a letter to you all. It is a letter that implores you to wake up and smell Africa with a fresh white nose.
Before you get angry and defensive, think of this letter as a crash course survival kit for navigating a new reality, and please be assured that if you take heed of the call in this letter your life will change in miraculous ways. Once the blinkers are off the world is a much more colourful and celebratory place to engage in.
Let me begin by wholeheartedly apologising for what my ancestors did to the people of South Africa and inviting you to do the same. I reject their legacy as much as is possible and, as you already know, have made it a life mission to deconstruct the phallocentric white view of “white as right” and the misguided precept that white is central to all reality.
I reject the discourse of white domination but I acknowledge that I was brought up in this construct. Though my single-mother household was never economically privileged we were privileged by virtue of our skin colour and my mother was given assistance by the state that a woman of colour was denied.
I call on white people to reflect on what it means to be born into unearned privilege, to excavate our long history of racist exploitation and assumed superiority — to acknowledge that this is what we were taught and then to reject it wholly.
I call on white people to acknowledge that whiteness has become invisible to us and we no longer recognise it for a discourse that perpetuates the dehumanisation of black people in ways so subtle that they appear normal.
I call on white people to admit that the rainbow nation is a myth and until we truly are able to recognise the humanity of all people we cannot claim to be post-racist.
I call on white people to acknowledge how white supremacy continues to play out in the media — in representations of blackness — in the constant accusation that black people are racist when they speak their truth.
I call on white people to recognise the black-bashing trend of our media, which is largely white owned, and to put an end to this dehumanising and destructive infantile idiocy.
I call on white people to recognise that by jumping in on national debates that do not concern them they are usurping a platform for authentic black voices to air their grievances about our leadership. You may have noticed that the black voices we need and want to hear choose to disengage because they are skaam to share the podium with a lot of cacophonic white outrage about the same topic but from a white racist perspective.
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.
I implore you, white people, to listen to black voices calmly and not to react defensively to every outrage a black voice presents.
I call on white people to accept that they are not the only race that is entitled to rage, to hurt, to pain, to anger.
I call on white people, to recognise that they fear the emotions of black people — that it is this fear that makes them shut down black voices and defend themselves from the suggestion that they are complicit in the continued oppression of black people.
I call on white people to recognise that we have all been taught (in varying degrees) that black people do not have the same emotions and psychology as us and that this fallacy is built upon the double-edged sword of domination and fear. To dehumanise a people is to exploit them with no guilt. To recognise their collective pain is to admit the guilt thereby see the humanity.
I call on white people to recognise how whiteness has unconsciously used blackness as a conduit for its own darkness and unacknowledged savagery.
I implore white people to get over their fear that black people are out to slaughter them in a wholesale genocide of revenge. It has not happened yet and there is so much evidence that it will never happen in a country that has built its economic policy on global standards that favour whiteness and rely on the middle class as a buffer zone between the people on the ground and the elite corporate and political class. Just get over yourselves. White people of middle class are still safer than people living in townships.
I call on white people to work on a strategy to lessen the growing gap between rich and poor because, white people, it is the poor who are really suffering in this country and it is the poor who are the wretched fall-out from a more than 360-year history of white domination, slavery, subjugation and theft of livelihood.
I call on white people to understand that poverty and unemployment are social conditions. By renaming them “laziness”, “lack of ambition” and “stupidity” you are furthering your own illogical delusions that whiteness has nothing to do with the untenable conditions that most black people are forced to live in. These are not inherent traits of being black, as many of you are fond of saying. These are the social consequences of a brutal colonial history and current globalisation — coupled with weak anti-the-poor leadership.
And please white people, when you feel compelled to criticise Zuma, as we all do, please ensure that you are critiquing him for his favouring of white corporates and the white middle class over poverty issues — for his pro-capitalist stance and his failure to deliver to the poor — for his patriarchal utterances that threaten to usurp women’s rights — rather than obsessing over his penis, his wives, his second-language command of English and using him as a scapegoat for all your fears and negative unconscious stereotypes about all black folk.
Oh and one more thing … asseblief white people, from well-meaning liberals to white supremacists — just stop telling everyone who is not white how to behave, what to think and when to say what. By trying to control the public agenda you are participating in your own imagined oppression and avoiding the possibility that we are all human and can co-exist very nicely.
Be grateful that you are still welcome in a land that was stolen.
And stop bitching and telling black people to get over their history. Goddammit — if those things had happened to white people there would be an entire world domination film industry built upon the “legitimised suffering of white people” so why will you not understand that colonialism was a holocaust of epic proportions and it will take many, many more decades for the pain to subside.
Instead of defending your privileges by denying them and nursing your guilt through misguided outrage — why not get your hands dirty while helping to restore this country to a space of dignity and respect for all.
Try now to reconsider the possibility of the healing potential of apologising collectively and genuinely for the wrongs our history has perpetrated against the indigenous people of this land.
Oh ja … and white people, please try not to respond negatively and vilely to my letter because I will never stop pleading with you to get over yourselves and get with the current programme. It is as easy as the blink of an eye.