At the centre of misdiagnosing racism has always been the undermining of the effect and role of macro-economics in its manifestations. The mistake black people often make, according to Dr Umar Johnson, is relegating racism to a moral issue. This reduces racism to the realm of religion and spirituality. The automatic response to black people then becomes Islamicising and baptising white people into the righteousness of God.
However, racism has always been and will always be about the economic superiority of a specific race over another. Ironically the church and the mosque have been the biggest perpetrators of racism in history. In fact the Roman Catholic Church was one of the first institutions to give permission for Africans to ‘be reduced to servitude’.
The Kenyan political thinker Ali Mazrui in his book The African Condition writes eloquently about the distinction between subjugation and disenfranchisement. In this book he makes an example about the Jews’ trauma at the hands of the Nazis. One of the most painful episodes in the history of mankind is that theirs was a subjugation, which we’d then term a ‘moral decay’. In the case of black people this is not necessarily the case.
From when the Atlantic Slave trade began in the 16th century (read more about this here), whites didn’t hate us black people. In fact they needed us to work in their plantations and build their cities. From the 1800s, as the whole notion of whiteness came to the fore, so too came the partitioning of Africa by European countries expanding their colonial empires. This was also known as the ‘scramble for Africa’.
Europe’s interests in Africa has always been economic: from when Vasco da Gama set his foot in the Cape of Good Hope in 1497 on his way to India to trade in spices, to when in 1652 Jan Van Riebeeck arrived in the Cape also with a similar interest – that of trading with India.
If the recent activism of white farmers is anything to go by then the economic interests of whites will always come ahead of any ideas around nation building or an inclusive agenda.
Steve Biko in his Frank Talk series speaks about the whites who claim that they are liberal and go out of their way to help poor blacks. These I describe as suffering from a white messianic complex underpinned by white guilt. These whites remain liberal as long as we speak about peace, love and integration. However, when the discussion shifts to land redistribution or the stripping of the ill-earned privileges they show their true colours. This underscores the point that racism is a front for economic survival by a certain race using whatever means necessary.
Whenever there is an economic attack or a threat on the interests of white people they, all of a sudden, become active. Once the economy is shaken they rush to the street to safeguard their interests. Once the white farming community is under any form of threat they mobilise themselves. Yet, this is very same community that refuses to speak about the inhumane conditions in which many black and coloured farm workers live, such as underpayments of farm workers or them being treated like animals.
White people refuse to show solidarity when black students take to the streets to demand free education in response to the high number of black students who are academically excluded every year. Yet organisations like Solidarity and AfriForum are quick to defend the continued existence of Afrikaans at institutions of higher learning. This is while Afrikaans is the language that has frequently acted as a barrier for black students to thrive academically, resulting in them being inactive participants in the economy.
Whites fail to show solidarity to millions of black people who die every year in townships as a result of unhealthy and inhumane living conditions that were created through Apartheid spatial planning, migrant labour practices and other conditions, which make it extremely difficult for black people to survive and thrive. Yet these same whites preach reconciliation on all levels.
War history teaches us that there are two approaches to conquering a people. The first is genocide, in which you wipe out those you are conquering from the face of the earth. This has happened in many parts of the world – especially in Europe. The second approach to conquering people is by killing the warrior class of those you are conquering and enslaving the rest. In African case the warrior class would mean the kings and queens.
Why was the latter applied instead of the former in the African case? Well, purely for economic reasons. This approach ensured that there was African labour that could build the cities for white people, workers for the mines, and labour for the plantations, producing as much as possible for the whites. If indeed hatred was the driving force behind the conquering of a people I’d like to think Africans would have been wiped off the face of the earth.
That would have been bad for Europeans, so bad that we would not have America as we know it today. Nor would Europe be the continent it is today. For all these western countries are built on the sweat and blood of black people.
The frustrations of the white South Africans were in full display in recent weeks with the announcement of expropriation of land without compensation. Land means a lot of things to a lot of people but key among these is the economic and symbolic significance of land. Land dispossession did not only make black people economically disadvantaged but it also took away their dignity and sense of belonging.
This is the symbolic significance of land: for decades black people have been demanding the return of their land. Culturally the significance of land cannot be overstated even to the Europeans themselves. But whenever white people defend their position against land expropriation they always resort to arguments about the economic value they have invested in the land. They tend to speak of farms, which arbitrarily will be taken away from them – as if all the land South Africa has is agricultural land. This is because to them they wouldn’t risk their privileges being messed with.
Graeme Codrington, an author and futurist, in his profound way recently tried to appeal to the consciences of the whites, or at least the biblically-inclined whites, when he attempted to argue for the significance of land expropriation as a form of addressing the imbalanced economic patterns in South Africa. (See an article in The Citizen here about his posts on Facebook.) In his original post he had quoted the following scripture:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Acts 2:42-45 NIV.
If the root cause of white racism were really their outright hatred of blacks then the so-called ‘white liberals’, those who claim they are Christians in many respects and do all to prove this by helping poor black people, would not have reacted so defensively towards the land question.
While they cry and donate goods and a few cents every time shacks burnt down in Imizamo Yethu but when their real interests are threatened they show their true colours. Many claim that as they have black friends, they can’t be racist. However, they show their true colours when you question their privilege.
I recently attempted to have a conversation, which made me even more skeptical about so-called white liberals, with a friend. This centred on the role that white-managed literary spaces, like FunDza and others, play in advancing not only a black school of thought (in their attempts to rid us of some Eurocentric thinking patterns) but also by vehemently publishing and encouraging discussions around issues that have not been white-washed and that speak directly to the core of white economic privilege.
I argued that we cannot shy away from the fact that for the past few years there has been a distortion of African literature in the attempts of non-Africans to make it fit in the mainstream market. Why haven’t we had a single book in the mainstream market that radically and vehemently addresses the issue of land and the subsequent impact of land dispossession on black people?
I think we need the second phase of the revival of Black Consciousness literature, that positions the economic superiority of Blacks at the forefront. My white liberal friend chose to distance herself from such statements and resorted to not answering.
This is the reaction you’d expect from a typical white liberal. When the topics around love, forgiveness, reconciliation and interracial relationships are discussed they always avail themselves. But when contentious issues, such as land, which speak to the heart of white privilege and whiteness, surface, the white liberals retreat.
I’ve concluded that in our attempts to deal decisively with racism our attention should move from the conversation around morality and Ubuntu to rather the core of whiteness and racism, which is the systematic economic superiority of the white race.
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