Steve Biko wrote, in I Write What I Like, about white South Africans who spent their time trying to bring about the end to Apartheid and to bring about the liberation of black people. He stated that those are the people who claim that they too feel the oppression just as accurately as the blacks and therefore should be jointly involved in the black man’s struggle for a place under the sun.
These are what we term white liberals. Those who proclaim how they despise the iniquities of their white counterparts yet they benefit daily on the privileges that come with being white.
I for one, as did Biko, find this incomprehensible to say the least. I find it to be quite hypocritical. They claim they understand what it feels like to be oppressed yet they walk comfortably in their “white’s only” restaurants, pools and parks.
These people were the likes of Alan Paton and Hellen Suzman among others. They acted as though black people weren’t fit enough to be granted their freedom to self-determination. They acted as vanguards for black people’s interests in the process rendering black people unfit for the complexity of the struggle that could only be understood by whites the orchestraters and whites the sympathizers.
These were the kind of people who would map the strategies in which blacks would fight Apartheid. And when blacks resorted to an armed struggle they would label the decision reckless and violent.
Liberal view of black struggle comes a long way and even today under the neo-liberal and neo-colonial dispensation these liberals are still present. Aimé Césaire once said, “No race possesses the monopoly of beauty, intelligence, force, and there’s room for all of us at the rendezvous of victory.” If this is the case and whites believe it and view us as equal beings why then do they have police black struggle?
Who died and bestowed upon them the status of being the spokesperson of black people unless they view blacks as non-thinking and unintelligent beings?
The liberals are suffering from what I call white savour syndrome, a tendency of displaying a character rescuing black people from their plight. They often portray themselves as messianic figures that made it their mission to save black people who surely aren’t able save themselves.
Of course this tendency comes from metaphysical guilt and white guilt. For they know they continue to benefit from the status quo so they ease their conscience by helping poor black people.
In the USA African Americans have been on a campaign to voice out continued oppression in the hands of white police and whites in general. They have been on a campaign called Black Lives Matter, like South African whites, whites that side of the world seem to believe there’s something inadequate about black people.
Macklemore, a white hip hop artist released songs titled White Privilege and White Privilege II. In White Privilege II the rapper displays the tendency familiar in the white community. He raps of how he and other white rappers are stealing black culture of hip hop like they stole other things from black people yet they fail to show up for black lives.
Gyasi Ross, a Native American rapper, lawyer and author responded to the song and released a song titled White Privilege III, in which he criticized the song for ostensibly critiquing white privilege while simultaneously not letting black artists speak.
“You’re trying to help but honestly you’re not. We can speak for ourselves. Pass the mic.” Ross commented.
What Ross perhaps failed to add was to expose the deep level of hypocrisy displayed by Macklemore, who – when he won a Grammy award – acknowledged that the award belonged to Kendrick Lamar yet that he had won it because of his skin colour. However, he failed to relinquish the award. You see these people claim they hate white privilege but simultaneously they take in as many benefits from the status quo as possible.
Another example of metaphysical guilt displayed by white people was at a play during the Franschhoek Literary Festival. While the festival was happening, Eugene De Kock, notorious Apartheid police responsible for killing a lot of black people during Apartheid walked into the festival as a book that had been written about his life was featured there.
A white author by the name of Lauren Beukes caused a scene when she told De Kock to leave the an event at the festival. How dare she when there were black authors in the space who could’ve expressed their anger not her? I find Beukes was wrong for two reasons. Firstly, she was not the spokesperson of black people. She failed to acknowledge the authoritative status her whiteness conferred on her.
This simply showed she didn’t respect black people enough – she felt she had to fight the battle for them. Secondly she herself is a beneficiary of Apartheid. Therefore she was as guilty as De Kock for the disenfranchisement of black people. Because she’s a beneficiary of generational wealth that was made possible by the likes of De Kock, I think she’s equally guilty.
The recent shack burnings paint the picture of white guilt perfectly and how it manifests itself in goodwill and ubuntu. I once visited an acquaintance of mine in Hout Bay. He’s a white guy I met while I was in Cape Town. His parents’ house in Hout Bay overlooks Imizamo Yethu township, standing by the pool one can see the top of the township.
Given the injustice black people go through everyday whites act as though everything is normal. Once the shacks burn these white sympathizers come from all walks of life to donate food and blankets to help poor black people. What they seem to forget is that it is because of them that blacks are in this position. Instead of giving black people food why don’t they give them back their land? Perhaps they won’t have cramped shacks burning every year.
You see the white liberals play a game. To them it’s just a game to prove to each other how inclusive and tolerant they can be to blacks. They want to prove so hard that they are less racist and more liberal than the next white person. This is of course to ease their pain. It is much better to benefit from whiteness as long as one has black friends.
The fact of the matter is that as a white person you are the product of the same system that has black people killing each other in the townships. You are the product of the same system that has millions of black people in jail.
You are the product of the same system that has black people live in inhumane conditions. You are the product of the system that has black people killing each other in a spatial system that was designed for the perpetuation of self-hatred. A white person may try to denounce himself in any way possible – by helping black people, by marrying a black person, by adopting a black child, by having black friends. But rather just give the land back to black people and let them realise their destiny away from your “noble intended interference”.
One other element Biko speaks of is that of relations these liberals create with black people in order to ease their guilt. It is this integration that he states acts as a “breakthrough into white society by blacks, assimilation into an already established set of norms … set up by and maintained by whites”.
It is an integration that is, first and foremost, premised on white’s supremacy and perpetual black inferiority complex.
It is this relationship that makes white people the perpetual teachers and black people remain perpetual students. It gives whites a voice over blacks. Thando Njovane refers to these relationships as relationships between whites and ‘safe bets’. She herself identifies with this phenomenon as her stay in white spaces came forth as a result of being a ‘safe bet’. A safe bet is a black person who makes whiteness comfortable with itself and perpetuates its already established set of norms.
In relation to the perpetuation of anti-black institutional culture at the Rhodes, Njovane agrees that few black lecturers are there due to the fact that they complement whiteness. Regardless of how platonic or romantic these relationships are if white liberals view blacks as beings that are only useful for white assimilation then they are flawed.
If they weren’t then black and white couples would embrace black culture more. They’d embrace black religion more. They’d perhaps choose to reside in black spaces. Perhaps it should stick in the thick skulls of white liberals that blacks don’t seek to sit in a white man’s table and grab whatever crumbs left from it. If they could understand that it is not relations with the white world blacks seek but the very essence of their being.
Tell us what you think: Do you agree with the author? Should White not help those in need when they can?