Again whiteness and blackness is a mental attitude. European children continue to learn supremacy embedded in their parent’s upbringing and Africans have to work extra hard to rid themselves of the inferiority before it rubs off their children, writes NOLUTHANDO KHANYILE
A few weeks ago, I was at the mall in Sandton looking for some hiking gear. So I was busy minding my own business when a sales assistant approached me to ask if I needed any help and I sure did, as I was busy explaining my request to him, a white couple showed up and asked this very assistant if he was busy because they needed help. Clearly I was not visible. Here we were, having a whole discussion about a backpack and they come with a silly question. I was expecting the salesman to state the obvious, but to my dismay, he promptly responded “No” and dropped my item and rushed over to them. By the way, there were other sales people standing around us who were doing nothing.
I’ve had this experience at retail stores before and normally the salesman/woman would indicate to the person in question that they needed to wait their turn. So when this guy did not do that, I was gob smacked. I’m not the “excuse me, cant you see me” kinda person, as I avoid drama at all cost, therefore the best reaction for me was to keep quiet and stare at their audacious behaviour. Someone offered me help, but I felt so hurt by what just happened, I left the store.
I normally don’t take petty people seriously because I know they have a problem and it’s not mine to solve. Someone would argue that I should have gone to the store manager and complain. But how exactly do you demand for people to respect you? Usually these things just make me angry, but in this case I felt more hurt, wounded and weak than enraged. In fact for a few minutes I wasn’t even sure how I felt as I slowly walked away.
One might point out that I may be a bit racist by pointing out that the couple was white, because anyone can do this. However, I have only had such experiences with white people, I’m pretty sure there are black people who do it too, I just have not encountered them. The issue here is not so much about the whiteness of the couple or my blackness. Frankly speaking there are no people with the complexion of office paper nor there are people with the complexion of school shoes. Africans are more brown and Europeans more pink. Whiteness and blackness are a mental attitude, the former being embedded in privilege and the latter in lack.
You see the real problem in South Africa was not apartheid but white supremacy, which institutionalized and enforced black inferiority until it defined the natives. With apartheid gone, the root and effects can’t unfortunately be wished away. I believe the white couple was merely exercising their superiority to demand being served first because they were important.
Actually, I sort of understand the salesman’s dilemma; the couple had the highest probability of spending a significant amount of cash, which meant more commission for him. It is this very same inferiority that allowed me to accept the couple to be prioritized at my expense, and subconsciously justifying that I can always be assisted later should the gentleman get some spare time as I would have spent less than them. A greater part of me was okay with it and that disappointed me more.
What is even more disheartening is that a lot of us struggle to communicate these feelings because we don’t know how to define them. Post 1994, a rainbow carpet was covered over us and there was no place to air and deal with the effects and trauma of being discriminated against for so very long. In fact you are labelled as racist, backward and unforgiving, mostly by the very same people who enabled your oppression.
For the longest time in South Africa black people were mistreated and were also dictated to on how to respond to their pain. Suppressing the feelings when we were around the white man and unleashing them towards each other where we are safe to live our undefined truth. These effects are reflective in the crime rate. Even to this day we continue to be dictated to on how to deal with our pain. We may claim to be in a colourless nation where we all love each other and have no problem with anyone whatsoever, especially people of a different colour.
Please consider this; how many white people consider social grants to be a waste of money that enables laziness? How many of them would strike with black students for fees to fall? Just recently ransoms were donated for the Guptas bounty, but no such noble acts were seen during fees must fall. Before you conclude we must move on, tell me how many black children born before 1994 will inherit debt and how many white children born at the same time will inherit comfort from their parents? I will not even talk about public comments on news websites, we don’t approve of each other and the friction is real.
“There is no running away from the fact that now in South Africa there is such an ill distribution of wealth that any form of political freedom, which does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth, will be meaningless. The whites have locked up within a small minority of themselves the greater proportion of the country’s wealth. If we have a mere change of face of those in governing positions what is likely to happen is that black people will continue to be poor, and you will see a few blacks filtering through into the so called bourgeoisie.
Our society will be run almost as yesterday. So for meaningful change to appear there needs to be an attempt at reorganizing the whole economic policies within this particular country.”- Steve Biko (I write what I like). This was written in 1977 and its an accurate descriptive of our country today. Not so much has changed for the majority of black people. They still don’t own means of production, stay far away from economic hubs, struggle for a place to stay or plant food, are subjected to inferior education, bear a high tax burden, do not have a decent wages and continue to live from hand to mouth. Not much has changed.
The issue is not so much in blaming apartheid for all our problems but to take an honest reflection on what it morally cost the oppressed and their offspring. Generational embargoes were placed on black development and it won’t take a cosmetic fix over a decade to correct. Truth needs to be spoken so real healing can take place. You can never solve a problem you don’t admit to have. Part of the scars of colonization is the negative-image-of-self imposed on the black mind and Hollywood may also be to blame of that. A lot of superheroes, romantic endings, and prestigious accomplishment have been portrayed in whiteness.
A lack of true black history denies any hope in a child’s mind that true greatness does lie in those that look like them. That is why you see the few successful blacks having the most amazing “against all odds” stories. Almost all black diamonds have a deep story to tell because it takes a person with a very strong mind to rise up from the rubble and make something off their lives. Some blogger once advised black people to just stand up and do something about their situation and stop whining, but unfortunately without the self-belief that we have the power to change things that will not happen. It’s called post-traumatic growth.
Black pride was institutionally stripped away and no formal solution has been explored to restore it, as it continues to be deemed unnecessary. Which really propels me to consider if we should indeed pursue Black Supremacy because every time we raise our discomfort from discrimination we are accused of reverse racism and we are subsequently very careful to tip-toe on our expressions so we don’t offend.
Further oppressing ourselves. You cannot hit a child and them tell them how to cry or forbid them from it. It’s emotional abuse! Had colonists allowed us to be the supreme beings we were when they arrived and treated us as equals, we would have had a great start to this co-existence. They were Europeans in Africa and needed to come and blend with what they found and not treat it as an inconvenience, imposing a Eurocentric approach to life and forcing the native one into a subculture.
But then again supremacy of one over another is not the African way of life, which is centered on Ubuntu (I am because you are), however a positive image of self is critical. Africans have always taken pride in who they are and that is what needs to be nurtured and restored to its strongest version possible. Black excellence has to be our recovery mantra that is why I take real pride in productions such as the Black Panther movie.
At first I thought the hype was just too extra for me, until I watched the movie that it really hit me. As part of the bigger narrative of black pride, pan-Africanism and reinvention of the African identity, this movie plays a significant role in revolutionary consciousness. Africans are exposed to a vision of themselves, which has only existed in the imagination. Four hundred years of colonization and slavery has conditioned a people to see themselves as the wretched that this world has to offer. The failure of independence has further plunged Africans into a deep cynicism about liberation and the attainment of that good life we all seek to have on this Earth.
Again whiteness and blackness is a mental attitude. European children continue to learn supremacy embedded in their parent’s upbringing and Africans have to work extra hard to rid themselves of the inferiority before it rubs off their children. Let us not continue defining our blackness from the shared pain of our legacy, but let it be from a shared vision for the future. Our leaders need to urgently adopt a black mentality because it is the love for one’s own that enables honorable and protective leadership. Yes Europeans have brought revolutionary advancement, but it is Africans who give the human race a human face.
By the way, it would have been epic for Wakanda to follow Killmonger’s resolution to face the western world, conquer it and recover all that has been stolen from Africans. It’s still a fantasy right? There’s no need to limit it.
Khanyile is a writer, avid hiker and an aspiring social entrepreneur with a strong passion for youth and early childhood development. With a Finance and Economics background, she’s working for a development fund institution focused on job creation. For more of her views visit: www.innerheights.co.za