It’s time for whites to get to work

CityPress - - Voices - Charl Blig­naut voices@ city­press. co. za

Here’s what the Ruth First lec­ture did for me: As it ended, I reached for my phone and called my part­ner with some trep­i­da­tion. I was as in­vig­o­rated as I was rat­tled and I sud­denly had the feel­ing he was per­fectly within his rights to end our re­la­tion­ship.

Be­cause the truth that had fi­nally dawned on me was that a re­la­tion­ship I had re­garded as 50-50 was noth­ing close to equal.

My part­ner is a black South African. It’s clear to me now that he’s been the one do­ing all the hard work. And it’s time for that to change.

Now mid­dle class but raised in a town­ship, he has spent decades mas­ter­ing my lan­guage – he is study­ing a post­grad­u­ate de­gree that he will write in im­pec­ca­ble English.

He fol­lows Afrikaans quite easily. But in our two years to­gether, what have I done to even at­tempt to learn to speak Se­sotho, his mother tongue?

I’ve thought about it, cringed about it, but never com­mit­ted to do­ing it. I’ve even told my­self I’m bad with lan­guages.

What bulls**t! Even if I was, I have the priv­i­lege of a top ed­u­ca­tion and the ma­te­rial ben­e­fits to take a course, buy a tape and get stuck in.

I have let him pa­tiently trans­late Simphiwe Dana for me as we lis­tened to her latest al­bum on a lazy Sun­day af­ter­noon. I did not re­tain one of those lines.

But lan­guage is just an ex­am­ple. There are a mil­lion other re­al­i­ties I am ne­glect­ing to ac­knowl­edge and re­spect.

Do I truly un­der­stand his black anger in a white world just be­cause, for ex­am­ple, I vote EFF and sing along to Brenda Fassie?

When he comes from work and has had a kak day, I’ll say I had one too. And we’re equal.

But we’re not. I carry white pa­tri­ar­chal priv­i­lege through the of­fice, even a black of­fice. He must stand up to, and ne­go­ti­ate, that struc­tural priv­i­lege daily.

I grew up poor, but with land and ed­u­ca­tion. Have I ever truly in­ter­nalised what it was like to grow up black with apartheid ed­u­ca­tion, piti­ful ser­vice de­liv­ery and a gogo bro­ken by in­jus­tice? No, I haven’t.

When some­one on stage speaks about a do­mes­tic worker who is ex­pected to wash madam’s panties, have I re­ally placed my­self within the in­dig­nity of that legacy?

Ruth First is held up as a “good white”, but in my opin­ion, there are no good whites; there can only be bet­ter whites. Bet­ter at ac­knowl­edg­ing the com­plex­ity of the past that is burnt on the skin of black South Africans to­day. For me, it was eas­ier, dur­ing apartheid, to hold up a mid­dle fin­ger to the Nats, defy con­scrip­tion, get tear-gassed and jailed.

It’s much harder to do the ac­tual work of build­ing an equal so­ci­ety.

I didn’t want to write this be­cause, as I told my col­leagues, there’s al­ready enough white noise.

But when I thought about it, that’s just another cop-out, a typ­i­cal dis­play of white ap­a­thy in the face of the very real, very hard work that white South Africans have sim­ply never done. Wash­ing Arch­bishop Desmond Tutu’s feet doesn’t cut it. We need to open our ears, ed­u­cate our­selves, walk in the streets – af­ter lob­by­ing to change the names of the ones hon­our­ing evil colo­nial­ists – live in black ar­eas, learn the lan­guages of the land we live in, divest from our priv­i­lege, share our wealth, raise our chil­dren as part of a broader com­mu­nity and a host of other prac­ti­cal, ob­vi­ous things.

We have had plenty of white ex­cuses and white com­plaints. What we haven’t had is some real, ac­tual hard work.

For more on the co­conut revo­lu­tion, turn to page 3 of Voices

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.