I CAN’T HELP YOU
In our 22-year-old democratic dispensation, in which whites continue to assume a privileged space, they have no right to play victim
AThecharacter in Yewande Omotoso’s exquisite novel, Woman Next Door, waxes lyrical about her 65-year-old maid, who has been pivotal in raising her children. She adds that she has reciprocated by sending the maid’s child to a good school and building her a house. “You want credit for that?” her interlocutor explodes. “That’s blood money. Mixed in with missionary work. You think you did well by her, don’t you? Perhaps you’d like a medal?”
When I read that bit I threw the book across the room – because the anger expressed by the interlocutor, Hortensia James, resonated with me.
It called to mind recent occasions in which I had sat with white people who, upon introducing themselves to me, would immediately put their nonracial credentials on the table.
Before I could say, “Viva, comrade,” they would plunge into this soliloquy: “But my little part in the struggle is seemingly not being appreciated in present-day South Africa.”
It is a mantra that has been wafting in the air for some time. But Steven Boykey Sidley has been brave enough to write an article in the Daily Maverick, asking: Are white people still welcome?
It is so crass and cheap, this attempt at emotional blackmail. It is also rude because it assumes I can afford to pay the ransom.
I am guilty, the narrative suggests, because I am part of those who are making white people feel unwelcome. I refuse to be emotionally blackmailed. I am in huge debt as it is.
I am reminded every day that I owe my being to the masses who pushed me to the pedestal which I now occupy – if being a buffer between the starving masses and the rich, predominantly white people can be called a pedestal.
Steven, you are an intellectual, a writer. You have skills, you have connections; you know how the world functions.
Instead of wasting everyone’s time and valuable space in newspapers, perhaps write essays that suggest ways of how we get ourselves out of the university-funding imbroglio.
Contribute to such think-tanks as Save SA. Use your brain cells to examine practical subjects that will contribute to society. No contribution is too small. Don’t be a sponge, draining all of us emotionally.
Ignore the lunatic fringe and the pigs with their snouts in the trough. There are South Africans, black and white, doing things for the betterment of society. They are not looking over their shoulders to see if their deeds are being noticed and appreciated. They just get on with it, as should you.
I am not going to give you a medal for staying. Nor am I going to absolve you. What you are doing is nothing but grandstanding: “I am white; I am special.”
You do know, don’t you, that the whole notion of the black-white social construct served as an ideological underpinning for all that happened during colonialism and apartheid. To absolve himself from possible guilt stemming from what he intended doing – killing and enslaving blacks – the white man first had to denude the black man of his humanity.
Having done so, he could then proceed to exploit blacks whichever way he pleased, secure in the knowledge that he was not dealing with fellow human beings, but creatures undeserving of human mercy.
This is a country still dazed by more than 200 years of colonialism and apartheid. The profligacy displayed by the new elite is not helping. This is a country in pain, and we know why. Even author Alan Paton could see it coming, as he warned in Cry, The Beloved Country, through the words of his character Reverend Msimangu: “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating.”
Paton was telling his white contemporaries to do something and stop burying their heads in the sand – much as I am asking you, Steven and company, to do something rather than spew such self-serving nonsense as: “Are we still welcome here?”
Human emotions are not like a water tap that you can turn on and off on a whim. That is because human emotions are informed by many forces, including memory and history.
US writer and scholar James Baldwin knew the power of history when he said: “People who imagine that history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world.”
Like Baldwin’s butterfly, those whites who have the temerity to ask if they are still welcome paradoxically expect to emerge unscathed from the furnace of history.
To them I say: The truth is, white people, there will be occasions where you will be singled out for your whiteness. For in the popular imagination, whiteness still represents privilege. But to burst your bubble: the majority of the people being singled out for victimisation – through structural impoverishment, which leads to all manner of social ills – are black.
They are the ones who should be asking: “When are we going to be welcomed back into our country?”
When I was born, there was a plateful of crap already waiting for me. No one was there to help me eat the crap that was shrugged off as the inevitable result of history.
Because of their whiteness, when Steven and company couldn’t stand the stench of this country’s sh*tstory, they could run to Perth, Toronto and wherever else they chose.
Those of my complexion could not leave. They had to simply sit down and chisel away at the mountainload of crap also known as sh*tstory.
When 1994 came around, the smelly plates were swept away. We were a buffet menu in all the colours of the rainbow. The highlight of the meal was the dessert. It had a uniquely South African flavourant called Menthela.
A tasty dessert, that Menthela. Sadly, it was in limited supply. And now no chef in the world can conjure another Menthela. The cloying smell of sh*tstory is back.
And I know why: Steven and company haven’t finished eating their share. Now they are asking me to help them eat.
No, no, brothers. I have my own work cut out for me in the culinary department. The powers that be have just foisted upon me some pills that I am expected to swallow. The pills – very bitter, I might add – are labelled Clever Black, Zulu-in-Denial and Anti-patriotic Counter-revolutionary.
White man, you are on your own. Eat your share, until your stomach is bulging. Then perhaps you will vomit out the poison of the past, because it is that venom that still gives you the gall to think you are so grand and special, and that your suffering is deeper than that of everyone else. Eat, my white brother, eat. Khumalo’s new book #ZuptasMustFall and Other Rants
is now available at bookstores
IDEOLOGICAL OPPOSITES A demonstrator in Pretoria protests against the vandalised statue of Paul Kruger on April 9 2015. It was one of many apartheid-era statues defaced last year across the country