It’s absolutely astounding that we still need to be taught how not to be racist. One would think that the journey to a non-racial society would be relatively simple, and that not saying racist things would be a logical part of that progression.
But we know that the problem is far more complex than that. After the recent actions and subsequent response to Adam Catzavelos’ racist rants, it would appear that even after Vicky Momberg’s landmark conviction, far too many South Africans still struggle to identify their own racist behaviour.
It’s highly unlikely that Adam used the K-word for the first time in his video. In all likelihood, he probably uses the word in his everyday environment … in his home, among friends, possibly even at work. And despite the defense used by Darren Scott in his own racist ‘incident’, a situation does not create racism, it reveals it. Racism is cultivated – it’s not created. Adam looks relatively young, so we can assume he was raised after formal apartheid ended. Thus, we can assume that his parents and community have contributed to the perpetuation of his racist tendencies.
Racism is *everywhere*
Before my own experience at the receiving end of racism last year, I used to think that racists were old white people who sat in isolation on their dubiously acquired farms, reminiscing about the ‘good old days of Apartheid.’ But since my own confrontation with a 29-year-old I have learned that:
- Racists can be of any age. They are cultivated in their homes and neighbourhoods, and the messages of hatred are passed down the generations from your parents and community.
- If you can acknowledge that what you were taught was an incorrect misrepresentation of the truth, and you want to learn more about racism so that you can change the narrative in your home and community, there are resources that you can read that could start the process. (*Disclaimer: reading about racism doesn’t mean you’re not a racist anymore. It’s just a first step to understanding, and then building a truly integrated society.)
Prejudice affects (and infects) everyone
Understanding racism is not as simple as agreeing with the sentiment ‘Ja, using the K-word is bad.’ Getting what it is in order to fight it, requires delving into the beginnings of the mindset. This may require difficult conversations with people around you – both those who look like you, and those who do not. You need to listen to how opinions about race are formed, and try to respond with empathy and understanding. You need to have a zero-tolerance policy towards racial slurs and the subtle forms of racism around you. You need to teach your children how to treat those who do not look like them. But most important, you need to recognise that no matter which demographic you are, your mind has definitely been affected by colonialism and Apartheid.
Getting woke (and getting others to be woke)
People need to be taught how to live with each other in harmony, because of our violent institutionalised racism, created by colonialism and cemented by Apartheid. It is quite clear that so much still needs to be done to fully understand what psychology was involved in getting us to this point. If we are ever to find the tools to permanently break down the barriers of race, we first need to take the necessary steps to fully understand the problem. We can begin by educating ourselves.
For me to understand how racism was cultivated, I had to do extensive research on the matter. I started my research with Derek Hook’s A Critical Psychology of the Postcolonial: The Mind of Apartheid. Derek wrote extensively on the matter, and used a variety of references on the psychology behind white supremacy and black inferiority complexes. But we highly recommend the following books for an easier read on the topic, in this order:
1. Run Racist Run
In an easy-to-read book, Eusebius McKaiser lays down the foundation for the conversation. He explains the complexity of racism, and delves into its roots in colonialism. He also explains how the racist mind-set is far greater than just the K-word. (The K-word is simply a manifestation of a much greater consciousness.) Buy a few copies for your friends and family at Christmas.
2. Sorry, Not Sorry
Haji Mohamed Dawjee takes you inside the daily life of a professional journalist who happens to also be a woman of colour. She clearly illustrates how, on numerous occasions, she was judged for the demographic group she represents, before being judged for the quality of her work. She lists examples of how she is othered at work, in society, and even within her own family, as a queer Muslim woman. She is unapologetically authentic and open, so that you can see her for who she really is.
3. Race Otherwise – Forging a New Humanism for South Africa
This book is currently doing the rounds in academic circles before it becomes mainstream. Zimitri Erasmus imagines what a truly integrated South African society looks like. ‘The book is not about racism as a structure of power,’ Zimitri says. ‘It’s about racism.’ This is an uncomfortable read. Proceed only if you are truly ready to shake up everything you think you know about South Africa and our racist history.
These three books either separately or together are just the beginning. They are mere conversation starters. The onus is on you to take the conversations further. Hear a racial joke at a braai? Call it out. Notice that your children treat your domestic helper different to your colleague from work – lead by example. Been treated differently because of your race? Address it. Too scared to tackle race issues with someone of a different race? Start with your own.
But start. Don’t be quiet when you see or hear something you know does not sound right. As the old adage goes, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.‘ And don’t get it twisted: racism is evil.