Bigotry is my all-time favourite least-favourite thing. In any form. You just don’t base the way you treat people on their skin-tone, place of birth, the language they speak (or don’t speak), texture of their hair, their reproductive organs and what they do with these organs and with whom, who or what they chose to or are accustomed to worshiping, or not, or on any characteristic, or habit, that either they were born with (and hardly had a say in) and which has absolutely nothing to do with you. By all means – check yourself first. If you’re happy with yourself, you’ll know that nothing about what or who you are or do in your own time needs any validation from anyone else – let alone being judged or treated differently because of who you are, what you look like or any of the above. If you think your ‘self’ is some kind of an achievement that empowers you to disrespect anyone – start with yourself. Disrespect yourself. Then do some self-improvement, and a get a hobby. You’ll be happier.
But back to you. The issue of racism seems to have never been an as popular finger-pointing subject as it has been since half-way through 2015, ever. Is it racism? ‘Black People’ vs ‘White People’. What about the ‘Coloured People’? Is it maybe ‘colourism’? Tribalism? Culturalism? Huh?! Either way – is this worse than any other form of bigotry? I think that when an act or entity is labelled in terms of its potential racial/colour context, we may be making a mistake. A black rock band. A white rapper. We like to pigeon-hole for our own convenience when we think we’re being neutral. If we abhor racism (and other forms of bigotry) – as we should – our only reference to skin colour should be in a descriptive context, and only when it is of specific relevance. “I can’t remember his name, but he was the only white guy at the rugby and he left his sandals in the bar”. Our only reference to race should be when it is relevant to do so. “I was told that she was Bakongo, so I introduced myself in Kituba. It turns out she spoke Lingala and French. I’m such an idiot”.
Race crime. Is it? Are you sure? Is it not maybe a social class crime? We can’t deal with bigotry effectively if we are too quick to attach labels. There are too many crossed lines between race, social ‘class’, skin-tone etc. And they’re stupid. The moment we attach a label, we weaken our case against bigotry. We give the crime a separate context which – in emphasising our label – lessens the crime. Assault is assault. Theft is theft. If there is ‘suspicion’ that the assault is racially motivated – that label should come up as a defence. “I thought it would be o.k. to beat the lady half to death after my night out at Tiger Tiger because she’s black” seems to hit home much harder than “You beat up the cleaner because she’s black, didn’t you?”. “No” is a much more plausible and convincing defence than “…because she was black”. While I’m here – violent crime happens more frequently in areas where poor people live than it does where rich people live. Don’t think that one is more upsetting for the people involved than another. Whether you’re rich or poor – your life can still be violated.
Anyway, if we keep harping on about racists and racism – particularly when we rope it into the general area of ‘white people’ – it is probably not solving any problems. And if we talk about the effects of apartheid – and racism – on ‘black’ people, we need to acknowledge its effects on ‘white’ people too. Not as excuse, but as a part in understanding it and finding actual solutions. Assuming stuff about people you make sweeping generalisations about doesn’t actually help anyone. You will never reach a middle ground if you treat your (often self created) ‘sides’ differently.
If you’re in a position to read this – you’re in a much more privileged position than many South Africans. Don’t forget about them when you’re walking down the street with your head sucked into your mobile device. Don’t forget about them when you complain about how Facebook has changed your page – again! Don’t forget them when you’re sitting in class or stuck in traffic on your way to work in the morning. Don’t forget them when you complain about the price of your concert tickets, or who’s on the bill or not. Remember them when the price of bread goes up – again.
If you want change the world – start with yourself. Once you’re happy with you – check to see that your neighbour is doing o.k.. Then your next neighbour, and so on… It’s the easiest authentic place to start and creates momentum of its own.