By William-Mervin Gumede
Shouting “racism” to sideline rivals, for self- enrichment at the expense of the public good, or to deflect attention from our own wrongdoing, is wrong.
It will not help the fight against racism one bit – it undermines it.
It is obviously very naïve to think that, given the more than 300 years of colonialism and apartheid, racist attitudes in South Africa will disappear in just two decades.
Until we acknowledge that racism is embedded in South African society, instead of living in denial, arguing racial incidents are “isolated” events, solutions will only paper the deep divisions.
Racism has infused the DNA of almost every institution in society and racist practices have often become so much part and parcel of habits and routine, and social and professional interaction, that it is often not even recognised as such, and sometimes even individuals and institutions guilty of racism presumably have no intention of being racist.
Take for example, the electricity blackouts. Some white South Africans are tempted to blame the failure of Eskom as a failure of all blacks, rather than seeing it as a specific management failure. Another case in point is incidents of government corruption, which is sometimes often viewed as a general failure of blacks .
What we should not do in our bid to debunk outrageous racial generalisations is to defend incompetence, wrongdoing and even corruption, just because of the person is black.
We should not hide behind racial solidarity to support often very undemocratic practices. For example, should the appointment of a black judge be applauded just because he or she is black, even though they for example act untransformed.
A case in point is the fact that in many rape judgments, many black judges’ values were as conservative as some of their white colleagues.
Many black and white judges and magistrates still astonishingly blame the victims of rapes for being responsible for being raped.
Surely, in such cases, a black magistrate and judge cannot be supported merely on the basis of his or her blackness if thei r judgments are blatantly against the letter of the Constitution.
Furthermore, to argue that achievement is only a white preserve – if blacks do well, it must somehow be to do with their “political connectivity” is equally outrageous. White instances of incompetence should not be ignored.
The American scholar of race, Cornel West, warns against the pitfalls of what he calls a resort to black “authenticity” politics, whereby the issue is reduced to “racial reasoning”. He argues rightly that we must “replace racial reasoning with moral reasoning, to understand the black freedom struggle not as an affair of skin pigmentation and racial phenotype but rather as a matter of ethical principles and wise politics”.
There is no simplistic solution to the intractable societal, political and economic problems we inherited from previous white governments, and which is now being compounded by the selfish actions of our black government.
We need to get a healthy dose of pragmatism, common sense and commitment to act in the widest public interest. To effectively tackle racism will also demand honesty, courage and, importantly, social justice.
Finally, there should be no place for easy stereotyping, generalisations and prejudices – whether one is black or white.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
By William-Mervin Gumede