I’m tired… If racism affects some of us, it affects all of us

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It seems that every time Janine Scott-dos Santos opens Facebook, turns on the radio, listens to the news or even when she talks with friends and family, she is confronted with a new racist incident.  And it’s making her tired. 

I’m tired, boss… Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world every day. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head, all the time… Can you understand?”

John Coffey, The Green Mile (Stephen King, 1996)

I’m tired of little black children placed at a different desk to white children. I’m tired of entitled rich boys lamenting about how beautiful the beaches on the Greek Islands are because there are no people of other races there. I’m tired of people being removed from beaches. I’m tired of governments being shut down because of presidents wanting to build walls to keep people out. I’m tired of little ones dying of dehydration in separation camps. I’m tired of girls having their religious attire forcibly removed on French beaches. I’m tired…

Most of all, I’m tired of reading about all these things and seeing the anger that still exists in this world.

But I’m also aware that if I wanted to be “un-tired”, I could just stop reading or ignore what’s posted on social media.  I could just keep scrolling past posts, unsubscribe to unwelcome racist newsfeeds and even unfriend people along the way. I could carry on as if none of this was happening —that is just my privilege.

For some reason, not out of choice, I was born into a body that has white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair.  And my parents are educated, European and Christian. You could say that I pretty much hit the genetic, geographical and spiritual jackpot!

So, the only reason why racism and prejudice affects me is because I allow it to.

But my friends and some members of my family don’t have the privilege of choosing whether or not it affects them.

This week alone there have been two incidents in my close social circles that prove that racism and prejudice are real. If racism affects some of us, it affects all of us. It is not simply “manufactured outrage”, as I read on a Facebook post last week.

Last week my aunt booked a room for her business partner at a popular resort.  As she was doing the booking, she unthinkingly booked it under her name.  She booked a luxury suite and she got it at a special rate. A few days later she remembered that she had made the booking under her own name. She immediately called the resort staff to change the booking into her business partner’s name.  As you will see, the clincher here comes because her business partner is black.  To my aunt’s surprise, the change of name brought complications. All of a sudden she was sent an amended invoice which billed her for a lesser suite at a higher price.  After my aunt questioned and threatened to expose this on social media the resort quickly changed its tune and the matter was swiftly resolved.

In another instance a close friend of mine was waiting for a parking space with her indicator on, as one does.  There was a man waiting on the other side who did not see her stopped and waiting. When she pulled her car into the vacant space, that she had patiently been waiting for, he screamed and shouted, and called her the “k-word”.  Why?  Why resort to race? To make matters even worse she had her 3-year-old with her in the car.

Another one of my friends is an executive at a large private financial firm. As with many modern suburban residents, he has been added to his neighbourhood Whatsapp group.  Often he and/or his children will go for a walk in their own suburb. While walking one day, he received a Whatsapp message on the local group. The message read: “BM loitering in x Street”.  Note: BM is the Whatsapp code for “Black Male”.

Hopefully, these three very recent examples prove just why I can’t ignore my social media feeds — much as I would sometimes prefer to be oblivious to the despicable horrors perpetuated by my own race.

Basically what I’m trying to say here is that I could ignore all of this. I could do this because it doesn’t directly affect me.  In the same way that I could ignore the fact that South Africa has a Gini coefficient of 0.69 which makes it one of the most unequal societies in the world and that such inequality is, after 25 years of democracy, still closely correlated along race lines. Similarly, the high rate of unemployment; large numbers of criminals in prison and abandoned children are also closely correlated to race. This could bring us to argue that a person’s race actually causes this inequality. Still, I suppose, I could ignore this too!

A story is told of an executive who retired to the Dolphin Coast.  Every morning he would have breakfast on his patio overlooking the sea and then go for a swim in the lagoon.  One day he cut his foot on a sharp rock in the water.  He thought nothing of it, patched it up with a plaster and went on with his day.  Later that evening he started to feel a bit nauseous and got steadily. Eventually, his wife took him to hospital.  It turned out that he had developed a rare flesh-eating bacterial infection and had to have his foot amputated to avoid the infection spreading.  The infection was caused by bacteria in the water that came from an informal settlement a couple of kilometres up from the executive’s multi-million-rand beach home. Following his recovery, he realised that he needed to do something about the informal settlement. He invested and raised funds for a water-treatment project and proper sewerage systems. 

It may seem that people becoming angry about a seemingly innocent classroom seating arrangement is “over-the-top”.  But it is a symptom of a larger problem that is endemic to our nation.  We need to recognise that these small incidents, that seem like people are always “pulling the race card”, are actually indicative of a much larger problem in our country — that affects all of us.

We can build higher walls, we can ignore social media, we can turn a blind eye to discrimination and racism; but then aren’t we just fulfilling the prophecy of Edmund Burke who said that “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”?

Also, I heartily encourage  “those people”, my fellow black women and men, never to ignore their social media.  They must become outraged with each and every incident and name and shame my people.

You are right to be furious with the seemingly innocent classroom seating arrangement that may have just been to “split by language preference.”  You need to fight.  You need and are right to become angry.  You need to continuously highlight that this is real. As much as we can, and do, flippantly say: “ugh, you know, I don’t see race”; we really do.

I’m tired but I refuse to give up.

As white people, we need to fight this racist scourge too. We did nothing to deserve this privilege of having less melatonin in our skin.

And we want this world to be better — to have less anger and hate — don’t we?

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

 

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I’m tired… If racism affects some of us, it affects all of us