A few months ago, I was watching a documentary about the history of the formation of our country with my son . It touched on topics such as slavery, colonisation and apartheid. While we were watching he turned to me and asked, ‘Papa, why did white people do this to us?’
It is not that difficult to explain ‘how’ racism permeates through society. But, to explain to a 7yr old ‘why’, that is something I cannot explain. In 2016 South Africa, as a black man, I often ask myself why white cannot grasp the damage that hundreds and hundreds of years of racism has caused to black people. Why do they think a corrupt government or a rogue president is the only problem we face. How entrenched can you be to unable to see such a great tragedy? But through articles and topics I’ve read online and conversations I’ve had with female friends acquaintances, I’ve come to realise the disturbing similarities between racism and my own male privilege as a black man.
One of the most frustrating aspects of being South African is the inability of black people and white people to talk about racism. For white people, the mere mention of the topic is seen as an unprovoked attack. Similarly, when women engage men about how male privilege has brought harm to the female species since time immemorial, we become defensive. The first point that many white people use in their defence is, ‘I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t there!’. For men, it is eerily similar, ‘I didn’t do anything (wrong to a woman). I wasn’t there (when male privilege was created)’. This reasoning in supported through the ‘single threat’ narrative perpetuated by the media and general societal beliefs. Some white people don’t believe that they are not racist, they merely hate corruption. More specifically, they hate Jacob Zuma. This helps them to package their prejudice as an affront toward the government only. This allows them to subconsciously absolve themselves from complicity in the apartheid system, ‘it was the government, not me’.
When a man is confronted by a woman who points out his male privilege, his ‘single threat’ narrative response is that ‘women have issues’, more specifically ‘daddy issues’. This allows him to subconsciously absolve himself from complicity in the system that benefits him but disadvantages women. What we are seeing more of lately is that some white people have resorted to being angry about the topic of racism. At this point this is when they say things like, ‘black people must move on now. It’s been 20yrs!’.
When a man meets a 30yr old women who has a hard time dealing relationships with men because she was raped by her father when she was 10, his frustrations towards the relationship will at times translate into him telling her to ‘move on, it’s been 20yrs now!’ Let’s get one thing clear, there will never, ever, ever, ever come a time when white people can tell black people to move on from what white people did to them. EVER. You have absolutely no right to utter such words.
Dear men, there will never, ever, ever, ever come a time when we can tell women to get over their issues about men. EVER! You can never claim a right over anything that has to do with another person’s being.
At the core of the ‘move on/get over it’ response that men and white people have to realise is that IT IS NOT ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL! Let’s say you drive on the highway and come across a gruesome accident with bodies everywhere. Sure it is traumatic to see and will leave you disturbed but, your actual feelings about the accident are infinitesimally irrelevant. This is because your feelings change absolutely nothing about what has already happened, regardless of how sad it makes you feel. If you as a man feel sad and angry for being rejected by a woman because you believe her reasons for your rejection have nothing to do with you then, well…boo hoo.
Racism does not make black people sad. Racism abuses black people. It crushes their humanity. Racism has killed millions of black people. Male Privilege doesn’t make women sad. It objectifies their bodies. It disregards their dignity. Male Privilege kills millions of women.
What male privilege affords men and what racism affords white people is the privilege to, as Eskia Mphahlele put as, the ability to rule without being right. This means transgressions of these two parties can be ascribed to anything else rather their own actions. That is why for most of my life I’ve believed that women who have a problem with being catcalled are what is wrong with catcalling. This is why people like Steve Hofmeyer can say that black people are the ‘architects of apartheid’ because black people’s issues with apartheid are what is wrong with apartheid, even as HF Verwoerd explained, ‘apartheid is a policy of good neighbourliness’.
It is the oversimplification of what entails male privilege and racism that allows them to flourish. It is me as a man thinking that simply because I don’t hit women or think that a woman’s place is not just in the kitchen then that means I don’t exercise male privilege. This is overlooking the fact that male privilege can be exercised at every single point of male and female interaction. It is forgetting that male privilege is a pervasive system that lives in the fiber our society.
Racism is not merely calling black people kaffirs, or monkeys. Having black friends does not mean that you don’t benefit from racism or you yourself do not hold racist beliefs nor does it mean that you don’t exercise racism.
We need to start by listening. To acknowledge that regardless of how uncomfortable we feel, these institutions that we benefit from are destroying people’s lives.