Racism Humanity Black vs White Multi Culturalism – Learned
As a born and bred Englishman who has lived in South Africa most of his life, I would like to add my ten cents’ worth to this interesting debate, and not from an American viewpoint (which is all too prevalent amongst your writers), but from a South African perspective.
Racism is one of our favourite dirty words in this country; it ranks high along with ‘paedophile’, ‘abortion’, ‘the Struggle’, and ‘hate-speech’. Unfortunately, it is used as an excuse by many of our less fortunate for their inability to succeed, or the fact that they remain at the bottom of the ladder of achievement. It is easy to say, as I have heard so many times from black people in many countries, ‘It’s because I’m black’ when they fail to achieve what they are trying to do. And yet many black people have been leaders in their chosen fields; they have become highly qualified, often admired, and have achieved a great deal without any outside help. In this country, unfortunately, many poorer blacks sit back and wait for the government to support them, to send them a monthly grant, to subsidise their unwanted and unplanned children, and, when they make mistakes, to pay for free Anti-Retroviral therapy. They believe that those blacks who have succeeded and become wealthy (because their only measure of success is what you drive and how much you have in the bank) have done so because they have friends in high places, or because they have been given some unfair advantage which is not available to the larger populace. This, of course, is patently untrue, but it is an accurate reflection of the thought process of the greater mass of people in this country. Being black is not a crime, not a punishment, not a disadvantage; if it were then there would be no successful blacks anywhere in Africa, and yet our neighbours from Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, the Congo, and other African states are often highly qualified people with degrees, who have been to university, and who have put in the necessary effort to become someone – and often they come from very humble beginnings.
When we lived in this country under Grand Apartheid as envisioned by Verwoerd and later legislated and enforced by Vorster and Botha, black people were indeed treated as inferiors who were either to be pitied, avoided, or scorned, depending on your own way of looking at the situation. They were to an extent patronised by the whites; they were often fed, clothed, enjoyed free medical attention, and on top of this they were paid. From the moment that a white child entered school he or she was taught that he was infinitely superior to the many blacks who, although visible by day going about white household chores, working in gardens, digging gold out of the mines, cleaning the streets, and so-on, mysteriously disappeared to some great shanty-town away from the cities at night. They were not regarded as people, but as creatures of work who had few feelings and were simply not to be considered. Yet many whites had been nursed and fed from birth by black servants; many white children could speak a black language as well as they spoke their own; they played with black children, whose colour was invisible until someone, usually a parent, started to realise that this situation would not help them in the future and so started to say ‘I don’t think you should spend quite so much time with the little black kids because you might get too close to them, and that would never do because you are so much better than they are’. Thus our children learned to discrimminate.
The children themselves who were brought up alongside black children were quite unaware of the difference in colour. To make this easier to understand, I will give you a simple example of this kind of ‘imprinting': if you take a duckling from its mother at birth and rear it, feed it, and generally look after it, it will follow you around everywhere because it believes you are its parent – you are in fact a duck, or the duckling is really just a small person. The same happens with our household pets: they do not believe that they are dogs or cats and that they belong to us; on the contrary, they tend to think that we belong to them, and they spend a great deal of their time ensuring that we are where we are supposed to be and that we act in a way that is to them normal. They have not been taught that they are in some way different to us; they actually believe that we and they are just the same, yet they learn, over a period of time, that they are in fact slightly other than we are, and if we are not careful, they begin to act out the myth that they have learned.
Thus it is only when an adult or a teacher begins to fill our heads with the fact that we are in some way different, or better, that we begin slowly to believe it. In the end, our belief becomes unshakeable and we regard those of a different hue to be our inferiors. It was very easy under the days of Apartheid to believe that we, as white people, were indeed superior and that the priviledges we enjoyed were ours by divine right and could thus never be taken away. It was only when we were forced to accept that black people were also people, that they loved, they cried, they laughed, and they hurt in the same way as we do, that we stopped dead in our tracks and thought “Hey, I’ve been barking up the wrong tree all my life”. We had learned from an early age to become racist, to think in terms of race, and to behave to those of a different colour than ourselves as if we were superior.
Most of the articles you have published have presented racism as a black/white issue, but it is far from being that simple. We discovered in this country that, once Apartheid disappeared like butter against the noonday sun and mysteriously ceased to exist, and then in later years became a punishable offence, that the problem had been solved. On the contrary. It is interesting to note that most people are brought up to believe that they are in some way superior to others who are in some way different. For example: the whites learned from their parents and teachers that they were superior to everyone; the ‘coloureds’ believed that they were superior to the Indians, Chinese, and Blacks; the Indians believed they were much better than the Blacks, and the Blacks looked down on everyone except the whites, who were regarded in the end as the enemy. Thus racism cannot be considered as a simple matter of colour, but one of race itself.
The recent spate of xenophobic attacks which have scoured this country have not been instigated against whites or any other race, but against ‘foreigners’ (amakwerekwere). These attacks have been caused by a learned belief in superiority, certainly, but they have also sprung from fear that the ‘foreigners’ have been allowed into this country in order to steal jobs, women, food etc, and therefore they must be removed.
Unfortunately, we are all, Black, White, and whatever, brought up to believe that we are in some way better than other races and, until our parents and teachers stop repeating this doctrine, stop harping on difference, and start to inculcate the belief that, regardless of race or skin colour, we are all much the same, we will never be any different. A final simile: no child is born with a belief in a particular God; it is learned from an early age that there is only one God and that everyone who believes in a different deity is wrong and therefore some kind of infidel. Children born of Christian parents grow up with a distrust of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and what-have-you. Even within the Christian faith there are schisms: Catholics learn to believe that their religion is the one true way; Anglicans look upon Catholics as idolators; anyone who does not worship Christ or the Virgin Mary is regarded as heathen and not to be considered or accepted. Within India, the Muslims learn that they are far superior to the Hindus, and vice-versa. These beliefs, falacious as they are, are learned from an early age and, once learned, can never really be changed.
I leave you with one thought: if we were all the same, and learned to think in the same way and apply the same values to the same things, this world would indeed be a very boring place!