Trigger Warning: Race

Two things were posted on Facebook in the last week that may push fence-sitting social-media savvy black voters over to the EFF (making their manifesto launch stadium crowd not a Spielberg special effect but real votes waiting to happen).

One event was Ntokozo Qwabe’s post about his and Wandile Dlamini’s refusal to tip waitress Ashleigh Schultz until she agrees to “return the land,” and the reactions subsequent to that.  The other was Matthew Theunissen’s Facebook response to Mbalula’s ban on international sporting events.

In the wake of copious evidence that rainbowism can be shaken at a press of the “post” button, many black voters are searching for a political discourse that centralises their race-related grievances as urgently as the waitress’s crowd-funders centralised hers.  I think the outpouring of sympathy (and cash) towards Shultz will convert to pure, hard votes for the red party not because those black voters are “racist towards white people” but because those voters’ understanding of racism isn’t a theory but ongoing history.

When he appears before the Human Rights Commission, Qwabe has to prove unfounded the charge that his note to Schultz violated her right to dignity.  One way he can do that is unpacking his action in steps.  What would have happened to Schultz’s dignity had he only refrained from tipping her?  Nothing for the HRC to deal with, even if he’d posted on Facebook that he refrained from tipping his waitress.  We frown on non-tippers; we cast them to hell.  But we don’t charge them with anything.  Until they disclose, as he did, that they’ve refused to tip for no reason other than the waitress’s skin colour.

The question, then, is whether Qwabe was right to single Schultz out in his crusade against white privilege.  She now appears to be in a position to become a landowner.  It has been argued by many voices online, from precedent, that had Qwabe and Schultz’s races been reversed she would not have had R150 000 crowd-funded on her behalf.  So the crowd-funders (whatever their combination of races) may have won Qwabe’s case for him.  It has been argued that Schultz was not in such a position when Dlamini and Qwabe initially picked on her.  But they picked on her precisely because they were assuming she would or could turn out to be the correct individual at whose feet to lay their historical complaint.  And now she is.

Three questions have been asked.

  • Was Qwabe’s action socially unacceptable?
  • Was his target politically sound?
  • Does the political effectiveness of an action’s critique of the status quo supersede social norms like decency and politeness?

In hindsight (which, Qwabe would argue, was his and Dlamini’s foresight) the answer to all three questions may arguably be “Yes.”  I do not like it either.

The HRC is left to disprove this narrative: in an overly-shrewd and callous political act (but not an impossibly shrewd political act), two young men correctly assumed that this socially unacceptable action of theirs would expose something previously unseen about the status quo: white social capital converts to financial capital far faster than any other kind; furthermore, black people can hope to access such private sector wealth only if they learn what Eusebius McKaiser has described as “the grammar of whiteness.”  Rebecca Davis’s White tears: The most valuable currency concludes with the words, “I know what the response to this will be: anyone can start a crowdfunding campaign.  That’s not true.  You have to move in a world where online crowdfunding drives are a thing.  You have to be able to appeal to people with a disposable income – ideally, a personal network.  Most likely, you have to frame your bid in fluent English.

“And it helps if you have a platform on which you can advertise your petition – such as the podcast on Cliff Central, which hosted the fundraising for Schultz. (That’s the same podcast, by the way, that claims feminism is cancer.)

“A minority of the country meets these criteria.  And if that minority chooses to exercise its kindness so selectively, what is it saying to the rest?  At the least, that some people deserve kindness a lot more than others.”

Unqualified aversion over Qwabe’s act may unmask our talk of socio-political progress as hollow lip service that, at moment of that political vision’s consummation, turns out to have been self-indulgent daydreaming.  #WhiteTip was not an abrogation of #RhodesMustFall; it was #RhodesMustFall crudely and jarringly realised.  No unearned privilege was ever exposed or dismantled neatly or nicely.

We are right to feel Schultz has been unfairly picked-on.  We can cast Qwabe’s guts to the pits of hell.  But we dare not refuse the lessons this situation has brought us.

Now, some will argue that #RhodesMustFall is an intersectional movement and its leaders have no place further mistreating women.

Contrary to popular belief, patriarchy has a few benefits for women.  It named them as wo-men in the first place because it saw men as the primary images of humanity, and women as secondary men who were distinguished by their possession of wombs, which are valued insofar as they are available to birth the next generation of men.  To the extent, emotional upsets on their part (caused especially by those who are of a different race) can summon all the powers and forces of that race to their defence.

Call it chivalry.  Call it common decency.  We experience these evolutionary impulse through sophisticated emotional layers that make them seem complex, civilised and noble.  But until we can uniformly be as concerned about the emotional well-being of all persons, men included, from all races, I will insist that the base protective impulse reflects more our animal natures than it does our better angels.

This sort of tribalism isn’t unique to any race.  It works this way the same reason a child’s tears work – the psychological distress of those over whom we are protective, real or perceived, instinctively brings about a protective or vindictive response in us – and is the reason women are infantilised or allowed a greater degree of emotional expression than men are.

Can you imagine how #WhiteTip would have unfolded if the waiter had been male, and had responded any way except to brush it off or fly into a rage?  Because those are the only two socially accepted emotional responses for men.  Would anyone had crowd-funded a him if he’d cried?

A man doesn’t have a womb or breasts to gestate or nurture infants, so he should not expect the kind of emotional and social protection a woman may; he has a penis, and with that, the expectation that he can impregnate, overpower or defend himself as the need arises.

All of this works as long as men and women implicitly agree to be ignorant as to, or keep ignoring, why the expectations work and for what tribalistic ends they work.  The moment a woman questions racial supremacy or patriarchy, she is on her own.

“I would like to thank everyone for all the support and kind words,” Schultz posted on her Facebook page.  “I’m astonished at the attention and coverage and I’m glad that so many people have stood up against racism.  Remember, an eye for an eye makes the world blind.  You cannot show hatred for somebody you are entirely clueless about because of something that happened in the past.  Everything has been super overwhelming and I’m going to have a hot bath now.”

Her status shows that even she knows the response to her situation to be extraordinary.  She’s glad that so many people have “stood up against racism” – but that would need for them to have consistently stood up for racism in a similar manner for similar situations up until now, not just her situation.  Could she believably argue against Qwabe, then, if he put it to the HRC that she was an appropriate target because she enjoys privileges she has never thought about?  Nobody denounces the vindictiveness of an eye for an eye unless on some level they think they or theirs have it coming.  How does your eye enter a fray it was never part of, unless you know, on some level, that it belongs in there?

“You cannot show hatred for somebody you are entirely clueless about because of something that happened in the past,” indeed, but if you’ve correctly guessed that someone has benefitted from something “that happened in the past,” and can leave it in the past because they have the benefit regarding history in throwaway aphorisms, are you “entirely clueless” about her, or have you sized her up to a tee?

I’m not disputing Ashleigh Schultz’s right to respond as she has to this event, which is the best she could do given what she knows.  That’s all any of us really do, I think.

But… well, let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

And then there’s Matthew Theunissen’s post.

Black voters have generally been trained not to hold the post-apartheid government accountable.  Transformation in sports did not fail to come about in a vacuum or because sporting bodies unilaterally failed to make it happen: the current government has compounded the previous government’s failure to make resources reach black people that need them.  As a result, the numbers of black academics, athletes, artists and scientists are not what they could be.

While there’s no denying the presence of institutionalised racism in sports associations, Mbalula’s acute treatment of this symptom allows him to conveniently point at everyone, except his party, as the ultimate explanation for the lack of transformation in sports.   Theunissen’s post could have analysed his disingenuousness for doing so.  Instead, he took it every person who shares Mbalula’s skin colour.

Under apartheid, white people were expected to see sports as more important than the human dignity of people of colour.  This fit with the apartheid ideology’s instilling dominance within its males so they could stomach compulsory military service and brutality against “the other.”  We saw the ghost of this mindset when black protesters walked onto the field at UFS and got beaten with the players’ girl[friends]s cheering them on (and, subsequently, with black policemen’s assumption of the white actors’ innocence).  As five white friends have told me: many of their friends and families really only rejected apartheid once other countries had banned South African sports teams from participating in international events.  So institutionalised racism didn’t end because black lives mattered; it ended because white entertainment did.

Theneussen’s rant showed this impulse that sees black people as an obstacle to the weekend sporting line-up – and here we thought sports could reconcile us.

The new South Africa was never meant to be about putting black people’s historical losses on the forefront but about renegotiating South Africa’s place on the world stage on white people’s behalf.  And where the fulfilment of the voting majority’s needs has only happened as a means to that end, that majority will start searching for a party that [they believe] puts those needs at the top of the agenda.  Ergo, EFF.  Ignore what I’m saying, and they’ll take the national elections sooner than you can pack for Perth.

Saying black people could have voted better (and they could have!) does not recede the question of white people’s overall priorities into sheer conjecture; what keeps happening is that the more discomfort and inconvenience white people are subjected to, as Theneussen and Sparrow were (inconvenience?!), the more hostile and racist an overwhelming number of their online posts become.  Online black readers weigh this “rainbow nation” against the EFF’s offering, and find that rainbow as real as the pot of gold at its back-side.

“Oh, but the EFF would destroy South Africa!”  Retribution would destroy the country, we’re told.  Look north.

But what if that argument simply creates a self-serving distinction between South Africa (the country) and many of the South Africans (the people comprising the country) who have been destroyed, repeatedly, by the unequal valuation of tears shed over racial slights?

Which South Africa needs to be saved from the EFF (as per the DA’s text), if not the South Africa comprised of South Africans who have not been crowd-funded R150 000 for blood, sweat and tears shed in unjust racial laws and actions?

We urgently need to go back to the drawing board regarding this “reconciliation” gig we’ve been at for 22 years, and work out what, precisely, is being reconciled.

Please follow and share @SKhumalo1987

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