Kerwin Lebone on public responses to recent racist action – ‘irrational & baffling’

By Kerwin Lebone*

Kerwin Lebone
Kerwin Lebone

The public responses (and social media comments suggests that they are widespread) by some black people to the recent racist actions of the likes of André Slade and other like-minded people are both irrational and baffling.

The first problematic response was that of the Vuma FM presenter who offered to spend a week with Mr Slade with the hope of showing him that “not all black people behaved the same way”. This after Slade had accused previous black clients to his guest house of various acts of debauchery and saying they were not real people like whites.

The presenter is right about all black people not being the same. However, she is wrong if she thinks that Slade will change his beliefs about black people based on their sociopolitical nuances. It does not matter to Slade whether you are a Motsepe, Motaung, or a lesser-known Dlamini. The colour of your skin is enough to consign you to the animal kingdom.

The second comes from a Member of Parliament who accuses a Durban restaurant of racism after it turned down her booking but later granted her white friend a table five minutes afterwards. Her response, verbatim, was “I am so mad and I don’t understand why this is still happening in this country. I am on my way there now and I will be confronting them”.

Well, in 1994 the Government of South Africa removed almost all racial laws from our statute books, but no State in the world can successfully excise the malignant tumour of racial prejudice that resides in the bosoms of some people.

Read also: Donwald Pressly: Let’s not bully the baddies – ‘black or white’

What is most disturbing in both responses is the morbid yearning for acceptance and an unhealthy attraction to further humiliation and subjugation.

It is one thing to fight to occupy a free, public space such as a beach. It is a different matter altogether to campaign for the right to be admitted to the premises of someone who regards you as sub-human.

It is not inconceivable to imagine the owner of an obscure, struggling establishment in a remote area of the country devising a marketing strategy of out these unsavoury developments: How do I attract educated, black middle-class clientele with huge spending power? Aha! I will write a racist blog/social media post/email saying how I detest them. Next thing you know they will be falling over themselves with bookings to my place, throwing their money in my face to punish me for the error of my racist ways. And my establishment will be famous in all corners of the country.

The thing is the black middle-class has grown exponentially since the dawn of the new dispensation and has acquired considerable spending power. The most effective manner of discouraging racist practices in business is to make them economically unsustainable; by taking your expenditure somewhere else. But this is a short-term measure.

The long-term project for black people, if the ultimate goal is to gain respect as a group, is to create communities, schools, businesses, brands, etc. that become enduring symbols of excellence and noble repute that will attract patronage from other nationalities. They will thus not have to worry about approval from others. History has shown that this is how nationalities earn global respect. There is no other way.

  • Kerwin Lebone graduated from Wits in 1997. He joined the Institute of Race Relations as a research analyst in 2003, specialising in fields of crime, living conditions, service delivery and communications. He’s also currently a candidate for a PhD with the Wits School of Governance.
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