One of the interesting ideas that has come up both in Americaland [with the whole #Ferguson ordeal and everything connected to that and the #BlackLivesMatter movement] and in South Africa is that black people can’t be racist. i have always argued that the hypothesis is ridiculous and given my understanding of racism, anyone can be racist against another person. However, by taking time to listen to people on both sides, as far as i understand it, the idea is that racism is state or system implemented prejudice and so while anyone can be prejudiced, historically it has only been the white people who have been in the position of power in terms of creating laws etc that affirm and carry out the prejudice. So while i am not convinced that i agree [i think some countries in Africa with black parties in power have had some discriminationary actions and prejudices laid out against white people] i do think i understand a little bit more. i do feel it is a little bit semantic because i imagine people on both sides would agree that anyone can be racially prejudiced and that is what we are suggesting.
So it was with interest that i came upon this passage in the Robert Sobuke book and this is the action following his funeral where both the author, Benjamin Pogrund, and Helen Suzman were refused the opportunity to speak at his funeral:
We returned to the hotel – the Drostdy, a gracious and luxurious place, with the main section restored to its original 1806 design when it was built as the drostdy, the seat of local government, and the rooms created out of a row of cottages which were once the homes of coloured labourers, and possibly of freed slaves. The cool and comfort of the hotel came as a bizarre contrast with the dust and heat of the ceremony – and even more so because all the guests at the hotel were whites, as required by the law. Among them was the small group of whites in the town for the funeral, including Nita and Joe, whom I met for the first time [and since then, friendship with them has been one of Sobukwe’s legacies to me]; Alan Paton, the author, and Peter Brown, who had led the former Liberal Party with him and had endured years-long banning for it. [Peter was Editor of Reality, a small magazine which provided a forum for liberal thinking after the demise of the Liberal Party, often publishing articles which could find no other home in South Africa.
On that day, the Drostdy wasn’t a totally colour-fast world so close and yet so far away from what we had experienced in the preceding hours: Neville Alexander, who was coloured and who had been a political prisoner on Robben Island while Sobukwe was there, could not attend the funeral because he was banned and restricted to his Cape Town home; but his mother came on his behalf. Moira, who was looking after her, went into the bar to get her a drink and found a black woman there. Moira discovered the hotel had been declared ‘international’ for that day: in terms of the current laws, that meant it was open to people of all races. To press home that point, Moira took Mrs Alexander to have her drink inside the otherwise usually whites-only bar.
Suzman had this to say about her exclusion. She told the Rand Daily Mail that it was obviously regretful because Veronica [Robert’s wife] herself had extended the invitation – ‘But I respected their decision that it should be a black people’s occasion.’ She added: ‘One had no means of knowing how representative the militants were. It would have been interesting to hear the crowd’s reaction had they heard what I had to say.’
My published comment went to the heart of my outlook: ‘I feel sad about it, of course. It was a negation of the non-racialism for which Robert Sobukwe stood. It reflects how far down the road we have gone in South Africa. White racism has inevitably spawned black racism. Both are equally abhorrent.’
i think the last phrase sums it up – whether it is going to be called prejudice or racism or anything else, whether it is coming from white or black or anyone else, it is equally abhorrent. We must work together, not so much to fight it, but to overcome it. i believe the best way of overcoming racism, by whatever name it goes, is through genuine relationships and friendships – getting each other around the dinner table and sharing stories and living life together. i feel like that is the kind of South Africa Robert Sobukwe would be more proud of.