Tag Archive: racism

Race is one of the big issues we are dealing with in South Africa [and in Americaland, and most probably in pretty much every other country in the world, right?] and there is still a lot of work to be done.

The idea of this series came from my understanding that most of us have some kind of racism or prejudice towards other people, particularly those of other cultures or race – some are quite overt and others are more subtle – something that is obvious to you might be a blind spot for someone else… and sometimes until we know, we don’t know… so i am thinking this will be a light Dummies Guide to being Less Racist for those of us desperately trying to be so.

racist graph

A more obvious example might be referring to your fifty year old gardener as ‘boy’ and a less obvious example might be something like ‘asking to touch someone from another race’s hair’ – this might overlap with the ‘what i would love my white friends to hear’ series on my blog and i feel like it could really be helpful for us all to learn from.

We look at the big issues of racism and prejudice and they can sometimes feel completely overwhelming. But maybe a helpful place to start is with the smaller things some of us may not be aware of that we do or say on a regular basis.

Until you know, you might not know.

How can we help those around us to be one bit less racist? If you have an idea you’d like to share as part of this series, drop me an email at brettfish@hotmail.com and i can take a look.

Megan Furniss posts some helpful questions

Calling someone ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ when they clearly aren’t

Taking a step back from the small aspects to view the bigger picture

When we refer to a specific group of people as ‘they’ or ‘those people’


This morning i went to hang out and church with the friendly people at Common Ground Wynberg.

i have visited them a bunch of times since coming back from americaland because they have a vibe i really enjoy: very diverse congregation, black pastor [who i really like], some people i know and a whole bunch i don’t, and usually just an exciting lifeness happening with children movement and French translations and people who move as they sing, and there is just a lot of stuff there i really enjoy.

i was sitting waiting for the service to begin and i looked around and was just stunned by the beauty around me. Not the hugest amount of white people, a lot of African folks who are clearly from other more Northern parts of Africa and a bit of a mixed bunch of everyone else: a mesmerisingly messy mosaic made up of people who love Jesus and want to follow Him well together.

And i thought to myself, ‘I want to get to know these people. i want to hear their stories. i want to know how they ended up in South Africa. And i want to know what it has been like for them as the horrification of xenophobia has raised its ugly head in various parts of the country once more.

i imagine, if they had all been white people, that i would not have cared as much. Not because [like some of my favourite commentors on the blog would have us believe] i hate white people, because i really don’t. But because if i was in a church congregation of white people, then i would imagine the stories would be largely similar – in theme, or context, or content or general vibe at least. And while that’s okay, i guess, it’s not very interesting to me.

And so in that moment, for a moment, while i waited for ‘church to start’ i celebrated the church that was already going on. i drank in the diversity and thanked God for the hope of what this country can become. i didn’t understand racism just a little bit more than normal.

What a travesty to continue to live life surrounded by people who all look like us and largely think and live and celebrate and entertain and eat and church like us. i’m excited about some of the creative ways Val and i are embracing to ensure that our circles, in this regard, are getting gradually bigger…

[i didn’t get a chance to properly meet anyone cos they made an announcement that someone had left their car lights on and i strongly suspected it was me, but i was trapped in the middle of my row and hoped the battery would survive one service, so i left immediately afterwards… turns out it wasn’t me, but i will be back, and next time i hope to get to hear one or more of those stories]


My friend, Rebecca, who has written before on my blog – a message to South Africa over here, and about her journey with dyslexia over here – wrote this as a status update the other day:

Dear racist old man on the Pavilion escalator.

I’m sorry you smashed your phone screen and that it’s going to cost you R4000 to fix. But you don’t have to call the salesman you talked to that [insert derogatory name] it is really not his fault it costs so much. And even if it was you still can’t call him that.

And no I don’t think i’m a disrespectful ‘little girl’ for calling you out and I WILL NOT apologise!

And i was just so completely proud of her.


It is beyond time that we start doing this South Africa – whenever racism of prejudice of any type rears its ugly head. For too long we have cringed silently when a relative has referred to a 45 year old black woman working for them as “girl” or a friend has made an uncomfortable joke with racist implications.

Referring to members of another group as “those people” or starting any sentence with the words, “I’m not racist, but…” [which can only ever be followed by a racist statement] – from blatant to subtle to intended or not, it has to stop.

And anytime we stand by and say nothing we become complicit, which if that’s too big a word for you means it is as if we are doing that very racist thing ourselves.

We need to draw a line in the sand and go, “Here and no further.”

This feels like such a small one and yet it feels like such a big one. Mindsets and behaviours need to shift so that we can move forward together. You won’t necessarily change those who you call out, but you give them an opportunity to think about their words and hopefully move towards a better place.

And we need to be having more conversations around the dinner table about race – what is okay, what is not okay. This is one of the pressing needs for us in this country to get right so how about just once you push sport, movies, food to the side and have a good old chat about South Africa and race and what you are personally involved in in terms of helping us move to a better place…


[Want to read about some other ways we can move things forward in this country, click here]

My friend Dre [actually Andrea Thorpe] has been commenting at various places in the ‘What about Bob?’ conversation and so i asked her if she’d be up to sharing some thoughts of her own…


[I’m a white, English-speaking South African. I was born in the Eastern Cape in the ‘80s. I studied Journalism and Media Studies and English at Rhodes University, and later completed my Masters in English at Stellenbosch. I’m now roughly halfway through my PhD in English at Queen Mary University of London. I’m writing my thesis on South African literature, specifically, on South African writers writing in London from 1948 onwards, and so I spend a lot of time, while living in London, thinking and writing about South Africa. (It’s very meta.)]

I’m writing this as a follow-up to ‘Bob’s’ letter that Brett shared. I don’t want to do a point-for-point response as others have already done, so thoroughly. As Tsholo, particularly, has eloquently pointed out, some of Bob’s ideas about progress and colonialism are problematic, probably racist (e.g. that colonialism ‘saved’ Africa from itself.) One of the commenters on Bob’s post said it even more pointedly, calling him “ignorant” and “bigoted”. And I’ve asked, in my comments on Tsholo’s post, whether we should actually entertain or even respond to such conservative ideas? Is Bob reaching out for answers, or attempting to justify his privilege and prejudice?

More than anything, Bob’s post seems almost tiresomely familiar. I’m thinking of inventing a new game called ‘White South African Opinion Piece Bingo (2015 Edition)’, which would include boxes like ‘Rhodes Wasn’t Such a Bad Oke’; ‘What About Xenophobia, Hey?’; ‘Reverse Racism is Totally a Thing’; ‘I Know This is Politically Incorrect but I’m Just Saying it Like it Is’; ‘The Country is Going to the Dogs and All They Care about Are Statues’ and ‘Privileged? What, Me?’

Okay, I’m being facetious. But my point is that perhaps these posts are coming from a common place, a shared emotional, psychological impetus, which is maybe worth addressing. This feeling is best summed up by this passage in Bob’s letter:

“I am white, I am made to feel ashamed of a history I had no control of and no one is interested in what a white person has to say because whatever they say or do is racist or from a point of white privilege” and again ,”I am a racist by association and don’t belong in South Africa”.

I read this as expressing two key sentiments: ‘I feel ashamed, and ‘I feel left out’. And what I hear beneath the rambling about government and Mugabe and statues (by Bob and by others) is this:

1) ‘Poor me, I don’t belong’:

Do you really feel as though you don’t belong, or is that your self-pity talking? You have all the rights of a citizen, and furthermore, you are white and therefore privileged.

During apartheid, black South Africans were forcibly removed from their homes, were often forced into exile and were denied the full rights of citizenship. They were truly made to feel as if they didn’t “belong”. Furthermore, in many places, black South Africans still feel excluded. For instance, many black students are marginalised by the structures and cultures of our elite universities: #Rhodesmustfall at UCT, The Black Student Movement at Rhodes and Open Stellenbosch are therefore focused on making our universities truly inclusive.

I think, as white South Africans, we are included more than excluded by South African society. I personally care more about those who, 21 years after the end of apartheid, still feel materially excluded from key sectors, (especially since it’s my field, in higher education) than I do about Bob’s existential crisis of belonging.

2) ‘I feel excluded from discussions about race because they’re not about me’:

I think a lot of white South Africans try and derail discussions about race (“race isn’t important”, “apartheid is over” etc.) because they feel left out, irrelevant. Bluntly, it’s not about you. Apartheid did not disadvantage you. The global imbalance of power cantilevers in your direction. So while you can listen and learn and contribute, debates about race are not going to put you – or people like you – in the centre.

3) ‘It makes me uncomfortable when my whiteness is made visible’:

Discussions about white privilege make white people uncomfortable because they are used to thinking of themselves as ‘just a person’ and are not used to having their race matter. Of course, race doesn’t ‘matter’ – we shouldn’t stereotype or generalise based on the category of skin colour – but it has consequences in terms of the economic, political and social power it’s entailed, historically. That doesn’t mean you have to feel ashamed about this: it’s just a fact. Also, having privilege does not automatically make you racist: it’s not acknowledging this privilege which is problematic.

4) ‘I don’t like it when people accuse me of racism’:

We’d all like to think of ourselves as tolerant, good people. But even if we try really hard to be non-prejudiced, our immersion in South African society (hey, in the very imbalanced world) has a way of coming out of the woodwork. Racism is not just about disliking black people. Racist ideology hides itself in a whole series of assumptions about ‘culture’, ‘civilisation’, education, the West and Africa, identity and so on. If we want to be better South Africans, better humans, we need to able to acknowledge, and hopefully transform, our deep-seated ideas about race.

I know I can always do better. I make mistakes and reveal skewed assumptions I didn’t even know I held, all the time. Example: I’m not even sure if it’s okay for me to write this post. Maybe it’s inappropriate of me to speak on behalf of black South Africans. Maybe I’ve made generalisations or over-simplified certain issues. Maybe not, but it’s worth asking the question. (So let me know what you think.)

It can be uncomfortable carrying out this mental ideology check, constantly, but it’s essential. Of course it’s not just about ideas: ideology can (and should, if it’s beneficial) translate into action, but your mind is a good place to start, I think.

What ABOUT Bob?

Maybe it’s pointless to respond to people like Bob. Maybe they don’t want to change, because that would mean accepting the possibility of a transformed South Africa which might not fit their needs and wants. But I hope that this discussion, sparked by Bob’s letter, can open our eyes to our own assumptions, and can help us to look beyond our own insecurities and emotions, so that we can truly, humbly listen and empathise.

When our kneejerk reactions to being told uncomfortable truths about race and privilege are defensiveness and self-pity, we miss out on an opportunity to really engage with our fellow South Africans, to acknowledge their pain and our shared, difficult history, and to make our country better.

[This is becoming a long conversation, but there is a lot of greatness and importance in here and so we need to keep on with it – get involved in the comments section, bring your friends to look and if you want to find your way to the beginning of it all with links to all the consequent pieces, click here]

So this morning was a little bit of soul searching time for me as i took into account a lot of what different people have been saying in the comments on my blog recently [and over a longer period of time].

i realised that not only are some of the things that have been said true, but also came to think of some other things i’ve been doing that have actually been completely unacceptable and so i needed to apologise. And for something of this magnitude, i didn’t think written word would actually be enough. So i went for face-to-face by recording this shortish video in the hopes that those i’ve wronged will see it and really hear my heart on these things. And that we can move forwards together in the hopes that i can be better moving forwards.

So thank you for the words that caused me to really think about these things – i hope i am a changed man:


Wow, this piece just resonated so much with me. It is SO MUCH EASIER when the easily recognised racists are out there, but when i see him staring back at me when i am standing in front of the mirror… Wow! And yet so much of truth. How honest are we willing to be with ourselves?

#Contains slightly stronger language than i normally use, but get over yourselves…

The Disco Pants Blog

Nobody wants to think of themselves as being a bad person. Bad people are ISIS soldiers, child molesters, Shrien Dewani. They do bad things which are blatant and obvious and talked about in the media. But in the last few months I have found myself in spaces where I’ve had to take a long and careful look at who I am in the world, the attitudes that have formed me and how I conduct myself in certain situations. And to say that it’s been an uncomfortable awakening is an understatement. Because many of you who follow my blog know that I’m relatively outspoken about race issues in this country. I have strong feelings about the socio-economic disparities and the white attitudes that feed them, and while I sit behind my computer screen in my nice study on the Atlantic Seaboard it’s easy to wax lyrical about egalitarianism and the way…

View original post 1,168 more words


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.

[For the last part in this series looking at Economic Justice, click here]

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