Marie-Louise Antoni writes on how racial identity politics is playing out in the US, and SA
Racial intolerance and the great untouchables
Racism is not dead, but it is on life support – kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as racists. – Thomas Sowell
The social justice movement has drifted so far from its liberal origins that it has started to normalise bigotry.
Most news audiences will be familiar with the pattern, whether or not they deem this approach to be beneficial to society. Somewhere, someone in the Western world behaves poorly towards another. If the perpetrator of the hostile word or deed is white, and the victim black, newsfeeds and headlines are strewn with the rubble of the real or imagined racial altercation.
Moral responsibility for the incident is then collectively imputed to the guilty party’s entire race, and this under the banner of an oppressive system known as “whiteness”. Should the racial profiles of the antagonists however be switched, the incident becomes merely interpersonal – or worse, justified.
It is a destructive ideology that has been forged on university campuses. The mainstream media has galvanised it by proliferating the racism reporting beat and by giving centre stage to unbalanced and immoderate views.
This trend of racial hyper-sensitivity may be an international one, but it is dangerous in the South African context. It has created a political climate rife with racial propaganda exploited by reckless politicians, and some in our media are equally culpable.
In recent months, a slew of racial cases made the news in America. Some of these stories are true, while others were entirely fabricated. What binds them all, however, is the disproportionality of coverage.
Last month a man who lives thousands of miles across the ocean experienced some trouble at work. Khalil, a humble Texan waiter, got diddled out of a tip by racist customers. To prove this assertion, the victim had the receipt. He took a photograph of the bill that showed his name circled in black ink with the words, “We don’t Tip Terrorist (sic)”.
The image quickly went viral before being further disseminated by the press. Khalil’s American experience was then painted as indicative of a far larger racial problem and, mainly, how terrible white people are.
Considering the country’s population of nearly 326 million people, it is an ignorant position to hold, although hardly out of step with the zeitgeist. To complicate matters further, the story turned out to be a hoax. Khalil had written the note himself. His story is but a small manifestation of a far grander design; one where victimhood is both legal tender and weapon.
Consider the phenomenon of BBQ Becky, Permit Patty and Pool Patrol Paula, among others. These are cases where black people were going about their daily lives before being interrupted by horribly bigoted (white) busy-bodies. One woman called the police on black people having a day at the park. Another took issue with a black child manning a lemonade stand. Yet another got into an altercation with black kids over pool access. Video clips of these cases all went viral and received millions of hits.
Whatever the details, these cases certainly merit highlighting. No individual, anywhere, should have his or her rights trammelled by others on the grounds of race, religion or sex. What is strange, however, is (a) the amount of airtime given to these cases, (b) the inherent bigotry of then imputing individual actions to an entire race, and (c) the inconsistency that arises when the perpetrators are black or belong to a minority group.
Recently, for example, a 92-year-old Mexican immigrant was walking on a sidewalk when he accidently bumped into a toddler. In retaliation, the child’s mother yelled he should go back to where he came from, before brutally assaulting him across the head and face with a brick.
Initial reports led many people to assume the perpetrator was white. It however later transpired the attacker, Laquisha Jones, was black. And yet no cute monikers were created for her, even though something like Lethal Laquisha may have been fitting.
When news of her skin colour broke, reporting instead shifted to blaming Trump and the country’s climate of intolerance. Prominent social media influencers in addition either deleted their tweets or simply stopped talking about the case.
The latest iteration of this cultish fad is The Sarah Jeong Affair.
Jeong was recently appointed to the editorial board of the New York Times. However, shortly after the announcement was made, screenshots of some of her questionable, anti-white views surfaced.
“Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”
“Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants.”
“White people are having more abortions. You’ll all go extinct soon. This was my plan all along.”
“White men are bullshit.”
The New York Times released a statement saying that because she was a journalist and “a young Asian woman”, she had been the target of frequent online attacks. For a brief period she therefore responded by “imitating the rhetoric of her harassers”.
The claim that Jeong’s tweets were satirical – and a mere reaction to the racism she herself had experienced – however proved false. Hundreds of similar tweets surfaced, and some far worse than the above examples. It was in fact a pattern sustained over a period of many years, and not a simple response to online trolling.
Jeong’s tweets were at one with the trends within the social justice movement. One where members mete out a handy set of linguistic cards to stifle debate or pronounce judgment: white men; cis white men; whiteness; wypipo; white privilege; white supremacy; white fragility; white anxiety; white tears; fuck white people.
The controversy over these anti-white tweets sparked a series of defensive think-pieces which were remarkable mostly for their intellectual contortionism.
“Is it okay to make fun of white people online?” the Washington Post asked. The piece claimed Jeong’s tweets had been “seized on” by the “conservative” media – and this while the country was having a “painful debate” about “white supremacy and privilege”.
A Vox writer said it was “wrong” to call Jeong racist for “attacking white people”.He claimed the phrase “white people” was simply shorthand to “capture the way that many whites still act in clueless and/or racist ways”.
He said there was “context” for Jeong’s tweets and she was merely “commenting on the ubiquity of (often uniformed) white opinion on social media”.
“Nonwhite voices often don’t appear or get drowned out in social media discourse”, he claimed. Her tweets had therefore deliberately been taken out of context to discredit her.
“What’s actually happening here is a racist movement, the alt-right, trying to damage a left-wing woman of colour,” he wrote.
Earlier this year, another writer and new appointee, Norton Quinn, was fired by the New York Times for a similar offence.Yet this time they (rightly) refused to drop Jeong. But the reason for this double standard – one Daily Dot writer wrote – is that “Quinn is white and Jeong is a person of colour”.
“In a system of white supremacy,” she said, “it is impossible to be truly racist against white people”.
“In order for a racial group to dominate another, that requires power,” she said. Whites had historically used racial epithets and stereotyping to violate the rights of others. This enabled them to “steal their land” and create legislation to “protect and justify [such] acts”.
“So, while white people busy themselves with their feelings about hate-filled words directed at them, which have no real ramifications, people of colour literally fear for their freedom, life, and liberty when confronted with racist rhetoric,” she said.
She concluded there was “no example of a minority group using hateful, prejudiced speech to relegate whites to second-class citizenry”.
In other words it is not possible for Jeong to be racist, because she belongs to a minority group, and therefore lacks power which is a necessary component of racism. This clearly does not hold up at the individual level. Jeong is a Harvard graduate. She has been appointed to one of the world’s most prominent and influential publications, not just as a writer, but in a decision-making capacity. Rather, she is swimming with one of the dominant ideological trends in the West. If her race made her truly powerless, as her apologists claimed she was, she would have been the one dropped like a hot potato by a nervous New York Times.
In terms of national politics this argument has somewhat more plausibility, given that white Americans make up 77% of the population of the United States. The question of what form this type of hyper-aggressive identity politics would take if the majority-minority position were reversed is not however a completely hypothetical one.
This ideology has spilt over into South Africa, where it has become hugely influential particularly among the intelligentsia and educated youth. By contrast with the US, this is a country where the white population makes up just under 9% of the total, and which has been under political domination of an African nationalist government for close to a quarter of a century. For two decades the ruling African National Congress has pursued a very conscious and deliberate programme of bringing all “centres of power” under the control of the black majority, an effort most far advanced in the state and the judiciary.
South Africa then is a useful test, both of how this ideology plays out where the minority-majority dynamic is reversed, and also of how social justice inspired activists and journalists in the West respond in such a situation.
In South Africa, one sees similar problems, not only of misreporting – where facts are consciously or subconsciously made up to fit the prevailing narrative – but also of chronic bias.White racism is amplified, while cases of black-on-white, or even black-on-black, violence is often minimised or simply ignored.
One of the most prominent cases, certainly internationally, was the coffin case.
The coffin case was widely reported on. The heinous story made its way into print publications, online media, news aggregators, and television and radio broadcasts. Most ran several ongoing reports over a period of many months.
In South Africa, the story was reported on by the following outlets, among others:
Algoa FM, ANN7, Business Day, CapeTalk, The Citizen, City Press, Daily Maverick, The Daily Sun, Destiny Man, Die Son, DispatchLive, Drum, East Coast Radio, ENCA, EWN, Forbes Africa, Gold FM, Herald Live, The Huffington Post, IOL, Jacaranda FM, Knysna Plett Herald, Mail & Guardian, Maroela Media, Move! Mag, Mpumalanga News, Netwerk24, The New Age, News24, OFM, Polity, Radio 702, Rekord Centurion, Rosestad 100.6 FM, SABC, SA Breaking News, SAfm, TimesLive, Vaal Weekblad, Xpress Middelburg, YOU.
It also received extensive international coverage, including in some of the world’s most prominent outlets:
Australia (ABC, SBS), Brazil (Globo), Canada (The Star, The Whig), Denmark (Nyheder), France (20 Minutes, L’Express, France Info, Jeune Afrique, LCI, Le Point), Ghana (Citi 97.3 FM Online), India (Deccan Chronicle, NDTV, The Times of India), Iran (PressTV), Ireland (The Irish Mirror, The Journal), Jamaica (Jamaica Observer), Namibia (The Namibian Sun), Rwanda (Igihe, Sobanukirwa), Spain (El Diario, El Peri’odico), Tanzania (The Swahili Times, Tanzania Today), Uganda (Daily Monitor), UK (BBC News, The Sun, The Guardian, Newsweek, The Mirror, talkRadio), USA (Afro, AOL, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS News, The Root, Vibe, Quartz, Reuters, theGrio), Zimbabwe (New Zimbabwe, Nehanda Radio), as well as AnswerAfrica, Al Jazeera, Africa News, and allAfrica.
Local and international headlines made it clear the primary motive for the attack was racism:
2 accused of forcing black man into coffin in racist attack (CBS News)
South Africa: White men in court over coffin attack (Al Jazeera)
Two in court over racist coffin video (Destiny Man)
The Coffin Shame Of A Land Where Racism Lives (Forbes Africa)
White farmers force black man into coffin and threaten to burn him alive in South Africa (The Independent, UK)
Racist coffin assault duo denied bail (M&G)
A viral video of white men stuffing a black man into a coffin in South Africa has sparked outrage (Quartz)
White South African men accused of forcing black man into coffin denied bail (Reuters)
Very few outlets bothered to report the pair’s defence in court. The perpetrators claimed they caught Mlotshwa with a bag of stolen copper cables and wanted to take him to the police. Mlotshwa then allegedly threatened to kill their wives and children, saying he would return every year to burn down their crops.
Perhaps it was the ghoulish coffin, the country’s fraught racial history, and the odious nature of the attack that captured the world’s imagination. But what was missing from the reporting was the context that in a violent country – with out of control crime and a complacent, inept government – extreme and often far more violent cases of vigilantism are an almost daily occurrence.
Comparatively few readers will have heard about the Moses Mothobi Mosepele case – an incident that took place eleven months prior to the coffin assault.
Moses and two of his friends were collecting firewood on a farm in Soutpansfontein, near Stella in North West Province. They were going about their business when a group of men intercepted them and accused them of stealing livestock.
The victims were then taken hostage and from noon that day until midnight, they suffered the most depraved torture at the hands of the farmer, his wife, and their farmworkers.
First they were stripped naked and made to lie on the ground. Then they had boiling water poured over them. Then they were forced to drink it. Then they were whipped, beaten with knobkieries, and locked in a coldroom for hours. The victims later said the farmworkers laughed as they filmed the attack on a cell phone camera.
One of the victims told the Sowetan, “The wife kept pouring boiling water on my private parts. When I screamed, she ordered her workers to beat me up with a fan belt. I thought I was going to die.”
What is most disturbing about this particular case is that the police allegedly also assaulted the victims – either at the crime scene or later at the police station. Two of the victims landed up in hospital with severe injuries. The third, Moses, did not survive.
An internet search of the case spits out a handful of results. Of these, many are duplicates from RSS feeds. It was initially reported on by around eight South African news outlets (EWN, IOL, Maroela Media, Netwerk24, News24, The New Age, OFM) and Praag.
Of these, the Sowetan did not mention the farmer’s name or race. Nor did EWN, News24, or The New Age. The Sowetan in addition splashed the news on its front page under the headline Farmer tortures man to death.
Reporting about the farmer Tigwinita Luwantu, his wife Lindiwe Mpathani, and their five farmworkers went quiet for a long while, except for a short piece in ANN7 stating that the trial had been postponed, and one or two others when sentence was handed down.
COSATU released a statement that condemned the “racial killings” of farmworkers in the province. The trade union said the Stella murder confirmed “the barbarity and backwardness of some farmers in the area”. It was also “disappointed” to see that some black farmers had “adopted the barbaric style of white racists”.
And so it would appear that when Moses Mothobi Mosepele died, his black body mattered scarcely at all.
For the coffin case, however, the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi wrote a press statement. He said that white racists had humiliated Mr Mlotshwa and that “this humiliation can be based on nothing else but his blackness, which means it is in fact a humiliation of black people as a whole”.
When the perpetrators made a brief appearance at the Middelburg magistrate’s court, they abandoned their bail application saying they feared for their lives. Indeed, outside the court the EFF and ANC were staging separate rallies. They came with trucks and sound systems and a singing-dancing crowd of protesters.
But then the two parties got into a scrap about whose team exactly the victim was on. He was reportedly an ANC Youth League secretary and so they “hurled insults” at one another from opposite sides of the street.
“This young man is our comrade, the EFF mustn’t use him for their own agenda,” said the ANCYL deputy president. Ndlozi however countered that the fighters had brought national attention to the case. Both parties could however agree on one thing: they would fight racism tooth and nail.
Some footage shows the People’s Bae as he paces on stage and tells the crowd why the EFF were there.
“We were in court because we want our land,” he said. The crowd cheered.
Ndlozi claimed that white people despised black people because they still had the land and that without it there could be no dignity for the African child. But then his speech took a somewhat darker turn:
“They say Commander-in-Chief is inciting violence…”
“Commander-in-Chief says to them, “You slaughtered black people in order to take this country. We should be slaughtering you!
“We should also be calling for white genocide!”
“We should be calling for white massacre! We should be arming all of you, [so] that you go and take revenge!” he shouted.
In a sly manoeuvre and without skipping a beat, he said, “But we are not doing that!”
Ndlozi claimed the EFF were not saying that at all. Black people were however under “permanent violence of white people” and the ANC had been given twenty-two years to “fix white people” and the country. He said the ruling party was failing at both these tasks.
The two coffin case attackers received 11 and 14 years respectively. The maximum sentence handed down to any of Moses’ killers was reportedly five years’ imprisonment (of which two were suspended for a period of five years). According to one report, the court found that “murder could not be proved as there was no common purpose”. The two policemen were each sentenced to two years’ imprisonment or a R10 000 fine. They both chose to pay the fine.
Critics may say that comparing these two cases is nothing but Whataboutism. It is however hardly an isolated example.
Another horrific piece of footage recently surfaced where a black intruder was beaten to within an inch of his life by black perpetrators wielding a spade. The victim was in addition tortured with water to simulate drowning. Readers will likely hear little further about this case: there will be no political protests and the case will not make international news.
The “Black Vicki Momberg” was equally guilty of shouting racial epithets at police officials and bystanders. And yet barely anyone knows her real name because there was so little coverage.
Or the black man who verbally and physically assaulted a heavily pregnant white woman and tried to kick her in the stomach over a parking space.
Or Velaphi Khumalo, the government official who said he wanted to “cleanse” South Africa of all white people. He said black people should do to whites what Hitler did to the Jews, and their children used as garden fertiliser. Of all the recent cases, Khumalo’s undoubtedly came closest to meeting the threshold requirements for hate speech. Still, he kept his taxpayer-funded job and a prominent human rights organisation, the Legal Resources Centre, leapt in to support him as amicus curiaein his case, arguing he had “paid his dues”.
Or Major Mohlala of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The major was commenting on an 80-year-old white man who had been brutalised during a home invasion. He said the attackers “should actually have poked out his eyes and tongue so that the last people he would ever see, were the killers and he could go to his grave with the nightmare.” He added that “now it is the white people’s turn”.
Or Pierre de Necker, who no-one sang or danced or spewed racist rhetoric for. Barely anyone even reported his death after his white body was beaten to a pulp by black bodies outside a Belfast fuel station.
The list is endless and these stories are not merely anecdotal. There is factual evidence for these assertions. Last year, Solidarity released a report on the problem of biased reporting in cases of hate speech in particular. Hate Speech and Double Standards: Not a simple black and white matter was predictably largely ignored. Unlike some celebrity academics and other assorted experts, the trade union and AfriForum are not exactly media darlings.
Their findings were however compelling, and there certainly appears to be marked unevenness in reporting. It seems some in the media prefer to cover unknown estate agents and mobile gym owners, while coddling black government officials and politicians who have spewed some of the most vile and racist anti-white rhetoric possible.
South Africa has journalism monitoring groups and editors’ forums, and yet none have taken up this mantle. And so, in a country besieged by crime, it would appear that white racism matters more to the media than genocidal threats, police brutality, or even murder.
The purveyors of identity politics – both here and abroad – subscribe to a theory whereby all social relations are located on an oppressor-oppressed hierarchy. This conveniently renders some untouchable – no matter their rhetoric or destructive behaviour.
The proponents of this worldview denounce sceptics as heretics, often with life-altering consequences in the form of reputational devastation.Alternative viewpoints and ideas then become stifled and, in South Africa, this has derailed urgent and important conversations, including on the problems of failed BEE policies, farm murders, and land reform, among others.
Different perspectives are now routinely labelled with terms such as conservative, right-wing and– increasingly – far right, extreme right, alt-right. What they are all really code for, though, is “racist” – unlike the diagnosticians, of course.
This has created fertile ground for a pernicious strand of anti-white racism to take root. It will not, however, end there. Some of our celebrated columnists abruptly learned this lesson when black nationalism started going after Indians. And – ever late to the party – they now clutch their pearls about land expropriation, which they themselves spent years preparing ground for.
These strident campaigns to denounce “white racism” bear a striking resemblance to the Salem witch trial era. Utterances and actions are obsessively trawled for signs of real or perceived prejudice. A quick glance at the comment sections below such denunciatory articles will reveal many remarks from black people stating things like: “whites are racists”; “whites never loved us”; “whites are unrepentant”; “Give us back the land”.
It has therefore culminated in a climate where eroding certain fundamental rights not only seems desirable, but also entirely justifiable. There are also increasing signs of racialised justice in South Africa, in a country where killers routinely go free but using a terrible word will land you a three-year custodial sentence.
This environment makes it possible for the spokesperson of the country’s third largest party to appear on national television, in paramilitary garb, to declare that his party is leading an “anti-white” revolution. And yet, for years, some forgave the party’s transgressions because of its members “youthfulness”, their jaunty red attire, and woke revolutionary zeal. This despite their making frequent references to genocide, singing songs about killing farmers, or firing rifles above crowds to “agitate the mood”.
It increasingly seems that the logical consequences of this addled Western ideology may well still find perfect expression in a country such as South Africa. But will the country ever be able to reconcile the corrosive rhetoric that has steadily dripped into the body politic?
Some writers and radio personalities have made careers out of denouncing others as racist. Their rhetoric is predicated on old and condescending tropes that once might have served, but now only tear at the social fabric. In this world, there are only four types of protagonist: the noble oppressed; the lumpen Afrikaner; the angsty, but definitely-not-racist Verligtes; and the hand-wringing, morally innocent English liberal.
At this critical juncture, it is clear South Africa needs new stories.