The perils of whiteness

John Kane-Berman says our Rainbow Nation is full of unwitting perpetrators and their victims

A rainbow nation full of unwitting racists and their unwitting victims

Last week, as controversy raged over the supposed racial incident on one of the Clifton Beaches in Cape Town, a former student of what is now the University of Johannesburg (UJ) wrote in glowing terms of a return visit to his old campus, previously Rand Afrikaans University (RAU). Chris Brink, describing himself as the "CBE emeritus vice chancellor of Newcastle University" in the United Kingdom, said on Daily Maverick that he had returned after nearly 50 years with "a certain measure of trepidation".

Evidently, he need not have worried, even though students on this campus indulged themselves in R100 million worth of arson back in May 2016. Professor Brink walked around only to discover that "there was something about Nelson Mandela's rainbow nation noticeable in the air, with a touch of cosmopolitan" (sic). Recalling that the first rector of RAU, Gerrit Viljoen, had once been head of the Broederbond, he asked, "Who would have thought that the old RAU, of all places, would become a microcosm of post-apartheid South Africa?"

Who indeed? Professor Brink's happy experience nevertheless confirms those of millions of other South Africans. It also chimes with surveys by the Institute of Race Relations. Dating back to 2001, these show that most people of all races are more worried about problems such as unemployment and crime that about race relations.

However, I have got news for Professor Brink. The whites are all racists without knowing it, and the blacks are all victims without knowing it. That, in a nutshell, is the ideology being peddled by a substantial number of academics, journalists, and members of various lobby groups.

White racism, in this ideology, does not need to take the form of overt behaviour. This is because "the superiority of whiteness is woven into the fabric of society". Adam Catzavelos's gleeful remarks last year about the absence of blacks on Greek beaches were merely a violent manifestation of this superiority complex, which normally manifests itself in "daily micro-aggressions" emanating from the beneficiaries of "colonialism". In the view of an official of the South African Human Rights Commission, some racism may even look "harmless" – such as "seemingly innocuous complimenting of the way a black person speaks English".

According to the Mail and Guardian, Mr Catzavelos's "monologue" was a product of his "whiteness", itself a product of "the West's aggressive, imperial domination of much of the world over the past few centuries". Whether "whiteness" also motivated the white people who lambasted Mr Catzavelos, the Mail and Guardian did not say.

As for blacks, they "experience the daily terrors of racism even when we do not know it".

In trendy parlance, this is no doubt because they are not yet "woke". This presumably explains why the black students at UJ seemed so happy, and why even black people on the Clifton Beach who denied having been the victims of racist treatment by security officials were nevertheless victims of the racism that automatically emanates from "whiteness".

Despite attempts by journalists and politicians to whip up outrage over Clifton Beach, the most that Zizi Kodwa, head of presidency in the African National Congress (ANC), could manage was that it was an "isolated incident". The manufactured outrage has indeed been widely discredited.

The continuing "arrogance" of "whiteness" nevertheless provides an explanation for all manner of ills. For example, an official of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation managed last year to contrive a link between the Marikana massacre and the government's failure to end "white arrogance". The result was that miners were killed in "the protection of a capitalist system".

Whether overt in the form of massacres or racist remarks on Greek beaches, or seemingly innocuous in the guise of harmless micro-aggression, the supposed prevalence of "whiteness" provides a scapegoat for the prevalence of poverty and inequality, which is blamed not on ANC policy but on "structural and institutional racism". It also provides a pretext for moving to the next stage of implementing the national democratic revolution, namely expropriation of property without compensation – commitment to which was last week yet again reiterated by Cyril Ramaphosa.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.