By Sihle Nxumalo
Sihle nxumao argues that “the current discourse around racism is slightly misguided in that it seeks to create reconciliation by curtailing the use of certain language … will not curb the existence of institutionalised racism – it will do nothing to abolish the systems put in place simply to perpetuate the plight of black people.”
When Penny Sparrow uttered her disparaging comments about black people on Facebook nearly a month ago, there was an immediate uproar from the black community. This backlash was in my opinion not only justified, it was necessary. White people post 1994 continue to be complacent and racist (amongst other things), and honestly it was about time that black people displayed their dissatisfaction at constantly being at the receiving end of racist commentary.
Upon closer inspection of the violent interaction between the two camps however, I later became rather dismayed at what I deemed to be the origin and reason for black people’s anger. It seemed that the bulk of the marred race was angry at being compared to monkeys and not at the utterances as a whole which covertly limits black people’s right to certain spaces.
Personally I have very little problem with being referred to as a monkey. When you have been exposed to the discipline of palaeoanthropology you gets a greater understanding of how the slow process of evolution and the phenomenon of speciation occur. Moreover you come to understand how race is not a biological occurrence but if anything a social construct which is simply to say that on the biological basis black people are no closer to being monkeys than are white people. It then becomes a laughing matter that a grown woman would display such a poor understanding of the idea of humanity’s evolution which I’m sure most of us have come across at some time or other.
Essentially to reduce blackness to the sub-human by comparing revelling beach goers to animals is a pedagogy of bestiality and is typical of racists. For have we not been labelled monkeys, coons and wild beasts (without a shred of empirical evidence to back up these claims visible anywhere) since time immemorial? It is a poor and unimaginative attempt at delegitimizing black people’s right to humanity so as to effectively ensconce white supremacy on the pedestal on which it still sits. Dr Rozeena Maart uses the analogy of King Kong to highlight the irrationality of white thought concerning bestiality:
“the big ape who cannot be controlled, whose savagery reminds us and him that one can expose him to all that is humanely possible- even freedom, a constitution for his own redemption and yet, in his pursuit of being human was chastised, reprimanded, mocked, warned, threatened and forced to the brink of extinction because he could not overcome his ape hood.”
Over time I have become immune to such tactics. This is not to make light of the matter but simply to highlight that such salient tactics are worn out and only seek to deter black people from picking up on the more clandestine and more destructive manifestations of racism. Let me elaborate.
In her childish rant Penny Sparrow mentions that black people need to go back to where they came from. This is quite shocking considering the fact that the majority of those people on that African beach looked to me to be of African descent. Thus the question then becomes: if not here then where? I’ll leave it to Penny to ponder while in her self-imposed exile.
The reservation of certain spaces, especially public ones such as a KZN beach for the utilisation and enjoyment of a select few i.e. the white minority is a manifestation of the political violence that has long been perpetuated against black people in South Africa. That the majority of the black population continue to live in locations set out as reserves for black migrant labour is no accident. Penny Sparrow’s utterances clearly indicate that white people in this county not only wish to revive the colonial project but are effectively working to make it a reality, in this instance by attempting to recreate the old colonial territories.
Fanon charmingly articulated this when he asserted that “the colonial world is a world divided into compartments”. The compartments in this our great country are simply the location- the old native reserve- set out to be inhabited by blacks and the rest of our expansive country which is unfairly limited to the occupation of whites. This unwritten law along with the country’s reductionist land redistribution polices are the real reason why racists like Penny Sparrow not only feel they have a greater claim to this land but do not consider it problematic to verbally articulate such intimations.
Therefore the current discourse around racism is slightly misguided in that it seeks to create reconciliation by curtailing the use of certain language which even though will deal with the annoyance of having to deal with the likes of Penny Sparrow and her racist ilk, will not curb the existence of institutionalised racism. It will do nothing to abolish the systems put in place simply to perpetuate the plight of black people.
The redistribution of land then becomes important in two ways. One, to afford black people a right to economic capital through the ownership of land and second, to allow people a legitimate claim to this country so that our pilgrimage to the coast occurs more frequently and each time it happens is treated as a homecoming. Autarky!