By Mbe Mbhele (@MbeMbhele)
I said F*** off white people during the Annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture at the Wits Great Hall and oh my God, people were so shocked. I am ambivalent about whether I should have said it because the reaction that I got made me more cautious of my lack of etiquette and disregard of occasion. But I meant what I said because at that time, there was no vocabulary for me to express how I feel about waking up black every morning. I had no political language to express the centuries of suffering and pain that we have experienced as black people at the hands of white people.
Our speech as black people is always tempered with. Black speech is never voluntary speech. Whiteness makes us, black people; think twice before we speak and after we have spoken. You always have to ask yourself whether you should speak and what will happen should you decide to speak. Kanye West had his moment when he said ‘George Bush doesn’t care about about black people.’ Mcebo Dlamini was also reminded that he is black after his social media utterances on Adolf Hitler.
An inquiry on the validity of black speech is always subsequent to an assessment on whether or not the speech will offend or make white people feel uncomfortable. This is to say that whether what Mcebo or Kanye West said is correct or true will only be dealt with after we deal with why a black person has decided to offend white people and how will the harm be undone. Remember that Kanye West immediately lost some of his endorsements and Mcebo was immediately removed as SRC president.
After the memorial, a number of black people came to privately thank me for saying F*** whites and others sent me messages on social media platforms thanking me for expressing what they were not brave enough to say. It seemed to me that although some black people attending the memorial were shocked when I swore at white people, most of them understood what I was said, why I said it but at the same time understood the consequences that would accompany my saying something like that.
When Eusebius McKaiser apologised on my behalf, he did not do so just because what I said was profane and obscene, he apologized because the world as we know it makes it unethical for a black person to offend whites. It is always scandalous for a black person to confidently make a white person uncomfortable.
In conclusion, what I meant when I said F*** off white people, was that it is through a system that continues to benefit them that in 2015, we still gather as black people to speak about our pain under the name of a white woman. Although others will be tempted to argue that Ruth First was on our side, the truth is that we have many black women who played a huge role in the fight against apartheid but they are always mentioned as footnotes.
The Ruth First memorial functioned as a metaphor of the exclusion of black people as part of South Africa’s history, present and future. The memorial to me was another way in which a ‘Good White’ was made possible. The talk exonerated certain whites from liability although we know very well that they collectively enjoy privilege at the expense of black people. White people benefit from black suffering and the Ruth First Memorial accentuated white benevolence and its dependence on black pain.