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This is the title of an academic paper written by Samantha Vice, in the philosophy department at Rhodes University in South Africa. Her paper has provoked a storm in South Africa, including an assault on an Afrikaner academic who wrote a supportive letter about her paper. As we watch the terror brought about by self-righteous homicidal right-wing extremists in Norway, it is worth keeping in mind that smaller versions of this violence happen elsewhere as well. Details below the jump.

South African racial politics are complex, to say the least. Sam Vice's paper (you can read it here) was an attempt to think about what it means to be white in today's South Africa, 20 years after the fall of apartheid. She argues that shame is an appropriate stance, and suggests that political silence on the part of whites might be an appropriate response. She takes for granted that whites continue to be privileged in South Africa by virtue of the history of apartheid (and, pretty much every metric that one could point to bears her out on this). At the same time, she wonders what it means to be white, when there is this taint, but at the same time, this is home. Afrikaners, at least, did not come as colonizers but as settlers, and have a history in the area that goes back to 1650. They also, of course, have a history of racism and oppression that stretches back that far. The British came more recently, and also have a problematic history in relation to non-whites (and Afrikaners) in the area.

The radical wing of the Afrikaner population (I want to underscore, not all Afrikaners by any means, just a radical fringe) are incensed that she would suggest that there is any reason for shame at all. Posts like this one do the usual right-wing trick of turning the tables, and accusing those on the left of racism when they point out that there continues to be privilege for whites. It is framed like many of this sort are, as an attack on philosophers for thinking through something. We call that an ad hominem, and it's an invalid form of reasoning, but it's very popular when people don't want to hear what you have to say.

There is also the presumption, in this article and elsewhere, that the evils of apartheid have passed, and that everyone should just get on with it, in a race-blind society. That works great, if you are a beneficiary of the good life from before. It reminds me of Monty Python's Holy Grail, in which some stupidly kills a whole bunch of people, and then says, "let's not bicker and argue about who killed who". A sense of how far apart people still are can be seen by comparing the article just mentioned with this one, in the Daily Maverick.

It continues to amaze me, how thoroughly so many people are implicated by their sense of privilege and entitlement. If you have it good, the story goes, it's not because there was any social structure that made it that way, it's because you and your people worked harder, or were blessed by God, or were smarter, or had better character. Same old story - everything starts from my will, my character, and the idea that that will or character has to operate within an existing world seems to make no sense at all.

There was an attack on Anton van Niekerk, at Stellenbosch University, by a right wing Afrikaner extremist, Abal Malan. Malan was a candidate for a right-wing political party. Niekerk had written an article in support of Vice's position in a newspaper (here, in Afrikaans). Right-wingers praised the attack.

It is important to emphasize that there are many, many Afrikaners who would find an attack like this abhorrent, and who recognize the evils of apartheid. Some, such as Breyten Breytenbach and Andre Brink, among others, were staunch foes of apartheid during the regime. So, this is not about Afrikaners in general, but about the extremist wing. For them, all problems are caused by someone else, not themselves, and the world is seen in reductionist, conspiracy-theory ways.

What is interesting is the way that the rhetoric has changed and shifted since apartheid fell. Now, terms like "multiculturalism" have been taken by the extreme right as a code for continued separatism. Achille Mbembe pointed out the shift of the language of privilege a couple of years ago in an article called "Whiteness Without Apartheid". He points out that the language of racism does not go away, but just morphs into something more socially acceptable.

South Africa has many problems, and they come from many places. There is still an incredibly huge gap between rich and poor. There is still a very high AIDS rate. Some blacks have been helped in the push toward creating a black middle class, but a great many have not. The slums are still vast, and the crime rate is still very high. There is still a lot of suspicion of those coming in from even more difficult situations in Zimbabwe, Somalia, and other places. But one thing that cannot be ignored is the continuing effect of the privilege that apartheid set in place. You can change the laws, but changing society takes a lot longer.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fou, illinifan17, FrankAletha, merrily1000

    As American as apple pie. As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances.

    by mitumba on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 12:57:51 PM PDT

  •  Great diary, thanks. Unfortunately, it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mitumba, merrily1000

    is almost entirely about economics.  I visited South Africa twice during apartheid - 1982 and 1983.  Then I had a chance to go back in 2009.  In many ways things did not seem much different.  In 1982 I walked in places where black South Africans were not allowed.  I walked in similar places in 2009 and saw only a few black faces.  The economic activity going on there was at a level they could not participate in, so they had little reason to go.  Economic change takes much longer than political change.

    On the positive side, I had opportunites to meet and talk to young people of many different races and their intellignece, compassion, and desire for justice gave me great hope.  There are similarities to the situation in the U. S. right now.  If only my generation could get out of the way of people like Ms. Vice in both places.

    So I see only tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity - Annie Dillard -6.88, -5.33

    by illinifan17 on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 01:35:34 PM PDT

    •  Economics is certainly important (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      merrily1000

      but it gets hidden under other kinds of rhetoric. If you look at what comes from the Afrikaner right, it is all about nationalist pride. That goes a long way back. It's still mythologized - for an example, see the song De la Rey. And, the mythologized history certainly adds to this as well (here's the first part of a good example of this)

      As American as apple pie. As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances.

      by mitumba on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 01:44:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm sorry this diary got lost (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mitumba

    It's very well written about an important international reality.

    Thanks very much for sharing it.

    Every flower that you shatter; we will plant again!

    by merrily1000 on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 04:49:20 PM PDT

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