At the center of misdiagnosing racism has always been, for years, the undermining of the effect and role of macro-economics in its manifestations. The mistake black people often make, according to Dr Umar Johnson, is to relegate racism to a moral issue and that in itself reduces racism into the realm of religion and spirituality. The automatic response to black people then becomes Islamicising and babtising white people into the righteousness of God. Whereas racism has always been and will always be about the economic superiority of a specific race over another. Ironically the church and the mosque has been the biggest perpetrators of racism in history. In fact the Roman Catholic church was one of the first institutions to give permission for Africans to “be reduced to servitude”.
Ali Mazrui in his book African Condition writes eloquently about the distinction between subjugation and disenfranchisement. In his book he makes an example about the Jews’ trauma at the hands of the Nazi. One of the most painful episode in the history of mankind that theirs was a subjugation which we’d then term a moral decay. In the case of black people this is not necessarily the case. From 1445 when the Atlantic Slave trade begun whites didn’t hate us, they in fact needed us to work in their plantations and build their cities. From the 1800’s when the whole notion of whiteness came to the fore and with it came the deepening of the portioning of Africa, that which Kwame Nkurumah termed the ‘scramble for Africa’. From when Vaco da Gama set his foot in the Cape of Good Hope in 1487 on his way to India to trade in spices. From 1652 when Jan Van Riebeck arrived in the Cape also with a similar interest; that of trading with the Indians. All of the evidence above prove that the Europeans interests in Africa has always been economical.
If the recent activism of white farmers is anything to go by then the interests of whites will always come first before any nation building or inclusive agenda. Steve Biko in his Frank Talk series speaks about the whites who claim that they are liberal and go out of their way to help poor blacks. Those I describe as suffering from white messianic figure underpinned by white guilt. These whites remain liberal as long as we speak about peace, love and integration. Once the discussion shifts to land redistribution and the stripping of the ill-earned privileges they show their true colours. This proves the value behind the economic survival of a certain race by all means.
Whenever there is an economic attack or a threat on the interests of white people they, all of a sudden, become active. Once the economy is shaken they rush to the street to safeguard their interests. Once the white farming community is under any form of threat they mobilise themselves. The very same community that refuses to speak about the inhumane conditions in which black and coloured farm workers live under. Underpayments of farm workers and being treated like animals. These white people refuses to show solidarity when black students take to the streets to demand free education as a result of high number of black students who are academically excluded every year. Yet organisations like Solidarity and Afri-forum are quick to defend the continued existence of Afrikaans at institutions of higher learning. The same Afrikaans that has acted as a barrier for black students to thrive academically in turn end up not being active participants in the economy. Whites fail to show solidarity to millions of black people who die every year in townships as a result of unhealthy and inhumane living conditions that were created by whites through Apartheid spatial system, migrant labour and other conditions that makes it extremely difficult for black people to survive in such spaces. Yet they preach reconciliation on all levels.
War history teaches us that there are two approaches to conquering people. The complete act of genocide, in which you wipe those you are conquering from the face of the earth, which has happened in most parts of the world especially in Europe. The second approach to conquering people is by killing the warrior class of those you are conquering and enslaving the rest. In African case the warrior class would mean the kings and queens. Why the latter was applied instead of the former in African case? Well purely for economic reasons. So that Africans could build the cities for white people. So that Africans could work their mines, work their plantations and produce as much as possible for the whites. If indeed hatred was the driving force behind the conquering of people I’d like to think Africans would have been wiped off the face of the earth. That would have been bad for Europeans, too bad that we would not have America as we know it today. That would have meant Europe would not have been as great of a continent as it is today. For all the so-called great European empires are built on sweat and blood of black people.
The frustrations of the white South Africans were in full display in recent weeks, for obvious reasons: the announcement of expropriation of land without compensation. Land means a lot things to a lot of people but key among these are the economic and symbolic significance of land. Land dispossession did not only make black people economically disadvantaged but took their dignity and sense of belonging. This is the symbolic significance of land that has had, for decades, black people demanding the return of their land. Culturally the significance of land cannot be overstated even to the Europeans themselves. But whenever white people defend their position against land expropriation they always resort to the economic value they have invested in the land. They tend to speak of farms which arbitrarily will be taken away from them as if all the land South Africa has is agricultural land. This is because to them they wouldn’t risk their privileges being messed with.
Greame Codrington in his profound way recently tried to appeal to the consciousness of the whites, at least the biblically inclined whites when he attempted to argue for the significance of land expropriation as a form of addressing the imbalanced economic patterns in South Africa. He quoted the following scripture “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Acts 2:42-45 NIV. If really the root cause of white racism was on the outright hatred of blacks then the so-called white liberals, those who claim they are Christians in many respects and do all to prove this by helping poor black people, would not have reacted so defensively towards the land question. Those who’d cry and donate goods and few cents every time shacks burnt in Imizamoyethu but when their real interests are threatened they showed their true colours. Those who claim they have black friends therefore cannot be racists. All of them show their true colours when you question their privileges.
I recently attempted to have a conversation, that made me even more sceptical about the so-called white liberals, around the role the white owned literary spaces like FunDza and others play in advancing not only black school of thought in their attempts to rid us of some Eurocentric thinking patterns but vehemently publishing and encouraging discussions around issues that are not white washed and speaks directly to the core of white economic privilege. I argued that “we cannot shy away from the fact that for the past few years there has been a distortion of African literature in the attempts of non-Africans to make it fit in the mainstream and so-called market. Why haven’t we had a single book, in the mainstream market, radically and vehemently addressing the issue of land and the subsequence impact of land dispossession on Black people. I think we need the second phase of the revival of Black Consciousness literature, with the economic superiority of Blacks at the forefront.” My white liberal friend chose to distance herself from such statements and resorted to not answering. This is the reaction you’d expect from a typical white liberal. When the topics around love, forgiveness, reconciliation and interracial relationships are discussed they always avail themselves. But when the contentious issues such as land, those that seeks to question that which is the core of whiteness itself, white privileges, they retreat.
I’ve concluded that in our attempts to deal decisively with racism our attention should slightly move from the conversation around morality and Ubuntu but rather the core of whiteness and racism, which is the systematic economic superiority of the white race.