Racism continues to inflict pain on black people

While there is often national outrage when an incident of blatant racism takes place, everyday or commonplace racism against black people, which is often subtle, brief and in passing, and which happens in the normal course of life, goes unnoticed.

Such everyday racism is more disguised. Many white South Africans are often not even aware of the racial insults, slights and hostility they unleash against black people in their everyday interactions with them.

Research has shown that everyday racism causes blacks anxiety, persistent anger, mood swings and depression because of the unjust treatment in every sphere of life. It lowers the life satisfaction of blacks. It negatively impacts on their personal and professional relationships. It drives blacks to change jobs, lowers their productivity, and compels them to withdraw from social interaction with white people. It makes black people deeply distrustful of whites.

It is the assumption that a black shopper is an employee, because the person happens to be black – and therefore it is assumed that the person would be the manual worker. It is the white staff member following the black shopper throughout to “check” on him or her – the assumption is they may be stealing.

It is when a black shopper walks into a book store and the white staff member loudly asks “can I help you”, assuming that because the person is black, the person is not interested in reading and must be “lost”.

It is some white people not noticing blacks – jumping in front of a queue although a black person has been standing ahead patiently. And the white staffer on the other side of the counter, also helping the white customer that jumped the queue first, even if the white staffer saw the black customer was there before the white one.

Or, if a black person drives a smart car or lives in a well-to-do suburb that the person is corrupt.

It is the assumption that because the person is black, the person is necessarily incompetent. Or if a person secures a top position that it must be solely because the person has been advanced based on his blackness, not because of the person’s capability.

It is when a black child confidently asks questions; the white assumption is that the child is a “problem”. If a white child is confident, the child is praised.

It can be the demeaning jokes many whites make about black people.

Blacks have little voice, are often not “seen” in workplaces and their opinions dismissed. Suggestions, proposals and input by blacks are often ignored, but if a white employee makes the same suggestions, it is taken seriously and acted upon.

Because of apartheid, black people were not allowed to perform certain tasks, deprived of ownership of property and could not study towards certain professions. They earned less for doing the same work.

Some white South Africans now say they are the new disadvantaged. This is as if the social capital of quality education, assets accumulated over generations and their “whiteness” is not a passport to the good life in a global world where education, assets and “whiteness” – advantages accrue to and dignity is reserved to a person purely on their white skin – are the leading arbiters for advancement.

There is an assumption among many white South Africans that slavery, colonialism and apartheid could not have been that bad for black people. Some white South Africans say blacks are obsessed with race.

This is to dismiss the cumulative impact over generations of the effect of slavery, colonialism and apartheid – which only formally ended in 1994.

Everyday racism is systemic. Awareness of everyday racist practices and their impact must be made compulsory at schools, workplaces and in public spaces. Racist practices must be punished.

This article was published in Sowetan Live. To view the article on their website click here

William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation and former Deputy Editor of The Sowetan newspaper.

During the anti-apartheid struggle, Gumede held several leadership positions in South African student, civics and trade union movements. He was a political violence mediator and area coordinator for the National Peace Committee during the multiparty negotiations for a democratic South Africa and was seconded to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is the author of several number 1 bestsellers. His more recent books include: Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg); and South Africa in BRICS – Salvation or Ruination (Tafelberg).

To read publications by William Gumede on our website please click here.

Comments are closed.