White South Africans should refrain from commenting on political events and should in general feel ashamed for their past wrong doings and their permanent state of privilege because of their whiteliness.
During a recent business trip to Mexico in early June and with time on my hands to surf the Internet I came upon a philosophical website that wrote about a paper from a lecturer at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, that is causing quite a storm in the South African teacup. I started writing a personal response for this blog but never got to finish it. Dr Samantha Vice, in her paper called “How Do I Live in This Strange Place?” say many things that are rubbing many people up the wrong way. And when a fellow Afrikaner blogger, Boer in Ballingskap, recently also commented on this paper in his post "Oor skuldgevoelens en skaamte", from a slightly different angle than what I saw it, I felt this is just a too juicy a subject to ignore and dug up my initial blog notes on this issue.
Basically, I feel there are several holes in Dr. Vice’s logic. As a philosopher she feels that she has the responsibility to strive for a higher moral for all white South Africans, but that white South Africans can never really achieve that moral state if they don’t denounce their privileged state of being born white.
Here are my issues:
“That whiteness is a problem all over the world does not however fully explain the problem that whiteness is here, nor does it fully capture the nuances of our moral experience. The problem in white South Africa is not just with being white, but being white South African.”
“I talk from a personal, but what I hope is still a fairly representative position. While I am not an Afrikaner and so have escaped the taint that identity brings with it, I am a white South African, undeniably a product of the Apartheid system and undeniably still beneﬁting from it.”
“One need not be especially patriotic to recognize this—in the sense of feeling pride in one’s nationality, having a personal stake in one’s country’s prestige, identifying oneself deeply with its culture or history and feeling personally harmed when it is beaten or belittled. I, for instance, am not patriotic in any of these ways.”
I am not defensive toward Dr. Vice’s writing; she certainly is making some points that are worth contemplating. After all, apartheid can only be condemned in the strongest terms. Nor am I an arrogant white South African, Afrikaner if you like, and simply reject her point of view. But she tends to ignore history and what usually happened through the millennia when one ruling group replaces another ruling group, namely, the acceptance of the rulers, but with a grudge. This grudge is sometimes forgotten over time by the generations that lived through it and the disassociation from it by generations that come after it. In this sense, three or four or five generations from now, whiteness might not be a problem in South Africans. However, it is quite perceivable that a form of blackness entitlement, very similar to her definition of whiteness might become the norm in South Africa. Therefore, replacing one unmoral state of mind with another. Furthermore, South Africa never had and still now does not have a unified culture. The Rainbow Nation is exactly that; different bands of colors that might never unite to a single color. If it does it can’t be called a rainbow anymore.
She states the problem as:
“What is it to acknowledge one’s whiteness? Is it to acknowledge that one is inherently tied to structures of domination and oppression, that one is irrevocably on the wrong side?” I think the answer to Alcoff’s question in South Africa is fairly obviously “yes.” Whites in South Africa ought to see themselves as a problem.
Should Tibetans also see themselves as the problem because the Chinese are their rulers? After all, whites willingly gave up their political power in South Africa. Furthermore, the blacks have not openly chased them away either. All three South African presidents have stated categorically that South Africa needs white South Africans to keep the country moving forward.
To say whites should see themselves as the problem and look inward and refrain from complaining or criticizing the political situation or to retreat into themselves and be shameful for what happened in the past is nothing short of mental suicide, and denying oneself to exercise ones constitutional right to freedom of speech and to become a zombisized hearing, seeing mute who walks around with downcast eyes whenever a black person is around.
As I see it, white South Africans have three options.
One, you accept Dr. Vice’s advice to a certain degree, pull back behind your physical and mental laer, become a apolitical zombie and complain if you have to in private to who ever wants to listen.
Two, you speak your mind in public about rights and wrongs when you feel the need and in that way contribute to the constructive debate to try and achieve a higher moral standard for all.
Or, three, you carefully contemplate the realities of the above two options and, if you can become a regrettable zombie or feel your single, blowing-in-the-wind voice can contribute and make a difference you stay, but if you feel this is not possible for you “jy pak jou goed en trek Ferreira.”
Therefore, a decision to be or not to be ashamed, at best, must be made on a personal level, based on personal preferences and ideals, and personal personality traits, and not on national or race or cultural level.
I am just a simple man, trying to do onto to others as I want others to do onto me and trying to find general "moral" happiness in my own (white) skin, rather than pursuing a higher moral state of mind that I feel I will never achieve in any case. It is not because I feel ashamed of my past or what my forefathers did that I will never achieve this high moral state, but it is a rather a case of knowing what I am, who I am and what I want to be and I just do not wish to ever achieve such a state. I don’t think I am much different in thinking than many other people in general or many other white South Africans. Yes there were many white on black wrongdoings under Apartheid, but there are also many wrongdoings, black on black wrongdoings, now under the ANC. Should they also not feel ashamed for their current black entitlement attitude?
You can read Dr. Vice's "How Do I Live in This Strange Place?"