How good white people keep white superiority in place

September 16, 2011

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a white now, but never gotten around to it (and since in a hurry at the moment, I’ll probably not do the topic justice at the moment, but what the hell), but since Verashni Pillay wrote a few very good comments about white liberals (white liberals should really watch out, since they are the topic of discussion in many books on racism, yes research into racism usually find the AWB a bit boring and obvious, but those who have never thought of themselves as racist is so very interesting to research), I’ll just latch onto what she has written.

I’ll skip the obvious examples such as “white people believing that race is no longer an issue”, since others have done this before, but I want to add a few things. I’ll also talk about “good white people” rather than “white liberals”, since many of those who fit these examples have already worked through some of the critique presented.

White people will bring the best solutions for South Africa

Contrary to what the letter comment section of certain Afrikaans newspapers might suggest, many white people are quite positive about South Africa. They will work hard to make this country work, they will sacrifice a bit (maybe more than a bit, but at least a bit) to make this a good place for all to live, and they are not in the process of saying that the “poor whites are our problem, and the poor blacks are your problem”. Still, they continue to belief that white people have the best answers for this post-Apartheid South Africa. Maybe it’s a remnant of those who believed that the NP will win 1994 and will then fix the problems they have created.

Around the time of the local elections I was in a conversation with a number of good white people. They were not the white liberals that Verashni was speaking about (actually they were quite critical about these liberals), they were the kind of people who would fit the first part of the previous paragraph. And then one of them mentioned that since 1994 he has struggled with who to vote for, since he firmly believe that you don’t vote for the majority party, and you don’t vote for a white party (DA). So he has voted UDF at times, and a few others options at other times. There was a silence among this group of really good white people (the kind of white people that I firmly believe the country would be a better place if more people followed their examples).

White people are the best at fighting racism

This is probably one of my favorites. White people who acknowledge the continued problem of racism, yet when you listen to them for but a short while, you realise that the experts in anit-racism that they follow are all white. Racism is a bad thing, but those best at fighting it seem to be white people if you listen to some good whites (except for Mandela and Tutu obviously). Don’t get me wrong they (we? I think I’m often guilty of this one) will read and work with the complex aspects of racism such as institutional racism, we will move beyond a mere “racism is saying nasty things about black people”, yet, when you look deeply, it will be white voices pointing out how the anti-racist agenda look like.

White people study whiteness

Maybe I write this one as a reminder to myself. But as more and more white voices start grappling with the implication of whiteness, this seems to become a strategy of keeping white superiority in place. This is going beyond some of the points Verashni make (although not all), engaging the critique of self, being able to identify the privileges of being white. Yet, when we are challenged to start contributing towards rectifying past injustices, some kind of mumbling follow about how you cannot fight the system, and that it is bigger then one person, and finally that you already know all this, so someone else isn’t allowed to point it out to you. So again, you find youself in the place where the expert on whiteness is… white. Strange? Or a reminder that this is deeper than you might think.

So what to do?

A basic argument runs that white privilege is kept in place through intellectual and economic means. In short, the question of who is allowed to determine what is “good knowledge” and who has the money keeps certain racial privileges in place. I guess I’m just starting to get this feeling that the anti-racist agenda is not free from racism, and not in the typical sense others would say this (“talking about the problem of racism just keeps racism in place”), but rather that intellectual and economic means (who can pay for conferences, and who has access to editors, and finally for this post, who do we decide to read) continue to entrench a system of privilege and power based on race also within the debate on fighting racism. So for all the good whites out there, the challenge is not only continuing to work against all the complex variations of racism found today, but to let go of the right we gave ourselves to determine the agenda and rules of the conversation. IF we can’t do that, then we remain stuck in just another, more nuances and better hidden, system of white superiority.

OK, so challenge me, better the argument, cause it was written in a hurry. But I gotta go, enjoy the weekend.

6 Responses to “How good white people keep white superiority in place”

  1. Dewald Says:

    Ek wou comment maar ek is wit so my mening is ongeldig in hierdie argument😀


  2. Dewald says it, really. I am white, therefore by definition I have no contribution to make.
    I think you are probably correct in what you say. That is the intellectual, thinking way to go. Many black people have more grace. But is that grace enough?
    So what do I do? Must I retreat from the South African world that is now black by definition and create my own closet reality because I am not allowed to join in the greater reality? Should white people just blow themselves up?
    I am fortunate because I live and work in a multiracial community and many of the members become offended if I refuse to contribute because I am white and therefore have no right to have a say. I’ve had to get over the ‘white guilt’ thing. But not every situation is like that.
    So the challenge – offer white people a role, a meaning for existence, something!
    I think you have said things well in your post.


  3. […] they are more than  a day or two old but Cobus has written something on the topic on his blog at How good white people keep white superiority in place | my contemplations: But as more and more white voices start grappling with the implication of whiteness, this seems to […]

  4. Steve Says:

    As I commented on one of your Facebook posts, I was quite shocked to discover that there were people engaged in “whiteness studies” and “racial theory”. I’ve written about that on my blog, so I won’t bother with it here.

    I don’t think we should pretend racism doesn’t exist. Clearly it does. But I don’t think we should go looking for it, or let it become an obsession. If it crops up, deal with it.

    But you asked people to challenge, so here’s my challenge. You said what we must “let go of the right we gave ourselves to determine the agenda and rules of the conversation

    Who is the “we” that you refer to? And who are “ourselves”?

    Surely the agenda should be determined by whoever is involved at the time, as should the rules.

  5. Cobus Says:

    Jenny & Dewald, I don’t think I ever said white people shouldn’t speak (on the contrary, I spoke out very strongly against that interpretation of Samantha Vice). I have identified myself as struggling with being racialized as ‘white’ on various occasions, and this was merely one aspect which I believe I need to address to deconstruct this whiteness (therefore I point out that I write about myself), I’m just suggesting that we need to be willing to find ourselves in a conversation where we didn’t determine the agenda and the rules.
    Steve, I responded elsewhere…


  6. […] they are more than  a day or two old but Cobus has written something on the topic on his blog at How good white people keep white superiority in place | my contemplations: But as more and more white voices start grappling with the implication of whiteness, this seems to […]


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