2/05/2008

Weird to be White?

I have avoided discussing race too much on this blog, for PC purposes. It is a factor of life here but having gotten used to the particular tensions in the particular places and faces that I see every day, I think less about it now. It becomes very acute when I leave the city, because the areas that I go in the city are almost entirely historically "white" districts. I can expect to see people that look like me and have similar income levels. They will, however, immediately know I am a foreigner before I open my mouth. I think I am too unfashionable to be mistaken for Capetonian.

I got an email from a very good, very short friend who shall not be named at this point, from a hotel in Nairobi. This friend has just spent several weeks in rural eastern Kenya for scientific purposes. This friend wrote of a white hotel guest being a rude bastard for not being served dinner after kitchen closing, in spite of the fact that the city is in a state of chaos. My friend writes,

"does it ever get less weird to be white in an african country? these types of bougey establishments make me so uncomfortable. "

I have wondered the same thing. I am often embarrassed when I see white people being rude. Likewise, I am embarrassed when non-whites expect me to act like the rude white people. Race is a huge factor here, much because whiteness is still highly correlated with richness. Right now rich black people have arguably the same effect on the poor black majority as rich white people do, but their existence means something very different to that majority. And it's only the left-leaning people trying to point this out, especially the white academic ones who insist that ultimately it's class warfare behind all these problems. Although I think I agree with that in a broad sense, alarms go off every time white people try to move the focus off racism. Is that the legacy of the PC police? or is it because everyone knows that everybody else is at least a little bit racist, whether consciously or not?

There are way too many issues to address in one post, but the one I want to address is the one my friend wrote about, that is, the discomfort. Now, I am not talking about discomfort in direct interactions between people of different race, rather about the discomfort in witnessing or being obliquely involved in some types of interactions. This type of discomfort derives from monolithic treatment of racial groups, by people either within or without the racial group in question. Some of the things that are going on among people of all races, that when combined with a gradient of power or control, are the source of institutional racism.

Whites in this country are being called to task for their racist views, which have caused so much damage which will take generations to heal. Non-whites in this country have not had a systematic exhumation of their racial views and there are a lot of issues there. But through the process of "transformation" - which refers to institutional as well as personal change - there is a dialog developing about morality, humanity, and social organization that is helping people examine themselves openly and not from a place of shame.

If I sound weirdly happy about this it's because I had a great experience this morning in Employment Equity Representative training. Not because the training was so good (though it was), but because the group of people around me is so passionate about moving South Africa into a better future, and doing it RIGHT, urgently but not so urgently that it is done wrong. I am often reminded that in spite of everything wrong with this country (and there is A LOT WRONG with this country), the engine of civil expression and civil participation is alive and well.

3 comments:

Anti-War-Protester said...

You support an organization which excluded Ron Paul from speaking. This in itself is against science at it's core.
Science is the search for truth. All science must include all circumstance. No ommission or fact or possible fact.
If by your own action you create an outcome then your science is flawed.
You know this!!!!!
So don't complain. You brought it on yourself. Let Dr. and I repeat DOCTOR Ron Paul speak. You may not agree with him, but science seeks truth and required all the facts to make a decision. Otherwise you live in belief and religion and not fact.
Look to your own for the problem and see your error of observation. You call yourself a scientist? hmmmmmmmmm
“..it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority to set brush fires in people’s minds.”
— Samuel Adams
“With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.” — Abraham Lincoln
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell
“The state can’t give you free speech, and the state can’t take it away. You’re born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free…”
— Utah Phillips

quixotic quest

Fault Rocks said...

Dear quixotic quest -
I'm not sure which organization you are referring too, or whether your comments have anything to do with my post. If you would care to enlighten me as to what you are talking about, I am waiting to hear.

andrew said...

Christie, this guy left the same comment on my blog too under the tag "RobJ." His email address for that post was robjceo@yahoo.com, so maybe he runs a big company somewhere.