I have a friend who recently came out of the racism closet.
Well, when I say she came out of the racism closet what I mean is that she came out publicly – on Facebook. She did not mince her words or try to soften the blow. She just came right out and said it.
Now under any circumstances this would be an extremely brave thing to have done. Coming to terms with our own internal tensions, ideological complexities and paradoxes is a life-long journey and revealing those in public is a truly vulnerable act. However, for me it was doubly brave given the profile of my friend. A little about her for context:
She is an educated, savvy, young, middle-class, white woman. You wouldn’t say that she comes from a conservative background as such, but she does come from a church-going family and the church can sometimes be a conservative environment.
Given this short profile you can understand why her closet-hop on Facebook caused a bit of a stir. Here it is verbatim: “Listening to Julius Malema on SAfm – this guy makes so much sense! Love it. Glad I voted EFF. (Update – not a hack folks!)”
Now, let’s recap for clarity: my friend is an educated, young, white woman. She is a deep thinker and her decision to vote for the Economic Freedom Fighters would have been well-considered, researched and spoken-through.
Now, the post did not go unnoticed. Some – presumably in denial – stated that her account must have been hacked. Others pointed out that Julius Malema is anti-white, to which she responded that he is not anti-white but anti-white supremacy.
Why is all this important to us? Well, with this post my friend sent a couple of very clear messages. Firstly, she defied the general rule of your vote being your secret. This tells us that she is proud of her choice and fearless about making it known publicly. This is good for democracy.
Secondly – and this is the more important point – she sent a hugely powerful message about who she is as a white South African; the journey she is on – a journey out of her own dark closet: her closet called racism; her closet called white privilege; her closet called white-is-right. Through this short and simple post, she told the world that she will not be a slave to her own white fear for one day longer, but will stand tall and proud and say something like (my words of course – not hers):
“I am working hard to become a person who my children can be proud of; a person who daily internalises the fact that even though I rejected apartheid – in fact more accurately, I came of age after the demise of the thing – I benefited and continue to benefit from apartheid and from being white. I realise that in order for me to be where I am – privileged – people, yes, black people, have had to lose their lives and their dignity and they continue to make these sacrifices for me on a daily basis. I simply cannot rest on my piece of land whilst knowing that yours was taken from you because of racism. I cannot send my child to a beautiful school whilst your child has no access to even the most basic education. I cannot stand by and watch while business founded and forged on the backs of the oppressed continues to enrich itself whilst over 30% of our population remains unemployed.
Do I feel guilty that my children go to good schools or that I live in a nice home? No. I feel broken. Broken by the inequality I see around me each day. I simply cannot continue as I am knowing that I live a life of quite extraordinary benefit and privilege at the expense of my black brothers and sisters.” That is something of what my friend said to me in this Facebook post and it killed me because all my work tells me that she is spot on.
Now please don’t misinterpret her post. It was a statement of defiance against her own unearned white privilege; a statement of recognition that she – like all of us – has such a long way to go before we can joyfully inhabit this land together as one. It was not an endorsement of Julius Malema personally and it went way beyond any kind of political statement.
With this simple post my friend challenged me on so many levels. I voted for the DA but when I read her post I somehow wished I had voted for the EFF.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.