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Racist Polarisation in SA – Four Types of Racists

I want to comment on the recent social media storm generated by a certain Penny Sparrow (who called black people monkeys) and the retaliatory racist comments by journalist Zama Khumalo and a certain Velaphi Khumalo (who said blacks should do to whites what Hitler did to the Jews).

If we don’t break our denial as to our deep racial conditioning and prejudice in this country, we will never address, heal, or be free from the racism in our hearts and minds, in our nation.  We must face what is within us in order to renew our minds and attitudes in the truth of the equality and dignity of every person created as God’s image on earth, no matter what race. Otherwise, given the right situation or incident, our buttons will be pressed and our unresolved racist conditioning will overflow in words and actions. If you were born in SA, no matter if you are white, black, coloured or Indian, you are subconsciously racially conditioned. You need to consciously face it and turn from it daily. If we don’t proactively do this, actually doing reconciliation, we will continually be reactively dealing with racist outbursts – from within us and around us – as mirrored in the white Sparrows and the black Khumalos, who both verbalised what many in both constituencies secretly think.

I worked for justice and reconciliation in SA under apartheid in Soweto from 1984-1996, and wrote a book about that life changing journey. Published in 2004, I speak of  four kinds of racists in post apartheid SA… Which one are you?

What follows is from pp.124-125 in Doing Reconciliation – Racism, Reconciliation and Transformation in Church and World.

Confirmed racists are those who are still prejudiced and are open about it. They resent or even hate people of other race. This includes the growing phenomena of xenophobia, where people fear and reject people of other races, for whatever reason. Some believe more than ever that blacks and whites should be apart. For some whites, blacks are still inferior—‘things were better under apartheid’ they say. For some blacks, whites are still imperialistic settlers – ‘go back to Europe’ they say. Confirmed racists are more upfront and ‘honest’ in their racism, often verbally dumping their offensive opinions and actions on those close at hand. The attitudes of this group are hardening.

Suppressed racists are those who are still prejudiced, but have suppressed it in the name of political correctness, or keeping-the-peace, or fear of reprisal, or because of self-deception and psychological denial. Many South Africans would protest, ‘I am not racist, and never have been. Or if I was, I certainly am not one now’. It just takes a certain event or issue or person to bring out the prejudice, the racist comments and attitudes. Sometimes it is blatant and other times they are ‘blind spots’. We can only suppress things for so long, then it pops out—what is in the heart comes out sooner or later (as Jesus taught in Matt 12:33-37, 15:18-20). This phenomena can be called ‘modern racism’ that pays lip service to principles of equality while opposing its implementation with all kinds of rationalisation; that maintains negative stereotypes via selective perception, choosing what one wants to see in various groups (e.g. ‘blacks are destroying this country like the rest of Africa’).

Recovering racists are those who have acknowledged and faced their racial conditioning – racism is inbred if you were raised in SA – and are taking responsibility for it by consciously working on their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and actions. They have dealt with their guilt and are free. But freedom is relative, like people recovering from an addiction, they are ‘in recovery’ from racism. They are unlearning old ways and learning new ways of thinking and relating. They are working at inner and outer transformation of their lives (and society).

Pre-racists or innocents are those who are in the pre-prejudice stage – our children. They are the racially innocent people, unless their parents or others have already infected them with their prejudice. The post-apartheid generation now growing up has a wonderful opportunity to be free from racism in a way all other South Africans could never be. We are faced with a serious challenge. When and how will they lose their innocence? As I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, it will depend on our guidance and modelling, or lack thereof. It will also depend on the choices our children make and how they respond to what happens to them. The extent to which individuals around them change, and how much our society changes, will also affect them. Let us pray that this new generation will enter the new land, taking us with them into the Nation of Good Hope.

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