Race, Racism and Time: It’s going to take more than time to get rid of racism in South Africa.

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In a 2008 post on the psychology today website titled: Time Heals All Wounds, or Does It – Time doesn’t heal, it’s what you DO with the time that does; Worth Kilcrease MBA, MA, LPC, F, ended his observation by saying: “The point here, though, is that time does NOT heal all wounds. A more apt saying is “IT’S WHAT YOU DO WITH THE TIME THAT HEALS.” Like any other aspect of life, mourning is an active, working process, not a passive one.”

After the historic 1994 elections that ushered in our democratic dispensation, not a lot of processes were put into place to help South Africans, both Black and White (and every colour in between), heal from the wounds caused by racist Apartheid regime. Instead of putting processes into place, our leaders hoped and prayed that in time all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place and – like during the symbolic holding of hands that was done when Mandela made his first speech after his release from Robben Island – a ‘rainbow nation’ will emerge and all things will be fine.

But to the disappointment of many – and many might say to the benefit of a few – 21 years into our democracy many things have remained the same. Students still have to protest in the streets in order to have their grievances heard; workers are still not paid enough – and some are brutally massacred for raising their grievances; a majority of the economy is still in the hands of a few (who are the same people as during Apartheid); and to make things worse, and like Pontsho Pilane said in a recent Facebook status, we are being fed a ‘Mpo Lakaje’s Against All Odds-esque narratives’ which ‘is a shaming and silencing technique’ that ‘shames those who do not make it out of dire situations and… silences the structural conditions that exist [and] put people in those situations to begin with.’ This narrative is used to make poor Black people believe that the reason they are still poor is because of their lack of ability to “pull their socks up,” and not because no effort was made to put processes into place that will assist them in healing from the scars of the past and mentally liberate them.

So few were the programs put into place that people seem to not even know what constitutes racism and what doesn’t anymore. A very good example of this is the recent debates that have mushroomed all over the country, in which many arguments have been risen in an effort to try and figure out if whether a White woman calling Black people monkeys, amongst many other comments, is racist or not; and this should be a wakeup call for us all as a country. Some say that her words are a reflection of her and many other White people’s attitudes towards Black people and that they should be seen a sign of their racist mentality, while others, on the other hand, say that her words mean nothing and that she is only part of an isolated group and is not a reflection of all White people.

Even though I do not say as much as I should about the matter, the issue of racism in the country is one that has caused me many sleepless nights. I, for one, believe that South Africa is one of the most racist nations in the country and let me tell you my reasons why:

Past experiences have left me with enough knowledge to know the importance of power when it comes to racism. I believe that a person can be rude, discriminatory, inconsiderate, and/or prejudice against someone of a different race to theirs without necessarily being racist. I believe that racism is based on a system of oppression. That racism is not a question of attitude, but a question of power. I can be as rude, discriminatory, inconsiderate and/or prejudice to a White person as I want, but if I don’t have the power to oppress them based on the colour of their skin, I’m not being racist in any way whatsoever. And in South Africa, White people have this power.

Apartheid was a racist system because it used the political, economic and social power of one race – White people – to discriminate, humiliate and be prejudice against every other race in the country. 1994 came and took away the political, and to some extent the social, power that the White race had during Apartheid but, unlike that regime, the new government did not take this power and use it to discriminate against any race. Our political leaders then hoped that this change of political power – from one that was racist to one that was not – will soon find its way to the other forms of power and that we will soon live in a country where no one race had power over another and could discriminate against the rest based on this power.

This unfortunately didn’t happen and over 21 years into our democracy one race – White people – still hold a majority of the economic power in the country. It’s going to take more than just time to deal with the racism that is evidently still rife in the country. Racism that is made evident not by the stupid comments of a single White woman, but by the power – both economic and otherwise – that one race has over the rest in the country. Process need to be put in place and only then can we start talking about time.

Though doing so is very important, dealing with racism in South Africa is not necessarily about reprimanding a single person over comments they made about people of a different race to theirs. It’s about taking away the power certain people have to socially and economically oppress others purely based on the colour of their skin. We can’t expect to defeat racism if we still have one minority race hold a majority of the land, resources and the economy of the country. Even though many claim that a lot has been done by our government to try to equally redistribute this power to the rest of the country, it would be very hard for anyone to refute the fact that these efforts are very slow and, as some might say, a little too late.

So, before we talk about taking those who “say racist things” to jail, let us focus on putting into place processes that will take away the power that has for so many years allowed them to oppress others. Processes that will help mentally empower the many races that have for many years been on the receiving end of a racist society. These processes are well overdue and if we continue to ignore putting them into place, we are doomed to experience the same anger and hate we see today for many years to come.


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