Assumptions are the mother of all fuckups, and nowhere is this usually more prevalent than on the mean streets of Twitter. It is on these mean streets where we usually see racism, and more general symptoms of cognitive decline, run rampant (hence why I’m not on it).
Now, I know what you’re thinking: The racism on South African Twitter only emanates from angry old white men longing for the “good old days”, who go about their day throwing around racial slurs from behind anonymous profiles like the pathetic snowflakes that they are. But you’d be wrong. Racism on Twitter also emanates from the tweeting thumbs of white people suffering from a white saviour complex. Ironically, this saviour complex is inherently rooted in the bigotry of low expectations, but that is a discussion for another day.
Bianca van Wyk is a business coach, training facilitator, and increasingly popular Twitter personality who respectfully asks for “NO prejudice” (is she familiar with Twitter?):
Instead of engaging with Wotan’s argument, though I guess that is too much to ask of anyone that finds themselves within the Twitter blogosphere, Van Wyk opted to engage in a crudely racist ad hominem attack, and a severely misplaced one at that:
Wotan is indeed a black man, but Van Wyk still insisted that, because he holds views that are not the ostensible norm for black people, according to her omniscient self, Wotan must be white. Even worse than that, she assumed that he isn’t black based on his vocabulary – because all black speak and sound the same, right?
But just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, she doubled down:
Here, we are presented with a classic case of racist behaviour from a privileged white person in South Africa towards a black person, all the while thinking they are fighting against racist stereotypes. Irony, thou art a heartless bitch. I mean, obviously black people are some sort of homogenous blob of homo sapiens that all think in the same way and hold the same views to the extent that it precludes them from holding the sort of views that Wotan holds, right? And obviously black people don’t use certain phrases such as “my kin”, right? Wrong. If you are wondering where you’ve seen such crap stereotyping before, may I refer you to the twitter feeds of the abovementioned angry old white men longing for the “good old days”.
Van Wyk then proceeded to confirm the racial bias underlying her tweet:
There you have it. She stunningly admits to making assumptions based on the fact that a black man’s views do not conform to what she perceives to be the norm. Here we have a black man who doesn’t think in the way, who doesn’t hold the views, and who doesn’t speak in the way that a suburban white lady thinks black people do. Again, because black people act alike, right?
But what’s deeply disappointing about Van Wyk’s apology, is that she does not go as far as admitting that her tweet was inherently racist. “I got this wrong”. No, what she got wrong was not simply this. What she got wrong was tweeting racist crap and invalidating a black person because they did not act in the way she thinks black people stereotypically do. The fact that she may have been unaware of the racist nature of her tweet is neither here nor there.
But Van Wyk’s asinine thinking speaks to a more prevalent problem not only within South African discourse but in socio-political discourse in general: the problem of groupthink and the logical fallacies that underly it.
Firstly, there’s the fallacy of division, which goes as follows: You perceive some general characteristic within a group and assume that it should apply to all individual elements within said group. Notwithstanding the likely flaws in the initial perception itself (limited sample group, sample group bias, bias on the part of the receiver, etc.), it just simply does not follow that all elements within a group are homogenous because one perceives a general trend. For instance, it is a general trend that cars have four wheels – in this case the initial observation itself is accurate, unlike pseudoscientific race-based behavioural observations – but if you would allow me, I’d like to introduce you to the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6, or just to the good old Reliant Robin.
Secondly, there’s the fallacy of composition, which is the converse of the fallacy of division: You perceive certain traits within individual elements of a group, and simply assume that it applies to all members of the group.
Both fallacies are cases of inductive reasoning and showcase its inherent lack of deductive validity. In the case of Van Wyk’s tweet, we are probably dealing with a surreptitious mixture of the two fallacies.
But is it not reasonable to think that, because something is likely to be the case, or because you subjectively and erroneously believe it to be likely, that it is okay to assume that it is the case? Well, contrary to popular belief, and perhaps even basic human intuition, it is not. This is what is known as the fallacy of appealing to probability. “Likelihood of being” and “actually being so” are not the same thing. But, before you even assume something is likely, you’d do well to interrogate your own prejudices and observational errors first.
Now, let’s be clear here, I do not want people cluttering Van Wyk’s inbox with vitriol and harassing her. You are no better than her if you do so. Lord knows Twitter has already taken her to task, and rightfully so. But what I do want is something from her.
I want Van Wyk to own up to what she did. I want her to supplement her apology with an admission that she was, in fact, acting based on groupthink fallacies, which in turn led her to engage in racist behaviour. I want her to admit that she herself is guilty of the conduct that she so valiantly calls out others for.
I want her to just say the words: I, the self-anointed white saviour, acted in a racist manner, and I am sorry for that.
It really is that simple.
Editor’s update: This article originally indicated Odin Moja’s name as “Odin Wotan”. We apologise for the mistake.