Commentary on Some Myths of White Privilege
Faatimah Hendricks recently wrote a column at News24 Voices which provided me with an opportunity to critically engage on some of the myths and tropes within the ‘white privilege’ narrative. There’s nothing particularly original or insightful in Hendricks’ piece but it is a good enough basis for me to lay my commentary on. I will quote specific parts of her article and provide my comments thereon.
“It seems that race is an uncomfortable topic for many South Africans, especially many white South Africans. Specifically, the issue of white privilege. White South Africans swear high and low that white privilege does not exist… Part of the problem, I think, is ignorance.”
A rejection of a premise does not amount to ignorance. If a person tells you that 1 plus 1 equals 11, and you correct him, you will eventually start getting ‘uncomfortable’ when he continues to assert the correctness of his answer. At some point you will refuse to engage with him on the topic any further because he is either unwilling to consider your perspective or he is getting hostile. These are both things which the social justice left has, in the last two years especially, become notorious for. As Nicolai Haussamer and I noted in an earlier article, engaging on the topic of white privilege, or more broadly, race relations, becomes problematic when one side comes to the discussion having already made up their minds about the validity of their argument. There’s no ‘engagement’, then, but simply a condescending lecture. And nobody has got time for that!
“White people don’t experience discrimination at the same level as black people. It makes it much harder to express things like institutionalised racism to white people when they see affirmative action as a personal attack on their race.”
The fact that white individuals experience institutionalized racism is no longer debatable in 2016 South Africa. As a law student who engages with the law outside of my academic textbooks as well, I reserve the right to assert my own insight into the matter as an authoritative source. The law discriminates both directly against whites, by having provisions expressly construed to the exclusion of whites; and indirectly, by creating incentives for civil society organs to discriminate against whites, and by empowering the courts to regard discrimination against whites as unactionable. (With regard to this latter point: the courts will consider an organization such as a blacks-only development association as constitutional, whereas they will certainly consider a whites-only institution of the same nature to be illegal.) Hendricks did not write anything else on the “personal attack on their race” statement. Clearly, it is an attack on whites qua whites. If it were not, then it wouldn’t have anything to do with ‘white’ privilege, but will be based on another aspect such as wealth, regardless of race.
“White people have told me that their privilege is a myth; this is despite their higher level of comfort compared to the majority of the poor. You’re mistaken if you think it’s only about wealth because there is a clear difference in how white and black people are perceived.”
The intellectual dishonesty displayed here is representative of a common tactic among the social justice left: mixing a little bit of truth with a lot of lies to make it seem acceptable.
I have long acknowledged that white individuals do have undeserved social privilege in various circumstances, bearing in mind that ‘privilege’ is circumstantial, and not a blanket truth like the left tries to construe it. When a black person calls a white person “Boss” but doesn’t do the same for another black person in the same position as the white, this is indicative of social privilege. When armed response officers slow down to investigate why a group of black people in the suburbs are packing furniture onto the back of a bakkie, but does not do so when it is a group of white people, this is indicative of social privilege. Both of these things happen.
However, white South Africans no longer have economic privilege. The moment the laws protecting white jobs and interests fell away, so did the privilege, because when it comes to economics, the only color that matters is that of the note of money. Whites are no longer appointed to any position just because they are white, as law previously required. On the whole, employers now only appoint based on merit: skill and work ethic. Of course, a social justice leftist would claim this itself is white privilege, however, I am not, nor should anyone else be interested in questioning the principles of economics which have crystallized over all of human existence. Appointing the person who will create the most value for you is natural conduct. Only force can stop this, and that is why governments enact things like affirmative action and Apartheid – because they fundamentally reject the rules of economics.
With this in mind, combined with the fact that the black middle class is larger than the entire white population, it should be enough to dispel the myth of ‘white economic privilege’. The left loves throwing this phrase around without further ado, so my argument will remain relatively superficial until I have something more substantive to work with.
“How many times have you rolled up your windows or checked to see if your doors were locked when a black man approached your vehicle, and have you done the same when there was a white person begging for money on the streets?”
And let’s be clear here, otherwise risk allowing her to once again mix in a bit of truth with a lot of lies. Windows are not rolled up on account of the race of the individual, but on account of how they conduct themselves, and how they are dressed. I do not recall ever having rolled my window up to either a black or white individual who was dressed appropriately (‘appropriately’ being a word I am happy to receive flack for using), but I do roll it up for anyone who looks like they may have nothing to lose in life if they decide to rob me. And this is the case with other white, and black, motorists as well.
“… Missing White Woman Syndrome. Social [“]scientists[“] reckon the media and society pay a disproportionate amount of attention on missing middle class white women while men and women of different ethnicities are given significantly lesser coverage.”
Hendricks is being purposefully deceitful with her language here. Is her article about ‘white privilege’ or ‘middle class white woman privilege’? If you think about it, there’s a substantial difference between these two things. In the former case, it relates to the privilege that attaches to skin color. In the latter case, it is privilege that attaches to wealth, gender, and skin color. What about rich white women or poor white women? If the media also ignores them – which the author implies without realizing it – then it is not white privilege.
Short excursus: the South African media is assuredly leftist. It has embraced all of the government’s ‘Transformation’ initiatives and thoroughly enjoys participating in race-baiting exercises. The Mail & Guardian recently wrote they will stop italicizing words from African languages because they do not want to ‘other’ those languages. This is not a decent, or respectful, thing to do. It’s a leftist thing to do. Italicizing words which are foreign to the English language is a grammatical custom, not a political statement. Those words are ‘othered’ because they are others, i.e. not from the same language. Indeed, whenever a white individual, especially a white male, makes any kind of expression which can perhaps be construed as racist, the South African media spends days covering it. However, when a black individual of whatever class or stature makes a blatantly racist remark against whites, it is more often than not ignored. The disgusting racist conduct by Ntokozo Qwabe and his token transgender friend (‘token’ because of Qwabe’s inappropriate emphasis on having a woke transgender friend) displayed recently only made it into the media because of the beautiful reaction by South Africans of all races in donating thousands of rands to the victim. Otherwise, the media would have ignored it. Let’s not beat around the bush: the media is the social justice left’s greatest ally in their trendy tyranny. There’s no need for Hendricks to act like she and the media are at odds.
Hendricks then tries to make an example, comparing various white murders and black murders. Save Reeva Steenkamp, I have not heard of any of the examples she points to, let alone the white women who were killed. And I can guarantee that most people, white or not, will join me in this ignorance. What I do remember, though, is the tragic case of Anene Booysens, who was brutally tortured and murdered several years ago. She was not a white individual, however, for weeks her name was on the lips of every civilly-conscious individual in this country. It started a completely unprecedented discussion in this country about the prevalence of rape. Then came Reeva Steenkamp, who was killed by her celebrity-athlete boyfriend Oscar Pistorius. I refuse to entertain this as an example of ‘white woman syndrome’. This was a case of ‘celebrity does something terrible’. If Oscar Pistorius were a black athlete with prosthetic legs who represented South Africa at the Olympics, and killed his black model girlfriend as she hid away in their luxury mansion, the outrage and coverage would have been exactly the same. Indeed, there is no actual reason, other than leftist prejudice, to doubt that.
“I’ve lived in an area occupied by white people for many years. The neighbours would get extremely annoyed if a non-white person came begging at the door and was given food. One day a white man who fell on tough times and came looking for money at the different houses in the area told me how all the neighbours gave him R10 each, which is what he had been asking for. Even poor white people get a better deal than black people do. I’ve seen how white motorists pour their wallets out to white beggars, but roll their windows up and completely ignore the coloured and black beggars.”
This entire paragraph can be dismissed as anecdotal nonsense. To illustrate: in my neighborhood, which is also mostly white, neither white nor black beggars are listened to. White beggars, which are common, are just as easily told to go away. In a country ranking in the top five for every serious kind of crime, going outside to speak to a beggar is a sure way to shorten your own life. Your house, your shack, your hut, your villa – whatever it is – is your castle. It is perhaps the only place in the world where you should be guaranteed complete and absolute safety and security (physically and psychologically). Don’t listen to the left on this: lock your doors tight.
Now, Hendricks is simply lying about the traffic-light beggar situation. Any motorist who has seen her piece would have rolled their eyes while reading this absolute falsity. Nobody – white or black – “pours out their wallet” to any traffic-light beggar of whatever characteristic. All beggars should be – and thankfully, mostly are – ignored. Roads were constructed for the forward-motion of vehicular traffic. Traffic-lights were constructed to regulate the movement of traffic. These aren’t charity centers or open invitations for engagement. The road I travel to university – muh white privilege right? – is rife with smash and grab robberies by “beggars”. Hendricks is attempting to induce a feeling of guilt here for white motorists. But black motorists do exactly what white motorists do, and that is to be conscious of their own safety in an extremely violent society. Hendricks is lying about the racial dimension to this, and it will be immediately obvious to any motorist who pays attention.
“When I was a journalist, I’d sometimes hear of stories where black reporters struggled to get comment from white people in a neighbourhood while their white counterparts had it far easier. I’ve experienced this personally when sources would be rude or abrupt but grant my fairer-skinned colleague an interview instead. It might not be much, but it’s not the sort of thing you expect people who haven’t experienced instances of discrimination to understand.”
Again, this is anecdotal, meaning I can rebut it with my own anecdote. I have seen whites told to sit down and shut up because they are white, and not allowed to engage on a topic. I have personally been told that my contribution would be considered as secondary to that of black individuals (or women) because I am a white male. No objective criteria makes Hendricks’ anecdote any more severe than mine, as both relate to a personal sense of self-worth.
Discrimination in South Africa is stuck in an endless cycle which is continuously reinforced by people like Hendricks on the one side, and neckbearded white male reactionaries on the other. Whenever one side dominates, they feel comfortable in shutting the other down. Hendricks’ kind believes white men should shut up because their mere presence ‘silences’ people of other races, and neckbearded white male reactionaries believe people who aren’t white are social authoritarians when they complain about actual racism. They also believe you’re a socialist if you show just a teeny-tiny bit of compassion. Both are collectivists.
Hendricks likely experienced this situation because it was obvious that she was a social justice leftist with a particular dislike of whites. And believe me, this level of collectivism cannot easily be hidden, no matter how hard one might try. It seeps through in their rhetoric and attitude.
“White people said they, too, found it tough to pay university fees and yet they felt no need to protest about the cost of education. But riddle me this: what exactly do poor folk have to offer as collateral when the university fees go up and they need to take out loans to pay?”
FeesMustFall was the most racially-diverse large-scale protest which South Africa has seen in decades. ‘White people’, in this case, didn’t ‘say’ anything. I know various black and white individuals who not only did not protest, but who reject the premise of the entire protest itself because of its fundamental lack of understanding of economics and life. It’s funny that Hendricks condescendingly talks about this topic under a heading “the world is unfair”. Fairness has nothing to do with it. It’s not unfair to not get a university education just like it’s not unfair for me not to be able to immigrate whenever I want. South Africans lack jobs – not jobs which warrant tertiary education; but just jobs. There is no imperative in putting every South African through university. I’ll skip discussing “free education” here, as Nicolai Haussamer has already discussed it thoroughly.
“It might be self-defeating in the long run to damage the facility that is providing you a future, but students from poor communities have few outlets for their anger.”
This speaks for itself.
Poor people all around the world who go about their lives in peace, but in South Africa it’s alright to burn down facilities which the culprits didn’t pay for. People who cannot contain themselves should be contained, especially if people elsewhere in their very same position get along fine. Don’t beat around the bush, Faatimah. South Africans are a violent people. It doesn’t help that we have quasi-intellectuals like you who play mental gymnastics to find a proper justification for our barbaric conduct.
“In a recent chat with a son of a farm owner, he mentioned how they would occasionally slap and beat workers who came to work hungover or drunk. Sure, they shouldn’t be nursing a hangover when they’re about to work, but this doesn’t justify physical abuse.”
The idea that white South Africans are the only violent group in the country baffles my mind. Hendricks is pointing to an instance of violence where one party happens to be white and the other happens to be black. I believe statistics will show that black on white, black on black, and white on white violence occurs at roughly the same rate as the implicitly horrendous rate of white on black violence. Don’t fall for Hendricks’ selection and confirmation biases mixed in with her personal anecdotes.
Hendricks concludes with the following:
“It is not a crime to be privileged but there is much that can be accomplished when white people realise the extent to which they have separated themselves from their fellow countrymen and women.”
This is another tactic utilized by the social justice left. To no end do they parade the idea around that if whites ‘recognize’ their privilege, everything will be great! But they have never actually explained what this ‘recognition’ would accomplish. Whether the left admits it to themselves or not, their goal in this regard is clear. As I wrote in an earlier article: “The message underlying the assertion that ‘white work’ cannot negate white privilege is that white privilege is perpetual. No amount of effort, distribution or apologizing can ever make it go away.”
If the ‘act’ for which someone is perpetually guilty cannot be remedied, then that person or group of persons (if they ‘recognize’ their guilt) become perpetual resources for exploitation, mostly by the State. This is a major part of the reason why it would be wrong to think there can be a separation between statism and leftist social justice. The leftist social justice narrative exists as a vehicle for the expansion and strengthening of the State, as it tears down the potential opponents of the State, whether they are active opponents or simply passive competitors, such as the private sector.
In conclusion, white privilege is a topic which the social justice left claims they want to talk about in an open and honest manner. However, most of them approach the topic like Hendricks: condescending, militant, and authoritarian. At the end of the day they want the State to take from some and give to others (‘plunder’, as Frederic Bastiat would put it), and they hope they are those ‘others’, as exemplified nowadays by American college students who are Feeling the Bern. The ball is in their court to get this discussion going, because we free market civil libertarians are ready to engage on just about anything. We even have the solutions to most of these problems, packaged and ready to go. So, as our friends on the left would say, apparently all you need to do is shut up and listen.