Monday, April 05, 2010

Can A White Land Be Killed?

Yesterday, I was writing about transitions. Transitions can be adventuresome (such as mating) or daunting (such as finding out you are about to have your pay cut substantially without, needless to say, any expectation that your workload or your work ethic will be altered in any way). But sometimes, they are grossly disappointing.

When South Africa, for example, shifted from being absolutely controlled by and for the 10% of the population that is White in that country, I -- like many, I suppose -- hoped, if not imagined, that things would be "better now" (whatever that might be construed to mean). And that may be the typical problem with transitions. They're so damned amorphous. Most of the time, we're only vaguely conscious of where we've been and have practically no idea of where we're headed next.

The shame of this is that, as my principle mentor used to say, "It's predictable and I told you so!" If we would just be deadly honest with ourselves about what we already know to be the truth of the present situation and then extrapolate logically where that would naturally wind up, we'd never be blind-sided by social change. But we apparently would rather never be ready to catch the ball and always be reeling in shock at what we claim not to have been able to imagine than to face reality.

In any case, for those of you who may not know basic South African history (and why should we when we aren't even taught our own other than the White-washed version?), indigenous Africans have lived on the tip of the continent for more than 100,000 years and currently, about fifty million folks speaking eleven official languages call South Africa the land of their birth.

In 1652, the Dutch East Indies Company founded Cape Town as a docking station on the way to India and in 1806, the British turned Cape Town into a colony. Obviously, the struggle between the Brits and the Boers (White Dutch farmers) was an on-going saga for a long period of time, marked particularly by the second Anglo-Boer war from 1879 to 1915 over control of the gold and diamond industry that belonged in the first place (lest we forget) to the 80% of the population that represents Black Africans and predates the coming of the Europeans (with about 10% of the population being Indian, Asian or blended peoples).

The system of Apartheid (Dutch for "separateness") of which many of us are at least somewhat aware, was not established until 1948, more than 35 years after the African National Congress was formed and I would thus assume, because of it. After all (and here's an example of moving in the direction of admitting we're not asleep), many people will quickly use violence -- or allow it to be used -- when they think their privilege and power is being threatened. White people claiming that they are only aggressive when defending themselves always makes me want to say, "Uh-huh!" with a grin -- which they most generally don't appreciate.

In 1994, when it became apparent that they were going to die if they refused to step down, the Whites gave up their power (though some still held to the dream of wielding it -- we'll return to this shortly). Mandela was released after more than 25 years in a prison cell to take over the Presidency of the country in what was probably one of the most dramatic moments in modern history. And somehow (though honestly, of course, there was no precedent for imagining that this was automatically going to implement Utopia), we anxiously clung to the belief that this heralded the dawning of a New Day, an era when justice for all would slowly, but surely, become a reality around the world. I mean, if it could happen in South Africa, it could happen anywhere, right? Maybe, even in the United States!

Political prisoners in the U.S. took great heart as Nelson Mandela came forth from the tomb. A political prisoner becoming President. A nightmare giving birth to a dream. A long-held fantasy coming true. But by 1999, it began to become obvious that, as is sometimes said, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Black people were in office, but they were Black people that had drunk the kook-aid of capitalism and control. Socialized to perceive it appropriate to "look out for #1" (a concept antithetical to the African principle that teaches commitment to the good of the community as the way for all to sutvive), they quickly formed economic and politital elites. They made some passes at empowering themselves and a handful of others. They talked about re-distribution of wealth and, indeed, White poverty levels increased. But the richest country in Africa is more than capable of re-distributing the wealth in such a way that unemployment would not actually rise. Yet the condition of the Black masses was even worse than it had been before.

Consequently, South Africa, after hundreds of years of systematic social disintegration under White powermongers who stole the region's riches and destroyed its age-old pride and greatness, stumbled into this new period of history bloody and crazed. Today, there are 52 murders per day and half a million rapes per year in a country where boys have been taught by a violent history to call "jack-rolling" (raping little girls) "fun."

Complicating the process has been the vestiges of a rampant and anti-social political conservatism that heavily restricts sex education, access to abortions and homosexuality. Banning pornography in a nation where the mass population has been so openly brutalized and de-humanized by its government for centuries is an excuse to blame the victims for the consequences of official -- and what amounts in my humble opinion to criminal -- policy setting. One of the results, then, is a pandemic-level of AIDS under a government that still (a la past example) doesn't want to even admit the problem exists. Sigh.

Which brings me to the latest news emanating from South Africa: the brutal death of a 69-year-old White Supremacist named Eugene Terre'Blanche (whose last name translates, I swear, to "White Land"). Terre'Blanche founded a right wing secret society "protecting" White people's rights in the 1970's. He eventually did several years in prison for personal violence against people of color. And had re-emerged with renewed commitment to his "cause" since his release in 2004. Feelings, as you may surmise, are running really high about now related to the issue of his death. And the situation overall promises to unfold in some possibly horrifying ways very soon. But my take on it -- and what I want to write about concerning this -- are more peripheral, but equally crucial, aspects of this event.

Eugene Terre'Blanche was alledgedly bludgeoned and hacked to death by two males, ages nineteen and fifteen, because he would not pay them money they had earned by doing work he had contracted them to do. What I want to point out, then, is one of the earmarks of White Supremacy: the delusional idea that Whites really ARE superior, that they really ARE deserving of their position (whatever they perceive that to be), that they really ARE in control.

The point is, if the facts are as they have been presented, this 69-year-old man living on a secluded patch of ground far away from other White support apparently believed that he could flatly refuse to pay for contracted work and there would be no consequences. However physically powerful Terre'Blanche may have thought he was, he would hardly be a match for two young male farmworkers at what was likely the peak of their physical prowess. And keep in mind that unemployment and poverty levels for Black Africans in South Africa are such that it's possible the two young men in question (assuming they did the crime) may not have eaten recently. Earned wages can take on survival mode importance under such circumstances. Nevertheless, Terre'Blanche refused to pay them and then (here's the kicker) laid down to take a nap. Now think about that for a minute.

Only a person who honestly believes that they are a magical entity indeed would think even for one second that they could refuse to give what he owed to two strapping young men who are desperate and then lay down like a baby to sleep in a secluded place. And this, I would argue, is the grave danger of White Supremacy. Not that Black people might at some point get a bellyful and strike back (and I use "strike back" because we must admit, if we're not living in la-la land, that where Whites have the power, Black people are treated as second class citizens in virtually every way with undisguised physical brutality a common occurrence to maintain the system).

But that's not the warning I want to highlight here. It is, rather, the full scale idiocy that convinces White people of such a mind (and there are many of them still in South Africa and, even more so, here in the U.S.) that they ARE, in fact, superior. That they always deserve the job they are given (because they have always worked hard for it, while Black people, of course, never worked for anything -- right?). That they always have good reasons for making whatever decisions they make (because they are intelligent people, while Black people, of course, are...well...not very bright -- you know what I mean?). That they would never knowingly be mean-spirited or selfish (because they don't see color; they treat everyone as they have earned the right to be treated -- while have you noticed how Black people treat each other?). That they are richer and get better jobs and get paid more and are quicker to get loans at lower interest rates and can live wherever they can afford and never get followed around a store because they're just better than Black people (which is NOT something they can help -- it's just that way).

And because they believe all, the idea that this attitude kills your soul and can eventually kill your body never enters their mind. Even as they watch their nation fall apart and their culture crumble, they blame others for their downfall. Even as they know in their gut that they would never allow themselves to be oppressed forever. Even as they ultimately fear with the terror of unavoidable guilt the specter of being treated as they have treated others -- either by omission or commission -- for no other reason than the tone of those others' skin. They believe they are superior (even supreme, if you will). They believe they have the divine right of kings. They believe they are ever and appropriately in control. And yawning widely in the face of reality, they prepare to lie down and sleep.
NOTE: I am counting on my South African readers to correct any inaccuracies in this post or my understanding of events in South Africa, whether historical or current. Thanks.


Moi said...

I posted about this too. My SA coworker now informs me that the the AWB is threatening the SA government if they bring in any teams for the World Cup.

So, naturally, I foresee more hackings and bludgeonings of AWB members over the next 10 weeks.

And honestly...I'm fine with that.

Will Capers said...

I strongly believe that even though apartheid fell in South Africa, it doesn't mean that the racism and white supremacy fell with it. Whites have and will have negative views toward blacks no matter what bills have been passed or what laws have been repealed.

Will Capers said...

I also think that the effects of white supremacy will not go away either just by passing bills and destroying a supremacist system. They are small steps toward healing which I doubt very much that America will do because racism helps fuel capitalism.

Not only do whites want to avoid the fact that racism exist but they also don't want to lose the powers, wealth and privileges that came with it. To do so, according to many of them, would be communist or socialist, two of America's dirtiest words.

*Shakes my head.*

Tinsmith Snow said...

Will, I agree that passing legislation does not simply wipe a problem away but I think the context surrounding it deserves more attention. You said it yourself that racism helps fuel capitalism and because our system is run by capital it is counterintuitive for it to legislate against its own interests, so when laws are passed it has to because a large independent movement is demanding it - so much so that it has become dangerous for capital to maintain its desired status quo. So no, legislation is not destroying racism - I think because racism (albeit very, painfully, slowly) is being destroyed, it makes creating such legislation politically viable.

Changeseeker said...

Moi, strong voices are always welcome and yours is strong, indeed. I visited your blog and loved it. So it has been duly added now to my blog roll. Welcome to the neighborhood and please feel free to drop by anytime.

I agree, Will. Until institutions have been stripped of all the oppression embedded so systematically within them, nothing will change. It's not just political; it's cultural. Besides, internalized racism (one manifestation of which is "colorism" among Black peoples themselves) helps to carry the infestation of oppression even beyond the death of its original host.

Additionally, as you note, racism and capitalism (as do sexism and capitalism) dance hand in hand around the floor of life in the U.S. and in the world overall. MUCH money is made through knee jerk distribution of resources primarily to and through the White male power structure.

Tinsmith, I don't clearly understand your main point here. However, I'm not so sure "capitalism" runs anything. Capitalism is an economic system and a driving force, indeed, but it's being wielded by humans who have more than one agenda, I think (though it's profit-motivated for sure). Given the money and power now concentrated in the hands of literally only a few thousand people in the world (a thousand billionaires having arguably the same approximate wealth as the better part of the rest of us), I don't think "large independent movements" are necessary any more to accomplish much of anything. This works for and against us. It doesn't take many of them to do massive, terrible things (and they're insane), but it is also possible for fewer of us to accomplish much. And "they" know it.

Check out Michael Moore's new flick "Capitalism -- a Love Story". I just saw it and, I must say, it gives one much food for thought.

Tinsmith Snow said...

I was referring specifically to Will's second comment and perhaps I was being too nit-picky because I entirely agree with him but because I wanted to participate in discussion tried to take a nuanced look at what he said and further disect it. I wasn't trying to make the point that "capitalism" runs anything, but rather "capital" itself does. One of the ways capitalism creates the prospects for competition based exchanges is to divide people. One extremely productive (from their point of view) way to create this divide is to use race. Because this works so well for capitalism, it is against capitalism's best interests to legislate against racism like what Will described when he talked of "passing bills and destroying a supremacist system." That such an event does occur has to because operating on the status quo has become dangerous or impossible to maintain such as the evnts that lead capital-controlled politicians to pass civil rights legislation. That it takes fewer of us to raise issues as you mentioned is an example of newer forms of organization which are amorphous and continuously evolving, but I still believe that in order for change to be legitimate (in the eyes of society) it requires large forces of solidarity. The forces of the status quo understood this when they organized the Tea Party protest and they were successful in creating the appearance of mass civil unrest and made the healthcare bill untouchable and ultimately poisonous.

We should fight for reforms the likes of which Will mentions, because in the words of Michael Lebowitz, "Marx did not think that there was anything about a movement to end capitalism. People may struggle against specific aspects - they may struggle over the workday, the level of wages and working conditions, capital's destruction of the environment, etc [in our case racism and white supremecy] - but unless they understand the nature of the system, they are struggling merely for a nicer capitalism, a capitalism with a human face." This completely backs up what Will is saying. What I was trying to expand upon was that in order to raise the consciousness of the people we must fight for the "human face" to show those that have not imagined a world beyond our current problems that one is possible. It is in those legislative victories that we awaken those who will take it beyond.

Sorry this was so long, I just wanted to try to make myself clearer.

Tinsmith Snow said...

"...anything *automatic* about a movement to end capitalism..." that should read

Term Papers said...

i think S.A government should take step on this

Changeseeker said...

Well, yes, indeed, Mr. Snow. I hear you clearly NOW. ;^) And yes, I do agree on all points. Edna Bonacich's "split labor theory" describes how divide and conquer is used to befuddle and engage workers in such a way that some of them help to keep the others down because they've been counseled they're "special" (whether the group with the extra benefits is White or male or both, as one example). While this is going on, of course, those with the power to define (and own) are so far above both groups as to be virtually untouchable without class consciousness and solidarity developing.

I would also suggest that passing laws is good, but not very helpful if they're not enforced. This is where the rubber meets the road and is precisely the reason women still make less than men even though the law says it's illegal for that to happen. For that matter, the U.S. Constitution is VERY clear about the sanctity of inalienable rights which people of color and LGBTQ folks still have routine difficulty exercising as full citizens.

Thanks for clarifying. That was good stuff.

Term Papers: My understanding is that the AWB has decided it would be in their best interests to sit down and shut up -- without government intervention. Sounds like a good plan to me.