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 this...um...stuff, 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.