South Africa and Racial Superiority

Published on 25th December 2017

In his 1952 book Black Skin White Masks which must be required reading in schools, Frantz Fanon writes that he has not heard of a single black South African in South Africa who thinks he was superior to white people but all white people think they were superior to black people.

How many white South Africans and Europeans today, 65 years after Fanon’s book was published, honestly believe as Fanon, Robert Sobukwe, Dr Cheikh Anta Diop, Dr Frances Cress Welsing, Stephen Bantu Biko and many others correctly pointed out that racial superiority is a myth and that no race is superior to any other? Sobukwe went on to say there is only one race, that is, the human race and that the physical differences among different groups of people were a result of the environment or geographic location. Dr Diop said at the genotypical level human beings are the same but differ at the phenotypical level. Genotype refers to the genes while phenotype refers to physical appearance. Sobukwe and Diop were saying the same thing unbeknownst to each other.

I can’t believe that 65 years after the publication of Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks I can read an article such as Professor Steven Friedman’s published in the Star of 15 December, (Steinhoff Saga shows venality has no Race), which consciously or subconsciously reinforces racial stereotypes and sending out subliminal messages buttressing racial superiority.

Friedman’s opening paragraph reads, “South Africans are fond of debating whether public or private sector failings are a bigger problem. It does not take too long to realise they are really talking about race.” I would like to hear from Friedman and his ilk if this debate existed during the apartheid era or it suddenly became an issue since 1994. And if it was not there why not since the public and private sector were more corrupt than now since Europeans arrived in South Africa having usurped the indigenous people’s country, excluded them from the economic and political system, subjected them to cheap labour, detained them at will and exposed them to extra-judicial executions? The ANC government has its share of extra-judicial murders but plays a poor second to colonialist and settler colonialist governments.

Friedman continued, “Apartheid was underpinned by strong beliefs in white superiority – these don’t simply melt away because political rules change. People are used to seeing one racial group in skilled jobs, giving orders to the other: inevitably, this becomes natural and so being white is associated with merit, being black with lacking it.”

Friedman can’t write objectionable statements such as those without emphatically qualifying them with rebuttals that white superiority is a myth and therefore wrong and even go further like Sobukwe and say that white supremacy must be destroyed. Those ‘strong beliefs in white superiority don’t simply melt away because political rules change’ because the ANC government doesn’t know how to deal with white supremacy decisively. Which people are used to seeing one racial group in skilled jobs, giving orders to the other? And to whom does this anomaly become natural and associating merit with white people and lack thereof with black people? And does it make it right though? And who created that abnormal situation? What Friedman describes came about as a result of colonialism and settler colonialism. White people are here because of colonialism and settler colonialism. And colonialism is a brutal form of oppression which doesn’t end up with physical oppression but also mental and cultural oppression. Not condemning these patently racist tendencies is tantamount to justifying colonialism.

Friedman writes that government departments are almost always associated with waiting in long queues. I don’t know where Friedman and those in the suburbs who associate long queues with the current government were during apartheid. There were long queues during apartheid and what was annoying was that white people were shunted in front of those long queues. They never followed queues at the banks, post offices and all government departments. White people are now frustrated that they have to follow queues like everybody else.

Friedman is trying to say that corruption and mismanagement have nothing to do with race and that people should watch as carefully over private companies as they do over government departments. If white supremacy is a myth and if there is no race that is superior to any other and also doing away with racial stereotypes, what Friedman tries to prove is a moot point.

He went on to write, “But given how entrenched racial attitudes are, it is more likely that it will be dismissed as a once-off freak by those who assume that white-led business is always competent and as further evidence of white prejudice by black people reacting to the label often stuck to them.”

Some psychologists argue that attitudes are much more complex cognitive structures than simple judgements regarding an object of thought and downplays the complexity within people’s belief systems. Friedman’s use of the phrase ‘racial attitudes’ obfuscates the fact that white people’s racism is much more than attitudes and forms their belief system.

By Sam Ditshego.

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