Blackface – South Africa’s biggest non-story

Hold the phone! Stop the presses! Forget the most important issues of the day!

Two white varsity students have dressed up as black people (Gasp)!

Earthquake victims in the North West? Pfft!

Allegations of university lectures deliberately failing students who have in fact passed their exams, resulting in violent protests? Get outta here!

The Oscar Trial’s closing arguments? So over it!

Tell us more about those racist white girls!

What’s old Intwana talking about here? A heinous example of racist hate speech. Blatant displays of discrimination and oppression? No.

He’s talking about this photo:

blackface

It’s astounding how such a non-story has got such an overwhelming amount of attention, on social media or otherwise. Why should we even care what anyone wears to a fancy dress party – a university fancy dress party, nonetheless? What business is it of ours? And how the f@ck did it even make the news, with everything else that’s going on in the world?

You might say, that because of our country’s long history of racism, the girls in question made a highly insensitive costume-choice and, in so doing, touched on a very sore point in our society’s collective consciousness. But there are a number of factors here that blow that argument out of the water.

The first one being that these girls dressed up as black people for a private party, not a public event. Someone else took the photo in question from their Facebook profiles and made the world aware of it. They didn’t actively campaign for the general public to view and comment upon their photo, rubbing it in the (black) faces of as many race-sensitive people as possible. Other people did that. The same people claiming that the photo in question was such a disgrace that they dare not even look at it are the exact same people who ogled over it and frantically shared it.

Facebook is a part of the internet and therefore the public domain, you say? They shouldn’t have posted it to Facebook for the whole world to see? Please. They have their own private profiles, just like you and me. Technically, the whole world has access to my bathroom window. If you so wished, you could hop over the wall and peer through it.

That would be an invasion of my privacy. If you took a photo of me brushing my teeth in my underpants, that would be a massive invasion of my privacy (and weird). And if you shared that photo with other people… well, then we’d need to talk about royalties.

Although I can’t imagine anyone wanting to witness the unspeakable horrors that take place while I get ready for work in the morning, the point is that if you were willing to make the effort, you could.  It’s simply a lot quicker and easier to invade someone’s privacy on Facebook.

So far, there have been no recorded complaints from black people in attendance of the party (or from anyone else who may have seen the girls on the night). I stand to be corrected so if you know otherwise, please share.

If one gives the girls the benefit of the doubt, one must assume that they would not have dressed up in such a manner had they known of anyone at the party who may have been  hurt by their actions. It’s likely that they were indifferent as to the risk of offending anyone. In other words, they had worked hard on their costumes and being offensive hadn’t even entered their thought-patterns. Does an ignorance of what could be perceived as racist, make them racist? No. I don’t even think it makes them insensitive.

But let’s assume for a moment that the girls are two vehement racists; that they’re favourite festive-season song is I’m dreaming of a white Christmas; and that they only dressed like stereotypical domestic workers because the costume shop was all out of Klu Klux Klan outfits.

shoulder shrug

‘Sorry, there’s an AWB rally this weekend.’

Alright, so, hypothetically, we’ve got two evil white-girl racists preparing for a fancy-dress party. They each decide to dress like a domestic worker  – although being both white and racist, they would probably have used the word ‘maid’. So what?

What is their racism by itself? What is racism alone, if it stops at racism and never proceeds to become discrimination and/or oppression?

If you Google racism, you’re met with this definition:

racism definition

Yes, racism infers prejudice, discrimination and intolerance towards people of different races but it is first and foremost, in itself, simply a belief; an ideology;  an intangible thing. Nothing more. It is not an action. And it does not guarantee discrimination or intolerance to follow.

I agree that it is a belief that has only ever served to hurt innocent human beings. It is the source of terrible acts and crimes against humanity and I like to believe that I am not a racist. But should someone be punished for a belief alone? Even if it is racism? Can a man or woman not go there entire lives harbouring racist beliefs without ever doing any more harm than occasionally hurting someone’s feelings; without ever acting upon their racist beliefs?

And is it our responsibility to make sure we never hurt anyone’s feelings?

If I dress up in drag for a fancy-dress party, it doesn’t make me sexist and it doesn’t mean I’m displaying a prejudice towards homosexuals either. It’s simply an example of me trying (and perhaps failing) to be funny, in my own way in the private company of my friends.

It is a knee-jerk reaction of many South Africans to label anything that could be racist as something that is, without doubt, racist. And in this case, that knee-jerk reaction could have ruined the lives of two South African girls.

That’s all they are: South African girls. Why was there whiteness immediately highlighted and used against them? It would seem that the Rainbow Nation’s honeymoon period is over and we are again a nation obsessed with race.

These two girls dressed up as domestic workers. Part of that was painting themselves black (the one girl didn’t even do a good job at it). If only they hadn’t committed to their costume and instead had left their skin white. If they had pretended to be Oriental and painted themselves yellow with slitty eyes, they would never have got any media attention.

What happened to this idea?

mandela de klerk

What do you suppose these two gentleman would really think about this whole blackface ‘scandal’? F.W De Klerk is still around to speak for himself but I’d imagine Nelson Mandela would have wanted us to get over it and get on with it – get on with creating the kind of accepting, understanding nation he fought for instead of getting caught up in the frivolous matter of two girls’ costume choice.

Domestic workers exist, and so does the associated stereotype. So what? What should have been a complete non-issue has done nothing but fuel the fires of racism.

I’m aware that there are many, many people, black, white, pink, brown and yellow people who feel the same way I do about it all. To you I say, congratulations. You have common sense – an increasingly rare commodity.

To everyone who thinks this issue is an outrage, I advise you to get the f@ck off your high horses. But if you must stay on them, go ride them off the cliff of public opinion and in to the abyss of misinformation, where you belong.

2537_58340491524_3127741_n

That’s me at a 21st, a little while back, dressed as Jacob Zuma.

Note: Jacob Zuma is black. This photo is available on Facebook and no one gives a sh*t.

 
Featured image:  Presidentes by Daniel Lobo via Flickr under the Creative Commons License.

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3 thoughts on “Blackface – South Africa’s biggest non-story

  1. Why are we always taking about white people?! So what if they want to be black?!
    It’s fine! It’s too shap.

    What about the ‘white-faces’? Black people trying to be white? They are dancing at the robot every day. Nobody talks about them.

    Liked by 1 person

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