Racism: one way traffic?

At a private party, two girls dress up as domestic workers, with their faces painted black.  A picture of them  goes viral.  SA Students Congress (SASCO) reportedly calls it “racist in the extreme”.  [http://www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2014/08/06/patience-of-black-people-quickly-diminishing-says-sasco] The University of Pretoria says they have investigated and disciplined the students, because they are students at UP.  [http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Action-already-taken-against-blackface-students-20140806]

I would not want to make light of the pain and genuine sensitivity and hurt of other people.   I also cannot fault institutions for acting decisively against acts of racism. 

But I’m not quite sure that dressing up in a particular way at a private party could constitute “the dignity of Africans [to be] trampled upon”, to quote SASCO, and that it should call for disciplinary action. 

I observe my own kids who attend a tertiary education where they are in the minority.  They happen to be white.  They have grown up fairly colourblind, and having been in integrated schools, I do not detect racial prejudice with them.  Yet, they are very often the subject of racial abuse by their fellow black students.  The same kind of disposition that the media loves to report on when they find it in white people.   When the SAHRC very recently expressed concern about racism on campuses, would that concern include this kind of behaviour?

A few years back a prominent writer / lawyer / politically connected lady wrote a book on Affirmative Action (I don’t identify her or her book, because I’m recounting from memory and might not attribute the quote exactly correctly).  As I recall she defined racism as an action where the abuser could affect the social status of the abused person.  The argument then goes that, as black people cannot change white people’s social status, it follows that black people cannot be racist towards white people.

So how cool is that.  You create a definition that would allow you to be as obnoxious and abusive as you like, but you are immune from being called a racist.  You can call me Al, but you can’t call me a racist, to do a little adaptation on Paul Simon’s song. 

So there you have it.  That’s probably why Barney Pityana could call Dennis Davis a racist years ago with impunity [http://mg.co.za/article/1996-03-22-davis-pityana-row-cools-to-a-simmer].   

 Imminent politicians (mostly, but not limited to, the more junior side of the spectrum) would often publicly call Helen Zille a racist, or refer to her in racist terms.  And the only discernable basis on which they can attribute racism to her armoury, is simply because she is white.  In my view judging someone a racist because of the colour of her skin simply shows up your own racial prejudice, which is nothing but racism.

It is ok to call any white person a racist, but it normally seems to work better to call a farmer one.  Not only is it very popular, it also politically correct.    

A few years ago false charges (which were for that reason subsequently withdrawn) were made against farmers of Rawsonville.  All the who’s who of the political flamethrowing fraternity arrived in Rawsonville.  Inflammatory speaches were made, with comments including the following gem: 

“Ons is vandag hier om oorlog te verklaar. Ons is gekant teen geweld, maar as dit is wat dit verg om slegte boere in ’n regte rigting in te dwing, moet ons hulle in die rigting in moer. As boere aanhou om soos mal honde ons plaaswerkers se regte te skend, dan moet ons hulle slaan om op te hou, hoewel dit die laaste uitweg is. Hulle gaan k*k as hulle nie ophou nie.”

The Human Rights Commission was asked to adjudicate on these and other comments, [http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/action/media/downloadFile?media_fileid=964] but found that these utterances lacked a “clear intention” to be hurtful, harmful, incite harm or to promote or propagate hatred.

The matter that served before the HRC was to adjudicate on hate speech.  But the principle should come very close to the principles to be applied to adjudicate on whether an action had been racist or not. 

So let’s return to where we started, and apply those principles here:  Could the dressing up and colouring the faces by two girls at a private 21st party really be said to have been done “with the clear intention to be hurtful, harmful, incite harm or promote or propagate hatred”? 

Maryke Scheepers 2014/08/07 10:02:15 AM
Thank you!
Iam Theman 2014/08/07 10:03:18 AM
What can I say that hasn't been said before. Really unfortunate and even tragic that people of colour call the race card so quickly yet they can spew racism against whites all they want and that is okay. I think these girls parents should take the university to court - they will win. Well I love costume parties so at my next one I will be dressing up as a black woman - that koisan one with the deformed butt and other parts. And it will be done in an intentionally racist and derogatory way. Seems like being the better person does not work in SA. So might as well be just like them.
Robert Sidney 2014/08/07 10:03:52 AM
Another racist apologist. Sigh. What's new...
Johnny B Goode 2014/08/07 10:24:55 AM
Most comments by black and white people on the original article was one of disbelief. If the public reacts unanimously against Tuks across the races then it becomes clear that whoever is behind this has a fixed agenda, but is too stupid to perform said agenda without burning himself.
No Ohno 2014/08/07 10:32:33 AM
This issue has no proved that SA has lost it totally. Only one things matters in this country, and that is race. It is clear it is seeked out and there are great length to please find something racist every day so that SA can never rest on their laurels, and make sure there is never peace and harmony. This student issue, in my view in a country with this many problems and corruption and crime, it is ridiculous that this issue even made the media. As long as nonsense like this is seen as important, instead of people dying of hunger and desease and unemployemnt and non education, there is little hope for this country.
Mzwakhe Ndlovu 2014/08/07 10:35:35 AM
Ryan Brewster 2014/08/07 10:45:53 AM
So if I dress up as a cowboy at a private party I am trampling on the dignity of cowboys. If I dress up as a fisherman at a private party I am trampling on the dignity of fisherman or if I dress up as a policeman at a private party I am trampling on the dignity of policeman???? Seriously SASCO. I agree with you author 100%
Jurgen Hartmann 2014/08/07 11:05:49 AM
Excellent point. It is the usual making a mountain out of a molehill strategy of the PC black nationalist stormtroopers, which in the final analysis fails. The underlying intention is to control people and make them ultra sensitive to saying and doing anything which may offend. To hell with them!!!
Stephen Townshend 2014/08/07 11:44:19 AM
If this nonsense creates a precedent, we'll have to stop ALL comedians making ANY kind of jokes with even a hint of racial stereotypes, lest someone somewhere takes offence and throws a politically correct tantrum. Trevor Noah et al will need to get their CV's up to date...
CraigJoseph 2014/08/07 11:48:03 AM
Pamphlets calling for the killing of the "boers" and whites at NWU seems to have been blindly passed. Where's the uproar over that? Racism should never be a tit-for-tat case, but even when politicians have made blatantly racist remarks about whites, not so much as an eyebrow is lifted. Surely the disciplinary measures for racism should be consistent?