Help me understand the white psyche
BY: Mlilo Mpondo
What do slavery, colonialism, the Jim Crow laws and Apartheid (to mention but a few), tell us about white folk? They are a) afflicted and b) have serious control issues. Much attention is paid to black history; unfortunately our only marketable history begins in the early 1800s, when we (black folk) were officially introduced to white folk. Anything prior to this epoch doesn’t seem to get the sales going.
Black kingdoms, science and academia are never mentioned. I guess the black narrative without the stroke of struggle isn’t as romantic, doesn’t quite pull at heartstrings the way anguish seems to.
But that isn’t my point today. My point, in case I have been too vague in making it, is this: much mind is paid gazing at the black condition, but not enough of that mind is lent to its white counterpart.
I am yet to stumble upon any documentary or film that engages the psyche of white people. We know much about the effects of civil rights violations on black masses, not only do examples of it impose on our daily lives, it’s also a Hollywood favourite. But what I would like to know is this: what are the effects of civil rights violations on its architects and beneficiaries?
I don’t know much about white people but I have noted some tendencies. They are either one of four things, firstly: apologetic or empathetic (the latter being a lost cause). Second: not guilty, because “it wasn’t their fault”. Third: very eager to hold hands and sing Khumbaya around campfires with black chommies in a rainbow nation they are proud to be a part of. (This group is the keenest to forget, and don’t quite understand why people continue to lament about the past, especially now that blacks can shop at Woolworths). Lastly: indifferent, those who are of the notion that they saved us from ourselves. This category has a superiority complex; although they may not be hanging niggers from trees or raping maids in maize fields, they condescend with ease. They are the ones who keep a pocket book of nicknames in case a vernacular name should be too “difficult” to pronounce, are incensed when they meet a black person who cannot speak Afrikaans, and reprimand their staff for being too sensitive when said staff fails to laugh at racial jokes.
Recently I watched the cinematic genius of Steven McQueen’s, 12 Years A Slave, an extraordinary film which I implore anyone reading this to watch. Do not misunderstand me; there was nothing revealing about this film, at least nothing that Amistad, Sarafina, Mississippi Burning and a host of other films of this genre, alongside my brief module on slavery, had not already taught me. While watching the expectantly redundant, but ghastly condition, of slavery, I was not moved by the brutality exerted upon entire generations of black people; I was instead compelled to consider the psyche of white people. I could not for the life of me help but think that white people are seriously fanatical, bollocks, psychopaths, crazy, JUST PURE NUTS.
I kept wondering, what on God’s green earth had happened to these people to make them so insatiable, brutal, malevolent and just downright hateful? Again, do not misunderstand me, no race is without faults or atrocity. But none in history compares to the mayhem caused by white folk across the equator, most sorely felt in Africa.
Granted, colonialism is an experience familiar to all races, an undertaking assumed mostly by Europeans (again white folk). However, when it comes to Africa, no continent has suffered comparably. Whereas in other nations colonialism was mostly concerned with economics by way of appropriating resources to sustain a continent that had fucked up its own, when it came to Africa the mission had more depth. The colonisation of Africa was concerned with more than land conquests. Its ethos was “take the mind but keep the body”, a theory advocated by a pronounced slave owner named Willy Lynch. It emphasised the appropriating of the mind and identity.
Exhibit A: The institutionalisation of the Christian religion, followed by the disappearance of African names, then African pride and its encompassed identity. Exhibit B: Hut and Poll taxes, forcibly removing black men from their homes and placing them in mines, thereby disintegrating a family unit which to this day has been a struggle to rebuild.
Now you (white folk) may assert that this history 411 is a stifling rhetoric which serves only to continuously divide us. My response to this would be that you (white folk) continue to exist in a condition of nonchalance. For some reason unbeknown to me, you (white folk) assume that just because your daughter’s best friend is Naledi, all is well. You may be the type that has a handful of black friends, you may have even felt sorrow at the passing of Mandela, or might sponsor an NGO for black babies with HIV and may have even adopted a few, you may even pay for the school fees of your maid’s children. Yet still, perhaps unknowingly, you contribute to the dehumanised condition in which black people exist. Poverty of every dimension (mostly of the psyche) is still a black condition.
What you don’t understand is that it is perpetuated by you who remain apathetic. It is made constant by white folk who, although liberal, can casually blame the depreciation of the rand on ignorant miners, farmers, and all labourers alike that strike for better wages. Obscene bonuses of mining CEOs don’t perplex you as much as they frustrate the rest of us. You, who complain that higher wages would affect profit and dismiss Malema’s calls for nationalisation and land redistribution as foolish, ignoring the fact that a majority of black folk continue to live in squalor in shacks or derelict RDP houses. You, who complain that higher wages would affect profit and ultimately GDP. Instead you are more concerned with the negative image caused by all the toyi-toying and how blacks just don’t understand economics. Is it that you are delusional or just divorced from reality? Either way, we are asking questions.
These disregards for black people could possibly explain why in the past decade students at the University of the Free State made cleaners drink urine; why two black men on their way home from work were tied up to the back of a bakkie and had the life dragged out of them by two white men, or why that white farmer threw his black worker into a lion enclosure. It could even shed light on why two young white boys, barely out of puberty, found themselves beating the life out of a homeless black man.
How do you, on the one hand, through your passivity and continued comfort, annihilate black masses, whilst, on the other, insist that we all just get along? I just want to know what it’s like to be, in history and at present, the greatest violators of human rights, what made you this way? Unknowingly or otherwise, how are you this afflicted and so darn crazy?
I know plenty about being all kinds of black, literature has favoured us kindly. But today I would like to know what it means to be white. DM
**I could not post this on my blog directly; had to copy and paste.
It is an interesting read and would like your opinion too. It was written by a South African, and it would be interesting hear other views from people across the globe.
I will give my two cents worth in the next post. x