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Whiteness - a limit to freedom



Dear Beloved,


I hope you are keeping well and warm if you are situated somewhere here on the southern tip of Africa. It is particularly cold this Sunday morning. I often get reminded how South Africa’s socio-political, economic, and legal arrangements are still very much wielded by colonial constructs despite the so-called freedom from white domination the country gained 30 years ago. The more I learn and understand who I am as a black African, the more I attempt to situate myself in spaces where my politics and contribution to the earth and humanity are consistent with my values; one of them being justice and fairness for all. A value I believe we should all espouse. But whiteness proves to be a hindrance to the realisation of this ideal. Whiteness, as a concept became actualised as law in South Africa and across the world- in everyday life, in many ways. The colonisation of the South African socio-political and economic life provided different racial groups unequal access to citizenship and property, while institutionalised and systemic social practices including racist imaging in the media celebrated and aggrandized white supremacy. By whiteness, I am not referring to white people, I am referring to the realities of the social construction that works to strengthen and reinforce white power, privilege, and wealth at institutional levels and everyday experience. While the term may invoke ideas related to skin colour, whiteness refers more specifically to a structural position, an ideology and not a biology. An ideology that positions a particular racial identity as superior relative to other races within a system of racial hierarchy. Whiteness is the result of social and cultural processes, deeply rooted in a global history of European colonialism, imperialism, and transatlantic slavery maintained today through various institutions, ideologies, and everyday social practices. Whiteness embodies both a material reality – connected to the unequal economic and political power exerted by those racialised as white, as well as a symbolic reality – shaped by the cultural meanings attached to whiteness as a form of exaggerated value, aesthetics, morality, and civilisation. White people thus derive both material and psychological advantages from whiteness through societal norms and institutions—conditions that masquerade and obscure the unjust nature of white domination. White supremacy as a component of the ideology of whiteness is overwhelming. Whiteness is regarded as the norm or standard in society and yet the advantages that racial dominance accrues to white people are unacknowledged and ignored by white people. In South Africa, 30 years post democracy, we still see the selective democratisation of capitalism as a racially stratifying force. In capitalism, economic activities are politically managed to make self-reliance possible, enabling mobility for some groups (often whites) and not Others. The reality is that market economies are not self-regulating, and neither are market actors capable of economic self-reliance on their own. It is said, the key ingredients of economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete, and protection of persons and property. This concept of economic freedom is closely related to the presence of protective rights, that is, rights that provide individuals with a shield against others who would invade and/or take what does not belong to them. So, how do we then ensure meaningful economic participation of the Others, considering the over 400 years of systematic and institutionalised invading of a people and their land [property]? Please hold your thought. South Africa’s commerce is built on the Glen Grey Act of 1894, a system that enforced the obligatory payment of tax with the aim of taking away land from ordinary farmers who were not part of the then money economy. This is the foundation on which South Africa’s economic system is built--the whiteness that bequeaths the now property owners/landlords, the establishers of the economic system with even more power over the Other. A well-designed system that sustains whiteness like honour among thieves, evidenced by the legitimised highway robbery and low cheating seen in the business world. A cause for bigger thieves and deeper injustice.

“Oppression costs the oppressor too much if the oppressed stands up and protests. The protest need not be merely physical-the throwing of stones and bullets-if it is mental, spiritual; if it expresses itself in silent, persistent dissatisfaction, the cost to the oppressor is terrific.” - W. E. B. Du Bois



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