Two quick thoughts about whiteness that have been inspired by pieces that two amazing women [Jess and Jana] have written for my upcoming book on race.

Less than ten percent of people in South Africa are white, by way of introduction and context.

[1] Does living in the suburbs give you the illusion that most people in South Africa are white?

In Cape Town at least, there are suburbs where this is true, and still a fair number of them i think, and they tend to be wealthier suburbs. You know, the ones where they are putting the bike paths in.

But i think it happens all over the country and despite my friend Sindile’s assertions, i have been told that this is true even in some areas in the Johannesburg region. It is definitely becoming less and less of the norm, but if the suburb you live in could give a visitor from another planet []who was beamed straight into your suburb and lived with you for a month] the idea that the country is mostly white, there might be a problem in the suburb you are living in.

[2] If you are a white person in South Africa and the only people of colour you come into contact with on a regular basis are people who serve you (clean your house, look after your garden, grow your children, fill your car with petrol, pack your groceries) then that also feels like a real problem. Especially when it comes to your children, if you have them. Because you are sending them a loud message – people of colour are there to serve us.

As tbv and myself try to educate ourselves and listen and learn, one of the things we have tried to train ourselves to do is be aware of whiteness. If we are at a restaurant and everyone around us is white [except the waiters and cleaning staff]; if we are at a conference and the entire panel up front is white [or five white people and one person of colour]; if we are at a wedding and all the guests are white; if we are at a braai or a church service or an event and everybody is white… we want to notice it. We want it to feel uncomfortable and abnormal. We want it to cause us to ask questions. Not because there should never be an occasion when only white people are gathered in a place doing a thing, but because in a country that is less than 10% white it should NOT be the norm…

Being white is not a problem. Whiteness is a problem. The elevation it receives due to no merit of its own is unhelpful and false. It is so important for us to realise and really believe that if we are only surrounded by white people who have significant roles in our lives then WE ARE MISSING OUT. We need to all start making better choices in terms of where and how we lives and the kind of contexts we find ourselves in on a regular basis.