Deaf White People

Deaf White People

Sorry, that should read ‘Dear White People’, a super helpful, brilliantly made series on Netflix that i am busy watching, which does an excellent job of unpacking many of the race issues i try to write about here. From a range of perspectives. [Disclaimer: it is quite sexualised for people who don’t particularly enjoy watching that but still sho so powerful]

Or should it?

Because yesterday i posted this request on my Facebook wall…

Friends of mine who are not white: i fully get why ‘non-white’ is offensive in terms of labelling something as something it’s not – the idea that whiteness is the ideal to be aimed at – but for the first time in Durban i had pushback on the term ‘People of Colour’ and i would love to hear your thoughts… when i am speaking into things of race and need to distinguish between white people [who put the laws in place] and everyone else [who was affected in different ways by the laws] it has felt like a helpful term so as not to have to say black, coloured, indian every time [which also does exclude some other nationalities/backgrounds of people who live in South Africa but don’t fall into those categories]

So given the context [i am not a big fan of labels – ask the poor lady who tries to stick one on me on Sunday mornings at St Johns] of dialoguing about race, what do you feel about ‘People of Colour’ and is there a better term or different way of dealing with it.

And let’s see if this works: White people, this is not for you to respond to.

Spoiler Alert: It didn’t work. And it’s not like we didn’t see it coming.

My friend Claudia commented: I saw your status and laughed out loud at your request to the white audience. I expected more white responses though.

While my friend Zamaswazi had this to say: I wanted to respond. But I’m currently feeling drained right now.

i think this is one of the most important lessons to be learned by us as white people. The mantra my friend Megan keeps repeating that “This is not about me” is one we should probably all repeat to ourselves twenty times in the mirror each morning before logging on.

While the race conversation is in many ways about you, it is not about you [or me] taking center stage and holding the mic and doing the talking. It is about us stepping back and being okay with being in the shadows for a while [maybe forever?] while we listen to the black, coloured, indian and other voices to hopefully learn something about where our place is in all this.

But it is a bit of a catch-22 hold-this-thing-in-tension piece because at the same time, another issue we often bring to this table is expecting those who are not white to do all the work for us with a “How do I stop being racist?” or “Tell me what I must do?” question and what is unhelpful with that is that it puts all the work and effort on someone else, when this is actually something we need to be investing in with 0ur time, finances, energy and skills.

If those two things seem to contradict each other, they really don’t, they just need to be managed carefully.

[1] Do the work: One of the ways to do this is by reading up on the history of South Africa past and present from the perspectives of people who do not look like you. Robert Sobukwe’s ‘How can man die better?’ and Steve Biko’s ‘I write what I like’ are two good places to start. Getting a broader perspective with writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates or Michelle Alexander’s ‘The New Jim Crow’ who speak into American race relations is also supremely helpful as a lot of the stories and issues overlap and there is often something we can learn from an outsider’s perspective that might be a blind spot for us.

[2] Do the listening [and practice not speaking/writing/chiming in/needing to lead]:

When the first white person to comment jumped in on my status, he began with this:

And I apologise that this post is the one I feel the need to reply to. 

And he ended with this:

I apologize, I know I’m not ‘of colour’, just my humble 2c.

Two ‘apologies’, but both of which mean absolutely nothing, because of the hundred posts i make on Facebook a day, this was the one that i asked white people not to respond to. So it is not humble, it is the opposite of that, because you are once again pushing yourself into a space that is not yours to begin with.

It is super hard for us not to be the center of attention or main voice or leader when that is historically what was set up for us and what we have seen modelled for the most part. And so it is something we need to learn to do differently. The movie ‘Higher Learning’ introduced me to the term ‘UNLEARN’ which i think for white people in South Africa and around the world is an amazing concept we need to grab hold of, because so much of what we grew up with as the prevailing messages around us taught us things that were not helpful. Patriarchy [the men in charge, man’s voice being more important and significant, men being paid more for the same work etc etc] goes hand in hand with this race stuff in this regard and so white males, our job is that little bit harder and needs to be more intentional. And i haven’t spoken enough into that.

So for starters, click on this link, which is my original Facebook status and simply go and read the comments and the conversations which are really rich and helpful and even though it might seem like there is no easy answer to the question, knowing that is huge. Life together will be messy. But in a good way if we all commit to the mess.

[3] Place yourselves in spaces where white people are not in the majority and intentionally sit back: If during an average week, you don’t find yourself in spaces where white people are outnumbered [in a country where we make up something like 9% of the population] then you have to recognise that there is some intentionality there. But also if you are never in the minority in a group of people [workplace, sports team, church, gym, friend group] then you make it a lot harder to be able to learn and put so much pressure on the one or two black, coloured or indian people who, if the white people are listening then have to do all the work.

Prioritise friendships with people who don’t look like you. Choose more carefully who you send the invites out to.

Spoiler Alert: This might create some really uncomfortable situations. Do yourself a favour and chat to one of your black friends and get them to explain the term ‘better black’ to you and realise that in so many contexts around South Africa, including many churches, black, coloured and indian people have been feeling uncomfortable all their lives. It is our turn now. And that’s okay.

So, Dear White People, please don’t becomes Deaf White People. There is so much to be done and as much as a lot of people seem to somehow think i am negative about all this stuff, i really don’t see it that way. i am super excited always about the kind of country we can become – about a day when Rainbow Nation is actually something that describes us and we can take joy in each and every single colour represented without spurting off nonsense like “I don’t see colour!” [What kind of a waste is that]. I am invigorated by the many, many people who are taking this stuff seriously and starting to meet around dinner tables and at church gatherings and on benches in the park and coffee tables to talk and wrestle about these things. It is exciting to me, but it also feels quite urgent.

Oh, and that hair thing… just no!

dear white people hair


By | 2017-05-11T19:01:06+00:00 May 11th, 2017|pain and Hope, race vibes, South Africa, things to wrestle with|3 Comments

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.


  1. Megan May 11, 2017 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Good post Brett. Really good one. Thank you.

  2. Conrad May 12, 2017 at 10:07 am - Reply

    I really don’t understand why black girls wear hairpieces. When I ask my sisters, they say its because every culture and race does it. Not really. I think if you have natural thick hair, then let it grow freely. I am trying to free my sisters from mental slavery, but they insist on spending hours getting fake hair. It makes it out to be the norm i.e. straight hair. You will be shocked to know how much sisters spend on hair products, weaving, straighteners and the amount of time spent in these hair salons. Please could you get a black friend to write a blog entry on this. If more sisters walked around proudly displaying their natural hair, then so much money would be saved, and they would have more pride in themselves.

  3. Conrad May 12, 2017 at 10:11 am - Reply

    For example I have a cousin and the one month she had R700 left. She is also on SASSA. So she says to me that she must budget this (job + grant), and now with 5 days to go before the month end, she goes to the salon and does the full thing with the hair for R280, but this leaves only 200 for her boy and 220 for herself. So she could be better spending this money on just being her normal self. Black people must free themselves from mental slavery. Why is straight hair the norm and even black people don’t proudly display their own hair.

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