The other day i started a series looking at the concept or idea of ‘The better coloured/black/indian’.
i am still hoping to share a few more stories on it as they come in, but i think it has already been useful in helping some white people to become aware of its existence and hopefully get some more helpful conversations and actions going.
As a white person it is important to note that while i don’t experience it, do i perhaps propogate it?
Start by becoming aware
What do i do that is a part of creating spaces where people who do not look or sound like me feel any kind of pressure to change themselves to fit in?
That is probably the question that white people need to grapple with when it comes to this one.
i think the easiest one is language. This tends to be an area where white people feel entitled because so much of the world operates around English.
Firstly, it might be helpful to our fragile egos to know that that is not true. English is only the third most spoken language in the world after Chinese and Spanish. But in the same way that a person in Bergvliet can live the majority of life where the only black/coloured/indian people they encounter are in positions of service to them [look after their garden, pack their groceries, fill their car with petrol] most white people in South Africa will live a life that suggests that English is the most spoken language [movies, books, news, online, advertising, people].
This is a tough point to write because it feels semi hypocritical in that i am not there yet, but i firmly believe that every South African should be doing their best to learn the predominant black african language in the region where they live. So for me as someone who lives in Cape Town, i need to learn to speak isiXhosa. i am trying to, but it is a slow process and i need to do better. But it is something that absolutely needs to be done.
However, until that point has been reached, i think a helpful step in the right direction is being so much more aware of who we are speaking to and what their first language is. When we make fun of the president for not being able to say big numbers we are in fact missing the statement that needs to be made about the history of inequal schooling in South Africa that helped set him up for failure. And the recognition that English is not our president’s first language. And that he no doubt speaks way more languages than i do.
If a black/coloured/indian person has to change the way they speak in our presence because of a fear of being mocked or corrected or looked down upon, then that is ‘the better…’ culture being enforced.
This feels like a much trickier one and i long to get a diverse group of people together in a room to speak in length about cultural appropriation sometime [next Deep Dive Dinner anyone?] because that feels like such a complicated topic. But again it probably has more to do with a tendency to mock or belittle or look down upon where someone who is different from you feels like they have to let go of some aspect of who they are to be presentable and acceptable to you. That is not okay.
At the same time i firmly believe that all culture needs to be held under a magnifying glass [and in the volatile world we live in it probably makes sense that people start by examining their own culture] as culture itself is not all good or all bad, but there are probably some aspects of everyone’s culture that can and should be loudly celebrated and some areas that should be boldly condemned and stepped away from.
Food feels like such an easy place to start getting this right – connecting with people who are different from you and sharing meals where everyone brings something that represents their culture or is a staple of their culture or where a group of diverse people find a completely different culture from all of them and go and explore that food together.
 White is not right.
But this is the big one that white people need to directly be dealing with and dismantling and figuring out how we can be part of a new world culture [because this is not just a South African thing] – the idea that white is right or better or worthy of aspiring to.
Terence spoke about it painfully as a comment from someone who suggested: I don’t think of you as coloured which states loudly that ‘coloured’ is something less than, to be ashamed of, to work away from – as if appearing white was the goal and the way to arrive – this is not unfortunate, it is absolutely horrific – WE NEED TO GET THIS, WHITE PEOPLE!
i think when people write or speak against whiteness, then white people tend to hear that people are against them as white people which is not the point.
There is a stark difference between white people and whiteness which is so important to understand in order to be able to move forwards.
i found these two definitions of whiteness that i feel are quite helpful:
‘Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior. [Henry, F., & Tator, C. (2006). The colour of democracy: Racism in Canadian society . 3rd Ed. Toronto: Nelson. ]
‘a dominant cultural space with enormous political significance, with the purpose to keep others on the margin….white people are not required to explain to others how ‘white’ culture works, because ‘white’ culture is the dominant culture that sets the norms. Everybody else is then compared to that norm….In times of perceived threat, the normative group may well attempt to reassert its normativity by asserting elements of its cultural practice more explicitly and exclusively.’ [Frankenberg, R. (1993). White women, race matters: The social construction of whiteness. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ]
One of the key ideas is that whiteness is seen as the norm which then makes it the standard which brings about the whole process of people who are not white feeling pressure to assume whiteness so that they can appear as the norm or the standard or just basically fit in.
As it says above, ‘the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior’. That is what we need to be fighting against. It starts by becoming aware and acknowledging the fact that all around the world this has [and in many cases, still is] been a thing. Advertising, Hollywood, other areas of the media, the list goes on…
Become aware and acknowledge. Whiteness is a thing. It is not true [being white is in no way better than being black/coloured/indian etc]. It is deeply destructive and needs to be dismantled.
i think a lot of people still need to get to that point. Once we ‘get it’ then we can start figuring out the how of dismantling, and how not to do that with a ‘white saviour swoops in and saves the day’ kind of attitude as has too often been our misguided modus operandi.
i would love to have some engagement on this topic from white people – Is this something you have been aware of? Is this a brand new concept? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? Let’s wrestle this out a bit.