In gesprek oor witwees in Suid-Afrika met Melissa Steyn en Christi van der Westhuizen / In conversation about whiteness in South Africa with Melissa Steyn and Christi van der Westhuizen

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Op versoek van LitNet het Kees van der Waal vrae oor witwees aan twee kenners, Melissa Steyn en Christi van der Westhuizen, gestel. Die vraag-en-antwoordgesprek het per e-pos plaasgevind. 

At the request of LitNet, Kees van der Waal posed questions on whiteness to two experts, Melissa Steyn and Christi van der Westhuizen. The Q&A conversation took place via e-mail.

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  • Also read the (Afrikaans) LitNet Akademies (Humanities) article by Liezl Dick (2018), "Assemblage theory, affect and whiteness. An alternative perspective on whiteness and its mechanisms". Read the English abstract here.

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Melissa Steyn is professor en eerste direkteur van die Wits Sentrum vir Diversiteitstudies en beklee die Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Navorsing-leerstoel in Kritiese Diversiteitstudies. Sy is die outeur van Whiteness just isn't what it used to be: White identity in post-apartheid society1 en (mede)redakteur van ses boeke oor ras, kultuur, gender en seksualiteit.

Melissa Steyn is a professor and founding director of the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies and holds the South African National Research Chair in Critical Diversity Studies. She authored Whiteness just isn't what it used to be: White identity in post-apartheid society and (co)edited six books on race, culture, gender and sexuality.

Christi van der Westhuizen is medeprofessor by die Sentrum vir die Bevordering van Nie-rassigheid en Demokrasie aan die Nelson Mandela-Universiteit en skrywer van Sitting Pretty – White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa2 en White Power & the Rise and Fall of the National Party3. 

Christi van der Westhuizen is an associate professor at the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy, Nelson Mandela University and author of Sitting Pretty – White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa and White Power & the Rise and Fall of the National Party.

 Kees van der Waal is emeritus-professor in Sosiale Antropologie, Universiteit Stellenbosch.

Kees van der Waal is emeritus professor in Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University.

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Kees van der Waal: Die mag en aansprake van sogenaamde blankes is reeds tydens kolonialisme deur swart Suid-Afrikaners uitgedaag en hulle is ook later deur wit radikale teenstanders van apartheid hierin gesteun. In postapartheid Suid-Afrika is daar hewige openbare debatte oor witwees. Hierdie begrip vra vir nadere ontleding en eerstens vra ek dus: Wat beteken witwees ("whiteness") en waar kom die debat daaroor vandaan? 

The power and claims of so-called whites were already challenged by black South Africans during colonialism and they were lateron also supported in this by white radical opponents of apartheid. In postapartheid South Africa there are intense public debates about whiteness. This notion asks for closer examination and therefore I start by asking: What does whiteness mean and where does the debate on whiteness originate?

Melissa Steyn: Let me start with the question about where the debate originates. In the latter part of the past century, we saw very important changes in the way in which we understand power, based on the insights of poststructuralist philosophers (such as Foucault). We came to understand that it operates largely through the ability of social norms to shape knowledge, discipline bodies and produce subjectivities.

While those at the centre of the normative arrangements seem merely "normal" and unexceptional, those that fall outside of the norm are marked. It took a while for this insight to filter into analyses of the functioning of the discourse of "race" in society, but in time the recognition grew that "race" shapes society through creating a racial norm, the space of whiteness, which deflects attention away from its own operations by keeping us fixated on the "others".

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"To understand whiteness in South Africa one has to remember the historical rivalries between English and Afrikaans whitenesses, in a context where English whiteness had the power of Empire backing it." – Melissa Steyn 

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This was the understanding that informed the early development of the field of Whiteness Studies. Before the conceptual framework of Whiteness Studies developed, the problems of "blackness" were widely understood to be what needed addressing; now we understand that our attention should be more directly focused on where the problem emanates, which is the power of whiteness.   

When one understands this conceptual shift, it becomes easier to see whiteness as the positionality of power that people of Europe, and European descent, have inhabited in the modern global world order.

Europeans were able to construct themselves as the norm for the human, the benchmark of intelligence, beauty, civilisation, culture, knowledge, rationality and so on. Whiteness is the space of entitlement in which the everyday privileges that come with being the assumed norm of humanness are taken for granted, and when we are socialised into whiteness we tend to internalise certain ways of being in the world.

One important aspect of the privilege is a tendency not to recognise or take seriously how racial privilege and oppression shape both our own, and others' lives.

Christi van der Westhuizen: Om by witwees uit te kom, begin ’n mens by rassisme, wat benader kan word as die valse toeskrywing van menslike waarde op die grondslag van fenotipe, ter wille van materiële bevoordeling. Witwees verwys nie eenvoudig na velkleur nie, maar is eerder ’n konsep wat ’n rasseformasie vasvat.

Hierdie rasseformasie is binne die denkraamwerk van wit dominasie geskep wat met kolonialisme en apartheid geassosieer word. Witwees verwys dus na ’n sosiale identiteit met sielkundige, emosionele en ook materiële dimensies, wat omtrent vier eeue oud is en verskillende gedaantes in hierdie tyd aangeneem het.

Die vroegste werk oor witwees kom in Kritiese Arbeidstudies en Feministiese Studies voor, byvoorbeeld David Roeddiger se Wages of Whiteness (1991)4 en Ruth Frankenberg se White Women, Race Matters (1993)5.

Die debat oor witwees is een van die jongste verwikkelinge in denke en aktivisme oor die afgelope twee eeue wat spesifiek téén rassisme gemik is. Die intellektuele invloede kom oorwegend van swart denkers soos WEB du Bois, Ida B Wells, Frantz Fanon en, ter plaatse, Steve Biko.

Die ontwikkeling van die transdissiplinêre veld Kritiese Witwees-studies vanaf die vroeë 1990's kan gelees word as die implementering van die idee dat kritiese intellektuele werk van "die rasse-objek na die subjek" moet verskuif, soos Toni Morrison dit in 19926 uitgedruk het.

In die Suid-Afrikaanse sosiale wetenskappe het ons in die verlede ’n uitermatige beklemtoning van die marges van onderdrukking gesien, terwyl die magsentrums soos witwees, manlikheid en heteronormatiwiteit onbestudeer was. Suid-Afrikaanse studies oor witwees is een van die pogings om hierdie skeefgetrekte ontleding te korrigeer. Ek brei verder uit in my volgende antwoord. 

Is die begrip "witwees" toepaslik op die Suid-Afrikaanse sosiale situasie? Waarom is die debat daaroor juis nou so heftig? 

Is the notion of "whiteness" applicable to the South African social situation? Why is the debate on it particularly intense at this point in time?

Melissa Steyn: The notion of whiteness as the correct, proper, best, ideal (and even the only) way to be human was part of the global oppression of people throughout the era of colonial expansion and domination, and has continued to inform the way in which people all over the world understand who they are.

The norm of whiteness is deeply embedded within all our psyches here in South Africa as we are heirs to this world view. It has been internalised as part of our identities and has informed our politics and history, providing ideological assumptions about who had/has the right to control and is best able to manage society and who should be the subordinated within the system.

White people have been systematically advantaged, while black people have systematically had power, wealth, opportunity, dignity, agency, recognition, and so much more, sapped away from them. 

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"Alle mense in Suid-Afrika het op ’n daaglikse basis met ras en rassisme te doen, en moet probeer om daaromheen of daardeur te maneuvreer, of hulle probeer om ander daarmee te manipuleer of intimideer."
Christi van der Westhuizen

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And again, while in South Africa we had a particularly blatant legalisation of white domination through the apartheid machinery, most of the operations of whiteness happen through institutionalisation that is seldom so overt, or even fully conscious.

All areas of hegemonic social organisation in South Africa have been built from DNA that has whiteness at its nucleus. It takes much more than a change in legislation to make us aware of deeply embedded assumptions and it takes conscious organisation to change norms and turn society around.

Power does not name itself as such and because the power of the norm lies precisely in its ability to operate without detection, making whiteness visible as the above analysis does is the first step to defusing its power.

We are seeing this happening throughout the contemporary world as black people reclaim their right to matter equally in every respect and refuse to reproduce long standing white-dominated systems.

It goes without saying that power resists its own dismantling. This is why we have so much intense backlash to the changing norms around issues of race – any challenge to the normativity of whiteness means the power relations are being changed.

For those in the position that has been centred for so long, this is not experienced as the creation of a more just world, but rather that the world they felt entitled to is being rudely confiscated from them. 

Christi van der Westhuizen: In die liberale en die Afrikaner-nasionalistiese intellektuele tradisies is ras as ’n onveranderlike essensie en ’n natuurlike hiërargie benader.

Die liberale tradisie het selfverontskuldigend met rassisme omgegaan, en apartheid aan Afrikaners se "inherente agterlikheid" toegeskryf. Afrikaner-nasionaliste het rassisme genormaliseer as ’n noodwendige resultaat as mense van verskillende "rasse" hulle in dieselfde ruimte bevind. Só is kolonialisme en apartheid geregverdig. Witwees is in albei gevalle implisiet as ’n verhewe vorm van menswees benader.

Andersins was die fokus in die Suid-Afrikaanse sosiale wetenskappe op klas, wat uit ’n Marxistiese oogpunt beskou is. Apartheid is verstaan as "rassekapitalisme", wat ’n handige ontleding is, maar reduksionisties is en baie aspekte van apartheid onverklaar laat. Tussen dié twee maniere van dink oor verskille het min werk gebeur om te verduidelik hoe wit rassiste geskep word.

Die werk wat ek en ander tot dusver in Kritiese Witweesstudies gedoen het, probeer die gaping vul. Dit laat verder ook toe om die verskillende vorme van witwees in Suid-Afrika te beskryf, insluitend hoe Britse of wit Engelssprekende witwees ’n raamwerk geskep het waarin Afrikaner-witwees ontwikkel het.

Die debat is nou heftig omdat ’n eeue-lange stryd ’n kritiese massa bereik het. Hierdie stryd is teen ras, geslag, seksualiteit en ander sosiale kategorieë op grond waarvan mense as "minder werd" verklaar is as wat hulle is. Daar is pogings van sommige om aan die ou sekerhede van hierdie valse hiërargieë vas te hou, terwyl ander probeer om vir eens en vir altyd hierdie hiërargieë plat te slaan. 

Wat is die regverdiging vir ’n fokus op witwees terwyl die Suid-Afrikaanse samelewing na nie-rassigheid moet strewe? Maak die studie van witwees ’n bydrae tot die bereiking van die ideaal van ’n gedeelde menslikheid? Nadat die vooroordele van witwees vasgestel is, wat volg dan daarop? 

What is the justification for a focus on whiteness while South African society ought to aim at non-racialism? Does the study of whiteness contribute to attaining the ideal of a shared humanity? After the biases of whiteness have been identified, what follows from there?

Melissa Steyn: One of the biggest misconceptions is that not naming race is to be somehow innocent of racial contamination. Colour-blindness is not the opposite of racism, it is a form of racism.

It is to deny the legacy of injustice that we still carry in society, and the ways in which “race’" still continues to shape life opportunities, thus frustrating attempts to redress the ongoing consequences of centuries of white-identified social organisation.

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"All areas of hegemonic social organisation in South Africa have been built from DNA that has whiteness at its nucleus." – Melissa Steyn 

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We cannot get from a racist society to a non-racial society without being race-conscious. In other words, we have to actively and deliberately work to achieve the actuality where a white child and a black child have the same access to all of society's opportunities and benefits, and are nurtured equally by our society. Only then will our society be non-racial. 

One cannot hold onto white privilege and protect the entitlements of the spoils of racial injustice and attain the ideal of a shared humanity. These are mutually contradictory.

For white people the processes of discovering the full humanity of those racialised as one's other and unlocking our own humanity on the one hand, and letting go of one's whiteness on the other, are two sides of the same coin. A new way of being human together then becomes possible.

Christi van der Westhuizen: Anders as liberale "kleurblindes", meen ek as kritiese ras-skrywer dat ras as begrip net vernietig kan word as dit behoorlik verstaan en uitmekaar gehaal word. Dit is beide ’n intellektuele en politieke missie, met nie-rassigheid as doelwit.

My jongste boek, Sitting Pretty – White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa (2017), is ’n stelselmatige ontleding van konstruksies van witwees in interaksie met vroulikheid, heteroseksualiteit en middelklasheid. Die argument arriveer uiteindelik by ’n voorstel van hoe ’n wedersyds vermenslikende alternatief teenoor onderdrukkende vorme van identiteit geskep kan word.

Ons kan nie hoop om ’n samelewing gegrond op geregtigheid en vermensliking vir swart en wit, vroue en mans en gay en straight te skep as ons nie ons verlede en dus ook die nalatenskappe en kontinuïteite van verwoestende rassisme en heteropatriargie verstaan nie.

Het die studie van witwees in Suid-Afrika bygedra tot akademiese insig en word dit met goeie effek buite die akademie deur politieke rolspelers, kunstenaars en nie-regeringsorganisasies gebruik? 

Has the study of whiteness in South Africa contributed to academic insight and is it used with good effect outside of the academy by political role-players, artists and non-government organisations?

Melissa Steyn: The language developed to expose whiteness has permeated contemporary social analysis, enabling us to see relations and dynamics that previously had simply been normalised and invisible.

This work has been gaining momentum since the mid-1990s and is increasingly becoming part of the lexicon of broader society, not only academics. As that language increasingly enters our shared language for talking about social relations, it obviously gets taken up by different interest groups and is used for different purposes, not all of which are necessarily socially progressive.

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"Net soos witwees nie monolities is nie, is swartwees ook nie."
Christi van der Westhuizen 

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This is true for any concept and we always have to look at who is using the term and to what effect. For example, people can study or portray whiteness in such a manner that whiteness is seen as a positionality of victimhood, rather than privilege. We have to always come back to analysing the underlying power relations in order to evaluate how it is being deployed.

Christi van der Westhuizen: Belangrike kritiese werk word in verskillende sfere gedoen deur wit en swart mense om die rassenalatenskappe van die verlede uit te wis. Witweesstudies dra by tot hierdie projek. My ander antwoorde spreek ook reeds hierdie vraag aan.

Kan die begrip ’n helende effek hê op ’n samelewing wat nog getraumatiseer is deur kolonialisme en apartheid? Word die begrip nie maklik deur politieke radikales gekaap nie? 

Can the concept have a healing effect on a society still traumatised by colonialism and apartheid? Is the concept not easily hijacked by radicals?

Melissa Steyn: If we want to heal, we can't avoid being real. One of the biggest obstacles to healing from colonialism and apartheid is the ongoing refusal by some of us to face our unjust past honestly and to deal with the ways in which our present carries the past.

This refusal perpetuates the traumatisation of apartheid and colonialism and continues it into the present. The concept of whiteness can of course be hijacked by radicals and for that matter by conservatives - but that doesn’t change the reality that we have to own the problem and have the courage to take it on.

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"One important aspect of the privilege is a tendency not to recognise or take seriously how racial privilege and oppression shape both our own, and others' lives." – Melissa Steyn 

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Christi van der Westhuizen: Die vraag laat dit lyk asof heling moontlik is as ’n mens begrip oor die verlede onderdruk. Soos al gesê is: mense wat hul geskiedenis nie verstaan nie, word verdoem tot die herhaling daarvan. Die sielkunde sê ook vir ons dat wat onderdruk word, uiteindelik altyd weer gestalte kry en selfs dikwels in meer grusame vorms.

Daar is politieke opportuniste wat ras gebruik om die aandag af te trek van hul projekte van korrupsie, of om die kritiese bestudering van sekere brandende kwessies te probeer blokkeer. Hierdie mense maak nie staat op die huidige intellektuele werk oor witwees nie.

Hoe kan die lens van witwees die probleem van essensialisme ontwyk? Is daar dalk verskillende soorte witwees, soos Engelse en Afrikaanse witwees? Is daar ook bruin en swart vorme van witwees? Hoe verander die aard van witwees en die gepaardgaande debat oor die begrip? 

How can the lens of whiteness avoid the problem of essentialism? Are there perhaps various kinds of whiteness, such as English and Afrikaans whitenesses? Are there also forms of brown ("Coloured") and black whiteness? How does the nature of whiteness and the debate on the concept change?

Melissa Steyn: If we think of whiteness in terms of social positioning within a racialised social order, it makes it easier not to confuse it with actual white bodies. We have the capacity to develop insight and take up a position in relation to how we are positioned in society and to reconsider the teachings passed on to us by our socialisation.

So not everybody within the space of whiteness is equally gripped by the ideologies of whiteness, and we should be able to draw such distinctions. And certainly, whiteness is inflected by many variables, and has developed different contours in different groups and in different contexts and at different times.

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"In die Suid-Afrikaanse sosiale wetenskappe het ons in die verlede ’n uitermatige beklemtoning van die marges van onderdrukking gesien, terwyl die magsentrums soos witwees, manlikheid en heteronormatiwiteit onbestudeer was. Suid-Afrikaanse studies oor witwees is een van die pogings om hierdie skeefgetrekte ontleding te korrigeer." Christi van der Westhuizen

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To understand whiteness in South Africa one has to remember the historical rivalries between English and Afrikaans whitenesses, in a context where English whiteness had the power of Empire backing it. But the family resemblances of assuming racial entitlements are important to recognise.

Taking this non-essentialised understanding of whiteness also means that it is possible for a black person to promote the interests of whiteness, should such a person reproduce the ideologies that inform the social position of whiteness.

In ways that are not possible to analyse in such a short reponse, it is also possible for a black person to reap benefits from being aligned with whiteness. In a simple example, those black people who perform their selfhood in ways that approximate whiteness, such as speaking with certain accents, will in all likelihood benefit in a society that is still white-centred. But these dynamics require more careful analysis than I can do in this format.

Christi van der Westhuizen: Die kritiese studie van witwees in my werk is juis daarop gemik om rasse-essensialisme en monolitiese voorstellings van witwees teen te staan. Byvoorbeeld, Afrikaner-nasionalisme was ’n ideologie wat probeer voorgee het dat daar net een vorm van Afrikaner-witwees was. My werk dui op verskeie politieke posisies binne Afrikaner-witwees, soos beïnvloed deur verskille van geslag, seksualiteit en klas.

Soos genoem, is my werk daarop gemik om te verstaan hoe die twee vorme van witwees, Engels en Afrikaans, op mekaar ingewerk het om kolonialisme en apartheid in die 20ste eeu in die hand te werk. Suid-Afrikaanse studies oor witwees, soos myne en Melissa Steyn s’n, wys duidelik hoe die vorme oor die afgelope eeu verander het. Nell Irvin Painter se The History of White People7 is ’n goeie boek om te lees betreffende die Amerikaanse en Europese kontekste.

Laastens, gegewe die definisie van witwees hierbo, kan dit as ’n strukturele posisie ook beset word deur mense wat as "swart" of "bruin" gerassifiseer is.

Is dit nie beter as slegs swart kommentators witwees blootlê nie? Wit kommentators word mos maklik daarvan beskuldig dat hulle ’n oppervlakkige bewussyn van witwees het. ’n Filosoof, voorheen by die Rhodes-universiteit en nou by die Universiteit van Johannesburg, Samantha Vice, het in 20108 selfs aanbeveel dat wittes in die politieke debat moet stilbly. Is dit die regte rigting om te volg of is daar ruimte vir wittes as bondgenote in die emansipasiestryd van swartmense? 

Would it not be better if only black commentators expose whiteness? White commentators tend to be easily accused of having a superficial consciousness of whiteness. A philosopher, formerly at Rhodes University and now at the University of Johannesburg, Samantha Vice, even recommended in 2010 that whites have to remain silent in political debate. Is that the right direction to follow or is there space for whites as allies in the emancipation of black people?

Melissa Steyn: Of course it is important that we all are conscientious about developing our awareness of how "race" functions differently in our lives, depending on where we fit in relation to the established power relations, as well as that we all commit ourselves to undoing the ongoing consequences for all of us.

It is crucially important that the study of whiteness is not seen as the "own affairs" of white people, but that the insights that emanate from those on the "other" side of racial privilege are given considerable weight in discussions of whiteness.

Having said this, it is also important that white people do not evade their own responsibility in matters of race. It is notoriously difficult to get those in privileged positions to recognise, acknowledge and take on accountability for how they participate in perpetuating an unequal society.

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"For white people's own growth we have to work through our fragility in engaging with the realities of the racialised world we created."
– Melissa Steyn 

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This applies to all the positions of social dominance, such as patriarchal male privilege, heteronormative privilege, ableist privilege, nationalist privilege, etcetera, not only whiteness.

For white people's own growth we have to work through our fragility in engaging with the realities of the racialised world we created. Moreover, so much of the ability for whiteness to perpetuate itself depends on the collusion of white people, who do, if they self-reflect honestly, know that they repeat and perpetuate certain views about black people and certain patterns within social organisation.

To break down this unnamed but formidable mechanism of social sculpting, it is essential for conscientised white people to refuse to keep their silence and to expose the operations of whiteness.

In doing this, we must always remember that the main narrative of post-apartheid is the empowerment of those who have borne the brunt of racial thinking and that we should not recentre whiteness, even its deconstruction, as the most critical factor in terms of how we direct our attention, resources and emotional work as a nation. 

Christi van der Westhuizen: Eerstens is dit belangrik om die ontleding van witwees altyd binne die konteks van werk teen rassisme te plaas. Ek verskil van Vice se posisie. Vanuit my perspektief is die teendeel van toepassing vir mense wat teen rassisme werk: wit mense het ’n besondere verantwoordelikheid om rassisme te verstaan en weerstand daarteen te bied, omdat ons in die verlede daarby baat gevind het en dit gaan nog in die hede voort.

Dit is onregverdig om van slagoffers van onderdrukking te verwag dat hulle al die werk moet doen om geregtigheid te bewerkstellig. Dieselfde geld mans betreffende patriargie, heteroseksueles betreffende heteronormatiwiteit en ander bevoordeelde groepe.

Selfs ’n wit persoon wat teen rassisme is, baat steeds by witwees. Ditto ander bevoorregtes. Daarom dat dit nie genoeg is om slegs standpunt teen rassisme in te neem nie; wit mense moet aktief daarteen optree.

Dit is belangrik om die grondwetlike visie van die land te onthou: menswaardigheid, die belangrikste waarde waarop Suid-Afrika se demokrasie gebou word, kan nie verwesenlik word as net sommige mense daaraan werk nie.

Wit mense moet hul volle posisie inneem as burgers wat demokrasie uitbou, insluitend deur waar ook al hulle hul bevind, stappe teen rassisme en ander vorme van diskriminasie te doen. 

As witwees beteken dat daar hegemoniese wit denke en optrede bestaan, is daar nou hegemoniese swart denke en optrede in Suid-Afrika? Swartmense het tog die politieke leierskap hier plaaslik verkry wat ’n heel ander situasie skep as in die Verenigde State waar ’n sterk emansipasiestryd vir die erkenning van die minderheid swartmense nog steeds woed. 

If whiteness means that there is hegemonic white thinking and action, is there now hegemonic black thinking and action in South Africa? Black people did acquire political leadership here locally which creates a totally different situation from that in the United States where a strong emancipation struggle for the recognition of the black minority still rages on.

Melissa Steyn: The dynamics are very different in South Africa, which is what makes this an interesting place to study whiteness. In places such as the United States, political power is still (though increasingly contestedly) aligned with a (decreasing) demographic majority.

In South Africa, where political power is no longer aligned with whiteness in a straightforward way, the power of whiteness is perpetuated mainly though the economy and through the "soft power" of cultural and epistemological hegemony.

For these to hold white privilege in place they depend very heavily on the broader power of whiteness globally. Of course, these are now also being challenged and shown to be problematic in our context by such pressures as the decolonial movement that questions the Eurocentric nature of our education.

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"Klas en ras in Suid-Afrika is nou verweef, en die een kan nie sonder die ander verstaan word nie, soos ek uitwys in Sitting Pretty."
Christi van der Westhuizen

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But we should not be misled into thinking that because we have a predominantly black government that black people are not up against whiteness in innumerable ways. The government itself has to deal with the power of whiteness, for example in the ways that African governments are perceived internationally.

If a black government were to do many of the things that Trump's government has done, it would face an entirely different set of perceptions, with different economic consequences. There is a surplus credibility that attaches to whiteness which is not afforded to black people, for whom the default perception (created by whiteness) is that they are not to be trusted with power.  

Centres and margins are created all the time as power relations shift, so of course we will find contestations within blackness trying to fix hegemonic understandings of "blackness". Whiteness still plays a role in this process too, though, as understandings of blackness inevitably have to reckon with the original construction of "race" which emanated from the power of those who were constructing themselves as white and an other as black.

So, how to position oneself in relation to the historical and current power of whiteness is integrally part of the field of contestation for those who grapple with the meaning of blackness. 

Christi van der Westhuizen: Wit hegemonie in Suid-Afrika is tot ’n einde gebring met die val van amptelike apartheid. Sedertdien sien ons pogings tot die rehabilitasie van witwees, wat soms na vore kom in die terugval op rassisme, of in teenstelling daarmee die aktiewe en gedeelde vermensliking van mense van alle "rasse".

Dus is die situasie hier baie anders as in die VSA. Hoewel die grondwetlike visie nou alle mense insluit, dink ek nie daar is sprake van swart hegemonie nie. Net soos wat daar tans mededinging is oor die betekenis van witwees, is daar ook intense mededinging oor die betekenis van swartwees. Net soos witwees nie monolities is nie, is swartwees ook nie. Die feit dat die demokraties verkose regering spesifiek die regstelling van onreg teenoor swart mense as beginsel het, maak Suid-Afrika anders as die VSA.

Soos Achille Mbembe al teenoor sy kritici opgemerk het, swart mense het die politieke mag in Suid-Afrika, wat heeltemal ander uitdagings stel as die situasie in die VSA. Om die politieke mag te besit, kom egter nie neer op hegemoniese swartwees nie, gegewe die genoemde mededinging.

Is die fokus op witheid nie dalk maar net ’n luukse kenmerk van die dekolonialistiese gesprek onder wit en swart bevoorregtes nie? Wat word van die belangrike tema van klas en die tergende prioriteite van armoede en werkskepping? 

Is the focus on whiteness not merely a luxury quality of the decolonialist discourse among the white and black privileged? What happens to the important theme of class and the nagging priorities of poverty and job creation?

Melissa Steyn: The conceptual move to separate class and race as mutually exclusive categories of analysis is really not very helpful. We need rather to look at how race informs/inflects class and vice versa.

They are inextricably linked and we deepen our understanding of both when we ask questions about how they work intersectionally, in any context. Being poor and white is not the same experience as being poor and black, nor is being black and middle class the same socially, economically, emotionally or psychologically as being white and middle class.

For example, it is still largely taken as a given that it is somehow shocking for white people to be poor, while it is not viscerally shocking for a huge percentage of black people in our country to be poor; it is "just the way it is”. 

To strip away our attention from "race" in favour of a putatively pure class analysis has benefited whiteness, in that it detracted attention away from the fundamental role "race" has played in colonial contexts. The operations of the construct of "race" shaped class in profoundly different ways from the context of the UK, for example.

To deal with the priorities of poverty and job creation we have to be alive to how "race" still informs how these play out in our context. This includes an understanding on the part of white people that their whiteness implicates them in the unequal nature of our society, and that working to end social injustice is not an act of benevolence, but of self-respect.

Christi van der Westhuizen: Dit is veelseggend dat veral linkses gesprekke probeer diskrediteer wanneer dit in sogenaamde bevoorregte ruimtes gevoer word. Mededinging oor magsverhoudinge vind op alle vlakke van menslike bestaan plaas.

Mededinging in bevoorregte ruimtes moet veral krities ontleed word, omdat dié mense meer mag het en dus ’n groter impak as ander op die samelewing het. Ek dink egter nie ras is slegs ’n knelpunt vir die middelklas en elite nie. Die demokratiese oorgang was nie ’n netjiese afsnypunt waarin alle ongeregtigheid van vantevore daarmee heen is nie.

Alle mense in Suid-Afrika het op ’n daaglikse basis met ras en rassisme te doen, en moet probeer om daaromheen of daardeur te maneuvreer, of hulle probeer om ander daarmee te manipuleer of intimideer. Ons is ongelukkig baie goed geskool in rassedenke wat die teen-rassistiese werk oor witwees noodsaaklik maak. Dit is belangrik om nie verskille te kompartementaliseer, soos veral linkse akademici in die verlede met klas gedoen het nie.

Klas en ras in Suid-Afrika is nou verweef, en die een kan nie sonder die ander verstaan word nie, soos ek uitwys in Sitting Pretty.

.................

1 Steyn, Melissa. 2001. Whiteness just isn't what it used to be: White identity in post-apartheid society. Albany: State University of New York Press.

2 Van der Westhuizen, Christi. 2017. Sitting Pretty – White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa. Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press.

3 Van der Westhuizen, Christi. 2007. White Power & the Rise and Fall of the National Party. Cape Town: Zebra.

4 Roeddiger, David. 1991. Wages of Whiteness. New York: Verso Press.

5 Frankenberg, Ruth. 1993. White Women, Race Matters. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

6 Morrison, T. (1992) Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge: MA/London, Harvard University Press.

7 Painter, Nell Irvin. 2010. The History of White People New York: W. W. Norton.

8 Vice, Samantha. 2010. "How Do I Live in This Strange Place?" Journal of Social Philosophy 41 (3):323-342.

.................

Lees ook

The volksmoeder, ordentlikheid and whiteness

Sitting pretty: ’n onderhoud met Christi van der Westhuizen

Lees meer oor die konsep witwees ook in hierdie LitNet-Akademies-artikel:

LitNet Akademies Weerdink: Skottelbraai in Ghoema-land: die grense van Steve Hofmeyr se identiteitspolitiek

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Kommentaar

  • Barend van der Merwe
    Barend van der Merwe

    Mens kry tog iets soos 'n politieke spektrum. Witmense het verskuif van die sentrum van die nasionale fokus na die periferie. Projeksies wys dat hulle getalle skynbaar in rieele terme toeneem, maar in persentasie dramaties val. Daarmee saam sal hulle relevansie, ook as mags en ekonomiese blok. Die verandering sal vir sommige bevrydend wees en vir ander pynlik, na gelang van waar hulle op die politieke spektrum le. En die reaksionere sal altyd laer trek. Hoe meer die wereld verander, hoe meer bly dit maar dieselfde.

  • Avatar
    Johannes Comestor

    Die deelnemers aan die gesprek is uitgesoek op dieselfde grondslag as wat die gewoonte by die SABC is. Die resultaat is dat ons wysgemaak word dat witwees, kolonialisme, apartheid en natuurlik Afrikaners sleg is en dat dit nie vir swartwees geld nie; dat daar selfs nie iets soos swart hegemonie/oorheersing is nie. Rassigheid sal glo verdwyn as wittes en swartes dieselde geleenthede het, maar daar was nog nooit 'n tyd toe dit van wittes of swartes gese kon word nie. Nie-rassigheid sal dus 'n hersenskim bly.

  • Selde is so'n magdom woorde gebruik om so min - eintlik niks - te sê nie (aanhaling van Churchill aangepas)

  • Avatar
    Historikus Vlakvark

    In Suid-Afrika is daar baie grafte van "British Empire" soldate wat tydens die Anglo-Boereoorlog gesneuwel het. En die bewoording op die gegote yster kopstukke lees:

    "Died for King and Empire"

    Waarvoor het hulle hul lewens opgeoffer? Waar is die "Empire" vandag?

    Hoeveel van die "British Empire Upper Class Ruling Elite" het ooit hul voete in Suid-Afrika tydens die ABO gesit?

    In Suid-Afrika spook en spartel ons nog steeds met baie van die nalatenskappe van die British Empire. Wat leer ons uit die verlede?

    Geen mens, volk of nasie is heiliger as heilig nie. Wees beskeie. Laat ons strewe na geregtigheid vir almal. 'n Nuwe onreg kan nie 'n onreg vervang nie, al het die meerderheid gestem vir die meerderheid in Parlement.

  • Rodney Warwick
    Rodney Warwick

    "Whiteness"... A supposed Mark of Cain... "Whiteness Studies"... A bogus academic discipline based on no methodology outside generalizations based upon race. Perhaps Van der Westhuizen and Steyn can consider this... Black and White in SA did not encounter one another centuries ago as material "equals"... The Dutch and British were societies that had already gone through the European Renaissance and the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution. This opposed pre-literate herder and hunter-gatherer Khoi and African societies. The British Empire by the mid-19th century existed against the background of the industrial revolution and globalized maritime trade. The sophistication gap based on Science, property rights encoded in law.. Etc... Was light years ahead of any pre-industrial society anywhere. That a mere couple of centuries later, such is still reflected is hardly surprising. So are Europeans to blame for their own developments in Science, capitalism, global trade and inevitably with it colonization? Van der Westhuizen and Steyn earn salaries teaching this kind of identity politics gobbledygook to impressionable 18-year-olds whose parents actually pay stiff university fees. Humanities faculties in local universities support what is effectively oxygen to black nationalists.

  • Daar is 'n vraag waarmee ek wil wegspring: Is daar sin in menslike bestaan? Indien wel, moet daar spesifieke betekenis wees in die feit dat die mensdom uit verskeie rasgroepe bestaan en onmiddellik is die volgende vraag: Wat is die aard en bestemming van elke ras? Die rasgroepe kan nie almal dieselfde aard en bestemming hê nie, want dan is daar nie sin in om verskeie rasgroepe te hê nie.

    Die ander moontlikheid is dat daar geen sin in menslike bestaan is nie. In so'n geval is akademiese redenasies soos hierbo betekenisloos.

    Gelukkig het die fisiese wetenskappe al so gevorder dat sekere belangrike konsepte van die geestelike of godsdienstige besinning as waar bewys is. So is daar byvoorbeeld Burkhard Heim se ontdekking dat die Werklikheid uit sesdimensionele strukture bestaan soos op die eerste bladsy van die Bybel verduidelik word, asook die nou reeds bekende ontdekking in die mediese veld dat ligfotons die boustene is van alle lewe, soos verwag kan word van die heel eerste element van die Skepping. Die moontlike redenasie dat daar nie 'n Hoër Gesag bestaan nie, kan dus maar weggelaat word.

    Daarmee is 'n platform geskep van waar ons kan besin oor die aard en bestemming van elke ras. En as ons aanvaar geen twee rasse is dieselfde nie, moet ons aanvaar dat die “wit” eienskap van die Ariese ras dui op 'n meer komplekse denkvermoë, 'n spesifieke aanleg vir orde en veral 'n passie om voortdurend te streef daarna om beter as ander te wees.

  • Avatar
    Petru Viljoen

    In hierdie artikel vind ek dit interessant dat daar 'n verskil gemerk word tussen Engels-en Afrikaanssprekende witmense in Suid-Afrika, in verband met die gesprek oor rassisme en hoe dit aangespreek word. Van 'n swart mens se oogpunt is daar geen verskil nie. As die Engelse aan bewind was sou 'n vorm van Apartheid ook toegepas gewees het - al sou hulle dalk dit nie so blatant gedoen het nie. Die aandring op 'n verskil, en die geskiedenis daaragter, dui vir my op naval-gazing van witwees in stede van die groter prent in fokus te hou. Amper 'n apologie, asof daar werklike verskille is/was om aan gedink te word.

    Geen werklike oplossings word aangebied nie. In beide Steyn en Van Der Westhuizen se gesprekke word meesal verwys na internasionale skrywers en die enigste swarte in die lys van verwysings is Toni Morrisen (may she rest in peace), 'n African-American. Daar's vlugtig verwys na Franz Fanon. Die enigste ander Suid-Afrikaanse skrywer wat na verwys word is Samantha Vice. Alhoewel ek nie heeltemal op hoogte is van alle swart skrywers in Suid-Afrika nie, het 'n vinnige opsoek die naam van Sarah Ahmed bekend gestel. Die swart digters en skrywers van novelle is heeltemal geignoreer.

    Hoe gaan hierdie debat deurfilter na mense vir wie dit belangrik is: swart mense.

    Ek haal Steyn aan: '' .... to end social injustice is not an act of benevolence, but of self-respect.'' - ek frons oor die self-respek gevolg deur 'n periode. Daar word nie verder gepraat oor respek vir die swart nasies wat onder Apartheid gesuffer het nie - 'n sisteem wat beide Engels en Afrikaanssprekendes van die land gebaat het en die oordonderende meerderheid dinge so laat aangaan het. Die revolusie deur swart mense het die ommeswaai gebring. Niemand anders nie.

  • Wat was die evolusionêre paadjie wat die mens geloop het om ń ligte vel en ń donkerder vel te ontwikkel?
    Het hierdie pad nie ook die Afrikamens, die Wit Europeër en die Oosterling wat almal ń gemeenskaplike voorouer in Afrika gehad het, se breine nie ook bietjie anders bedraad nie?
    Om ń andersheid in denkpatrone tot gevolg te hê.
    Ek meen die moderne mens het sowat 100duisend jaar gelede uit Afrika geloop en blykbaar gene geruil met die Neanderthallers.
    Ek praat nie van meerderwaardigheid nie, maar van ń andersheid.

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