@Fest Is white guilt still relevant?

Is white guilt still relevant?

Just in case my isiXhosa middle name may have distracted you: yes, this is another column by another white guy with another original take on white privilege. Once again, another one of us would like to take up even more of your time to talk about us. Let’s put white people in the spotlight. You know, for a change.

Unfortunately, the 2015 National Arts Festival programme is littered with white people doing exactly that: talking about how terribly sad they are about being white.

A fantastic example of this is Ter Hollman’s one-man show To Stand Somewhere: Confessions of a White Boy in the New South Africa, which proudly declares on its poster, “We sucked n*gger (my edit) balls and thought nothing of it.” (For those of you who haven’t had to survive an ex-Model C boys’ school, those are black, liquoricey gobstobbers.)

This is actually a direct quote from To Stand Somewhere, a line that is delivered with much more pathos in the actual piece than the iconic violence that the poster does to its viewer. The play itself isn’t amazing. It’s preachy and everything it has to say has been said a hundred times by far better writers.

Conrad Koch performs as Chester Missing in Missing at the National Arts Festival, in Grahamstown, 08 July 2015. The puppet performed to a full house. (Photo: CuePix/Tamani Chithambo)

Conrad Koch performs as Chester Missing in Missing at the National Arts Festival, in Grahamstown, 08 July 2015. The puppet performed to a full house. (Photo: CuePix/Tamani Chithambo)

Sitting and watching Holmann energetically bounce around the stage, I was bored. In a South Africa where young people are actively tearing down the physical representations of oppression and violence, white privilege feels like something we’ve dealt with and, hopefully, moved past into, at least, white guilt.

For the rest of the audience – about 95% white people over the age 40 – Holmann’s pronouncements on how unbelievably easy white people get it on a day-to-day basis were nigh on revelatory. The ancient white couple next to me, in particular, appeared to have had their whole worldview rearranged, though I sincerely doubt whether that lasted as long as the door.

The thing is, for white people of my generation who have been actively involved in the #RhodesMustFall and affiliated movements across South Africa, the arbitrary privilege we derive from our skin colour (and, in my case, from my gender and whom I’m attracted to) is taken as a given.

We know when it’s okay for us to talk and when it’s necessary to listen to black, female or LGBT pain. We know that when someone calls us out on our shit, we need to take that seriously.

We don’t need to talk about our guilt any more. We’re now engaged in the serious business of centring the stories and lived experiences of people who are routinely regarded as sub-human in our country.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for a majority of white South Africans you meet at festivals. You know, the kind that say things like: “But, bru, apartheid ended in like 1994 already? Like, can’t everybody just chill, hey?” or starts sentences with “I’m not racist but…” It’s for these audiences that guys like Pieter-Dirk Uys and Conrad Koch (the man with his hand up Chester Missing) are still relevant. That ambiguously coloured puppet literally has a white man making money off riding his coattails, as Koch himself readily admits. It’s for these audiences that we still need to talk about white privilege. They need to deal with it, accept it, and move on.

It’s also important that it’s white people having these conversations with other white people. Honestly, black people shouldn’t waste their time on educating us on our privilege. Their energy is needed for far more important struggles. And here’s the thing: as exhausted as I am about constantly talking about white guilt and white privilege, it is an immeasurable amount more tiring to be on the receiving end of that privilege.

Stuart Thembisile Lewis
Cue student reporter

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