BEST OF 2014 | WHITE MADNESSby Mlilo Mpondo / Illustration by Sasan / 04.01.2015
Originally published on 5 February 2014
What does slavery, colonialism, the Jim Crow laws and apartheid tell us about white folk? That they are afflicted with serious control issues. Much attention is paid to black history; unfortunately it seems our only marketable memoirs begin in the early 1800’s, when we (black folk) were first introduced to white folk. Anything prior to this epoch, doesn’t seem to get the sales going. Black kingdoms, science and academia are never made mention of. I guess the black narrative without the stroke of struggle isn’t as romantic; doesn’t quite pull at the heart strings the way anguish seems to.
But that isn’t my point today, my point is this: much time is spent gazing at the black condition, but not enough is lent to its white counterpart.
I am yet to stumble upon any documentary or film which engages the psyche of white people. We know a lot about the effects of civil rights violations on black masses; it’s a Hollywood favourite. But what I would like to know is this: what are the effects of civil rights violations on its architects and beneficiaries?
I don’t know much about white people but I have come to learn some tendencies. They are either one of four things.
First: apologetic or empathetic (the latter being a lost cause).
Second: not guilty because “it wasn’t their fault”.
Third: very eager to hold hands and sing khumbaya around camp fires with black chomi’s in a rainbow nation they are so proud to be a part of (this group is the keenest to forget, and don’t quite understand why people continue to lament about the past, especially now that black people can shop at Woolworths).
Lastly: indifferent, those who are of the notion that they saved us from ourselves. This category has a quiet superiority complex; although they may not be hanging niggers from trees or raping maids in maize fields, they condescend with ease. They are the ones that keep a pocket book of nicknames in case a vernacular name should be too “difficult” to pronounce, they are incensed when they meet a black person that cannot speak Afrikaans, and reprimand their staff for being too sensitive when said staff fails to laugh at racial jokes.
Recently I watched the cinematic genius of Steven McQueen, 12 Years A Slave, an extraordinary film which I implore anyone reading this to watch. Do not misunderstand me, there was nothing revealing about this film, at least nothing that Amistad, Beloved, Sarafina, Mississippi Burning and a hoard of other films of this genre, alongside my brief module on slavery, had not already taught me. While watching the ghastly condition of slavery, I was not moved by the brutality exerted upon entire generations of black people; I was instead compelled to consider the psyche of white people. I could not for the life of me help but think that white people are truly fanatical, bollocks, psychopaths, crazy. I kept wondering, what on God’s green earth had happened to these people to make them so insatiable, brutal, malevolent, gruesome and just downright hateful. Again, do not misunderstand me, many races are with their faults and atrocities. But none in history compares to the mayhem caused by white folk across the equator, most sorely felt in Africa.
Granted, colonialism is an experience familiar to all races, an undertaking assumed mostly by white Europeans. However, when it comes to Africa, no continent has suffered so much. Whereas in other nations colonialism was mostly concerned with economics by way of appropriating resources to sustain a continent that had fucked up its own, when it came to Africa the mission had more depth. The colonisation of Africa was concerned with more than land conquests. Its ethos was “take the mind but keep the body,” a theory advocated by a pronounced slave owner named Willy Lynch. It emphasised the appropriating of the mind and identity. The institutionalisation of the Christian religion, followed by the disappearance of African names, then African pride and its encompassed identity.
Now you (white folk) may assert that this history 411 is a stifling rhetoric which serves to continuously divide us. My response to this would be that you (white folk) continue to exist in a condition of nonchalance. For some reason unbeknown to me, you (white folk) assume that just because your daughters’ best friend is Naledi, all is well. You may be the type that has a handful of black friends, you may have even felt sorrow at the passing of Mandela, or might sponsor an NGO for black babies with HIV and may have even adopted a few, you may even pay for the school fees of your maids children. Yet still, perhaps unknowingly, you contribute to the dehumanised condition in which black people exist.
Poverty of every dimension (mostly of the psyche) is still a black condition. What you don’t understand is that it is perpetuated by you who remain apathetic. It is made constant by white folk that, although liberal, casually blame the depreciation of the rand on ignorant miners, farmers, and all labourers alike that strike for better pay. Obscene bonuses of mining CEOs don’t perplex you as much as they frustrate the rest of us. Instead you are more concerned with the negative image caused by all the toyi-toying and how blacks just don’t understand economics. Is it that you are delusional or just divorced from reality?
How do you on the one hand, through your passivity and continued comfort, annihilate black masses, whilst, on the other, insist that we all just get along.
I just want to know what it’s like to be, in history and at present, the greatest violators of civil and human rights? What made you this way, unknowingly or otherwise, and how are you this afflicted and so darn crazy?
* Illustration © Sasan