Why the racists will always be with us

Because, mostly, they ARE us.

The controversy around the abuse and racism linked to two adults and their kids this week at Spur might, at first sight, look like a PR disaster for the franchise, but I doubt the restaurant chain is genuinely concerned.

After all, this isn’t a scandal that undermines what they’re trying to sell, which is animal-protein-based cholesterol in its various forms with basting on top. No one found a human foot in an oven or released a video of a chef doing something perverted to the garlic snails.

The outrage machine that social media has become, though, didn’t take long before going into overdrive, with the contest to be the most offended and outraged person in South Africa ratcheting up to the sort of exclamation-mark-driven levels we’ve sadly already seen a million times before. Next week, there’ll be the next big stain on our collective conscience for everyone to vent about.

Yes, obviously the man in that video was being an asshole, and obviously we’ve all heard about how he was apparently provoked by the mother.

But the assholes (particularly the racist ones) will always live among us, no matter how many followers you or I might have on Twitter or how many of them agree that some sort of asshole-targeting weedkiller needs to be developed by Monsanto to get rid of all these people we disapprove of … while the rest of us wonderful, progressive, perfect individuals get on with making the world a better place each day while singing Barney the Dinosaur songs about friendship.

It must be hard to be heard in the lonely frenzy of the cyber lynch mob. On Tuesday, we had the black radicals calling for the boycott of Spur, then the white radicals were doing it on Wednesday. Each one found their angle on the story to fuel their particular sense of outrage.

Maybe using words like ‘boycott’ makes us feel powerful, as if our tweet and Facebook post can really change the world and get rid of racism and “reverse racism” for good.

But really, it just comes across as people playing out their pre-programmed roles.

Whenever Black Person X sees White Person Y saying or doing something they feel is objectionable (mostly always because they think it’s racist), then the template of comments and opinions gets whipped out and the production line of outraged comments kicks in.

Equally, whenever White Person Z sees Black Person X (or Q) saying something they feel is objectionable (mostly always because they think it’s racist and often in reaction to White Person Y), then you find a rather interesting reaction too.

The template of preconceived ideas comes out yet again, but it’s interesting how many white people seem to think it’s OK to voice their racist or borderline racist opinions – as long as they can find a black person out there who they think is racist too – or even more racist than them.

For this sort of white commenter, it rarely seems to be a case of, “Oh, racism is wrong, you know. Let’s stop.” The collective reaction is often far more childish and boils down to: “This politician/Facebook user/random man caught on camera … said or did something racist, and therefore now I can also be racist. They started it!”

Black people, of course, appear to also just generally assume that a given white person is a racist until proven otherwise. Let’s be honest, though: They’ve had decades, centuries even, to internalise this opinion, and so whenever they see evidence of this, the “I told you so” reactions flood our lives.

The continued collective denial by white people that, “Hey, maybe we are or have been racist, and maybe that was wrong,” is mostly what fuels this. However, no amount of pointing out individual instances of racism by black people, it seems, will ever prompt a mass acknowledgment from white people that they may have been or still are racist. Not even Steve Hofmeyr thinks he is a racist (no, really, I’m not kidding, he doesn’t).

Obviously white people were and continue to be racist. It’s extraordinary to think that such a statement would even be controversial when you consider the history of this country. But it is controversial, and many people will hate me for saying so. But a general acknowledgment of this fact is the only way for us to begin to move on, if that’s even possible.

Doing so would mean also accepting culpability and having to admit a need for change. But that’s hard, and possibly impractical, so it’s probably never going to happen.

Naturally, all of this simply means we live in a vicious factory of racism and offence that never stops churning and never stops feeding the outrage machine. All the machine ever spits back out at us is the growing sense of a country ill at ease with itself, perhaps even on the brink of civil war.

It’s not a “debate”, as much as some may call it that. It’s just a lot of people never really looking each other in the eye, telling the truth and growing the hell up.

Last week it was Helen Zille, this week it was Spur. Next week, no doubt, there will be something else, because the outrage machine of “he did it first, Mommy!” is hungry and demands to be fed.

On my way home yesterday, I was half-tempted to pop into a Spur to have a look-see how that boycott is going. I didn’t, but I’m pretty sure the place would have been packed full of people much like me, who were exposed to all the furore, and just felt hungry for a burger. No such thing as bad publicity, right?

After all, as some have pointed out, this is the same Spur that features white guys dressed up as “red Indians” in their marketing material – who would probably be scalped in the USA if they even dared to run such ethnically insensitive and racist material there, where – you know – people are sensitive about such things.

But that’s not the racism we care about.

And I’d be willing to bet Spur’s profits this month and next will be all fat and juicy, because what we care most about now is being angry, and finding the next thing to be angry about. Because being angry may be the only recourse most of us feel we have left.

Charles Cilliers, Citizen.co.za digital editor

Charles Cilliers, Citizen.co.za digital editor

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