Maybe Mugabe is Right: My Problem With Racism – This is How White People Still Think They are better than everyone

Using my white privilege

So the other day my friend, who happens to be black, sent me a text: could I please call this number and book a table for six people for the following evening. Her dad had tried and was told it was fully booked. He suspected racism.

Well, I thought , or rather hoped, it’s the holiday season, tourists everywhere, chances are, the place is fully booked.

But I was wrong. I got a booking no problem.

I even asked twice: are you sure, you have a table for six people tomorrow evening? The friendly lady said, yes, that’s confirmed. She took my name and number and that was that.

Needless to elaborate on my feelings of outrage, frustration, dismay and the whole scale in between.
I was gutted.

My friend thought about not going (rather not give them her money on top of the insult that is) – but at the end of the day, what would that achieve?

We had talked before about claiming white spaces as a means to fight racism,  but should people really have  to spend their friend- and family-time in a racist environment, being stared at and whispered about at the very least, and possibly openly insulted?

But then again, I suppose this is the every day reality of black people in predominantly white spaces – so what difference does it make if its just another day in white suburbia, or rather Camps bay in that case?

They did go.

And were told at reception: Sorry, we don’t have a booking under that name.

WHAT???

My phone rang, as I was bathing my kids. My friend only says: “Apparently you did not book…” and hands over the phone to a flustered receptionist, who clearly did not expect those black people she was about to send away  to have a white back up at the other end of that phone.

I don’t think she got the first word in before I literally lost the plot.

I shouted and fumed and said lots of things that could have been formulated much better and more to the point, but what the hell. She got the message and suddenly could not apologise enough.

And yes, she would look after my friends, they would get extra special treatment which, it later emerged, really translated into her trying to squeeze them into a corner of the restaurant, where the sight of them would not offend the other diners. On top of that they were told to keep their voices down, because ” there are other people dining here as well” .

Yep, just when you think this could actually not get any worse, they get told off by a snotty white student waitress like a bunch of rowdy kids on a playground.

At that point, my friends demanded to see the manger, who apologised (again) and got them a  table amongst the white folk. They got offered drinks and food on the house to make up for the “misunderstanding” but they politely declined.

Surprise, surprise:  these black folk did not make a fuss in order to avoid paying their bill, they actually wanted an apology from the waitress. Which they did not get.

At first.

My dialogue weathered friend however cornered her in the course of the evening and gave her a crash course on her racist attitude and how to handle herself in future – and guess what? She actually relented, apologised and even reflected on how she would make sure not to repeat her demeaning behaviour towards fellow humans in future.

Sincere?

“I don’t even care” says my friend, “as long as she thinks twice before treating people like second class citizens again.”

And that might just happen.

Now, before you start cheering and clapping: This is not a win.

This is not even a success.

This is only  the tip of the iceberg.  It is finally a small piece of evidence for the existence of the living, breathing and widely ignored elephant in the room of white privilege.

Giving half a chance, this incident would have been swept under the carpet as a “misunderstanding”, my friends been made the stereotypical “angry black people”, who are “playing the race card” to free load or get into a place they don’t have a right to be in.

What made all the difference this time, was our team effort in pointing out the beast. My voice of white privilege made a small crack in the armour of denial and my white anger could not be dismissed. I used the power of my privilege to vent, threaten and ultimately claim a space in this room for my friends to be seen and heard instead of ignored and dismissed.

This is not something to be proud of. It is a shameful, sad, frustrating and enraging state of affairs 20 odd years after Apartheid officially ended.

I do however feel cautiously optimistic at the thought that three years of dialogue have united a small group of us in teaming up and exposing the beast. So maybe, just maybe we are on the right track and if more will join us in dialogue, we will at least disturb the delusional slumber of white complacency, which to this day insists that apartheid is over and racism does not exist anymore.

Oh and just in case you want to book a table and test the waters: The 12 Apostles in Camps Bay, are waiting for your call.

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4 comments

  1. A seriously old story now, and only partially true. If you bait a restaurant in such a manner and are questing to find racism you will. Much like if I spend my whole life convinced people treat me different because I am gay I will find homophobia, I guess especially in rather backwards Zim. It isnt restricted to restaurants in SA either, see people pulling similar stunts in retail stores too. Yep everyone treats you badly cause you are black not just because you are an a**hole.

    As for robert mugabe being racist, please he just used racism to turn the majority against the minority. A tactic employed by many communist governments to distract their followers from who the real enemy is, the enemy they started voting for and now wont give up power. Much easier to control a populace of educated, hungry, economically disenfranchised people than a healthy, eductaed well fed one.

    But yes cotinue perpetuating the ridiculous notion of racism in our times. People clearly still believe in it and give it power as a result. In truth you are giving your freedom away for a ludicrous belief in something most people no longer believe.

  2. Three points:
    1.What has a story (in the truest sense of the word – I suspect this was made up) about something that allegedly took place in Camps Bay in SOUTH AFRICA got to do with Robert Mugabe in ZIMBABWE?
    2.South Africans (and Zimbabweans) do not refer to themselves ands white or black ‘folk’ – that’s an Americanism.
    3. You talk of ‘white privelege’. Please ask the 3,700 white Zimbabweans farmers about their experiences with white privelege. Please speak to the families of the hundreds of white South African farmers murdered every month about what they feel about white privelege.
    I don’t know what agenda you have, but this article is attention – seeking and inciteful.

  3. And a fourth point.
    South Africa has a Government – entrenched black economic empowerment policy that they call BEE and Zimbabwe has a similar system. Under this policy blacks get preferential treatment when it comes to obtaining bank loans, business licences, jobs, owning farm land (in the case of Zimbabwe), work permits (in the case of expat workers). If you are a white qualified male living in South Africa it is next to impossible to get a job there; white South Africans are leaving the country in their droves because of this. (Of course the uncontrolled, also Government – sanctioned crime rate helps with this decision).
    Is this not ‘black privelege’? Black South Africans have All the advantages but instead of grabbing the advantages of this opportunity with both hands, many choose instead to winge and wine and claim discrimination. And then some white people, probably because of a historical sense of guilt, join the bandwagon, rehashing the race card ad nauseum.
    Twenty years down the line it is surely time to move on?
    (And if this incident did indeed happen, there are channels to follow to put things right – not via a sensationalist headline).

    • Zimzamzim, firstly this incident did happen and it was addressed, the restaurant has given a public apology. Look here for an actual news report of the incident: http://www.702.co.za/articles/1269/12-apostles-restaurant-addresses-alleged-racist-incident

      Your attitude to the issue of race relations reflects why often black people get frustrated as we believe most white people choose not too see a perspective that does not benefit them.

      The fact that such a “misunderstanding” happens twenty years down the line shows that despite the historic nature of reconciliation, people’s attitudes have not changed in terms of race relations. That a waitress does not see a customer as an equal because of their skin colour shows that there is an issue. Similarly, white farmers being killed because they are white and on farms shows that their is an issue. What is the crux of the issue, race relations have not been reconciled and the different races do not see each others as equals. Further to that, the race you are born into is a determinant of the opportunities you have.

      Policies such as BEE are meant to address the fact that the economic structure of the country has not changed. White people despite not being in political control are still in economic control of the country. This is demonstrated by the wealth gap still being primarily along racial lines. This reality needs to be addressed by providing incentives for companies which are still predominantly run by white people to change. Those incentives are BEE, whether these incentives work or not is another matter, right now we are talking about the intention.

      Now if a young white male has difficulty finding a job, it is unfortunate but the honest truth is he is paying for the sins of his forefathers. Those forefathers had 300 years of racist policies in which they subjugated people. For you to then argue that black people must just get over it after 20 years shows a lack of understanding of the historical context of the current policies.

      White South African males who want to leave are welcome to do so, they have the option to do so, funnily enough the indigenous people of South Africa did not have the option when they were facing racist policies.

      White privilege is not the experience of each individual white person but it is the aggregate experience and sense of entitlement of white people. Although your examples are valid (white farmers in Zim and SA, young white professionals) they do not represent the experience of the majority of white people in the region.

      So if you want me and my people to move on, come back in 280 years. Maybe, just maybe then our society will be equal. I sincerely hope it is not, and that we are royally shafting you up the ass.

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