Dear White People
By Mbali Dhlamini
“Black people can’t be racist. Prejudice, yes, but not racist. Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race. Black people can’t be racist since we don’t stand to benefit from such a system” – Sam White.
This is a recurring line that played over and over in my head after watching what has been dubbed as one of the most thought provoking movies of our time.
Sam White is a mixed race film production major at Winchester University, a prestigious and predominantly white school
She is the main character in the movie Dear White people which is based on the thoughts she shares on her daily campus radio show as well as her self-published book, Ebony and Ivy.
The movie takes you on a whirlwind journey with the truth being told using jabs and punchlines to make anyone cringe on more than one occasion.
I hardly ever say this, but I really think every South African needs to watch this flick, not because it’s an amazing production, but because it will make us understand that our racial issues are not unique.
It made me think about whether or not we sometimes use our race issues that are still evidently plaguing South Africa as a crutch for not being the best we can be.
In this movie, Sam White says black people cannot be racist. I beg to differ on this point.
This kind of thinking is almost like saying we have taken on being victims of racism in the past as a sickness that only black people can contract.
In doing so, we believe that we are saying that whatever acts of injustice are committed against a white person on the basis of race cannot be labelled as a racist act.
There needs to be fairness when dealing with these issues as this will be the only way to completely eradicate racism.
This brings me to a very interesting craze that I’ve been reading up on which actually features more than I had imagined in various institutions across the globe.
It’s the Blackface craze.
Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used by performers to represent a black person. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the “happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation” or the “dandified coon”.
Recently South Africans were shocked to see the blackface craze bearing its ugly head in one of our universities.
Two students from Stellenbosch University posed for photos with their faces smeared black and wearing wigs and outfits meant to represent tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams.
Following an investigation, the university announced that it would not be taking any disciplinary action against the students involved in a “blackface” incident.
I was actually shocked to see how popular this blackface trend was.
By just using a regular search engine to try and get access to images of students acting silly by smearing black paint on their faces to depict what black people look like, you are sure to get many hits.
In one of these searches, I even came across our very own Leon Shuster in his many roles for his many movies.
Does this mean the Schuster we love so much is also racist?
Let’s think about this for a second.
Schuster depicts what Africans, Indians, Chinese, and even Afrikaners look like in his movies according to the stereotypes which he believes to be correct.
Does this make his depiction more acceptable simply because he does it all the time?
We laugh and become all teary-eyed when watching our favourite pranksters latest flick and even pay our hard earned money to watch him play the role of “Mama Jack” without the word racist crossing our mind not once.
Can the same thinking not be applied to other situations when we view an image being circulated on social media? Or have we just concluded that context has no role to play in such situations.
I’m just trying to understand what the consistent or general rule is when it comes to finding something offensive.
These are all questions that came into mind while I watched Dear White people.
I cringed; I laughed and at some point even came close to falling off my chair.