OPINION: On cookies for people speaking on behalf of the systematically oppressed
14 Mar 2019 KAYA VOICES
By Nomali Cele
This week, South African pop musician Danny K was a trending topic online. Most users quipped that they wondered if we had been teleported back to the mid-2000s, others wondered whether Danny K had a new album coming out. But the consensus was that, why is Danny K trending in 2019?
Earlier this week, Danny K tweeted against white privilege and racism saying, “I’m totally bewildered with the lack of empathy shown by many white South Africans. You don’t need to be woke to get that for the most part we have benefited from the marginalisation and exclusion of people of colour.” The tweet continued, “Own your priveldge, appreciate it and pay it forward.”
I’m totally bewildered with the lack of empathy shown by many white South Africans. You don’t need to be woke to get that for the most part we have benefited from the marginalisation and exclusion of people of colour. Own your priveldge, appreciate it and pay it forward 🇿🇦
— Danny K (@dannykmusic) March 8, 2019
For any person who lives in this country and is remotely aware of its history, Danny K’s tweets were not news. He wasn’t even saying anything profound, just something white South Africans rarely say.
When pressed about why he was tweeting against white privilege and whether or not he was secretly promoting an album, Danny K responded, “As white South African I am constantly witness to a lack of empathy by PRIVELDGED white people around me. My tweet reflects my reality. The scales of priveldge and opportunity are still not equal…if you think they are then we may be living in different places.” With a sense of humour and a flourishing, he added, “Album drops 2020.”
As white South African I am constantly witness to a lack of empathy by PRIVELDGED white people around me. My tweet reflects my reality. The scales of priveldge and opportunity are still not equal…if you think they are then we may be living in different places. Album drops 2020
— Danny K (@dannykmusic) March 10, 2019
There were quite a few reactions to Danny K’s tweets including white people seemingly being angry at him for sending the tweets. Then there was the white politician whose response was to tell Danny K he needs to work on his spelling, effectively dismissing his observations about inequality in this country. The biggest reaction, of course, was the one wanting to reward Danny K for making these observations and sharing them out loud.
This is not new, it happens routinely when a member of a privileged class – a white person, a man, a rich person or a rich white man – makes an observation that the world is systematically unfair and that they have benefitted from it. There is always a call to “give that man a bells” or, worse, South Africans have started saying certain white people can “keep the land”.
What makes wanting to reward privileged people for calling out privilege bad is that oppressed people have been saying the same thing for years with little to no recognition. In fact, they get called out as bitter or labelled as advocating for “reverse” oppression. Ordinary people and activists spend their lives making these observations but tend to get ignored until someone wealthy or cisgender or able-bodied says something.
Amplifying a message or causes is important, this is the responsibility of allies as they have the cushion to not receive too much pushback from those privileged classes. The problem here is that, instead of using this as an opportunity to listen to the people who are most affected by the oppression and seeking solutions, the quickest detour is to give the privileged person speaking against their privilege a cookie. There’s nothing to be gained from clapping for a relatively wealthy white man who’s just said white people have privilege at the expense of poorer communities of colour.
This cookie handing out parade is a distraction and takes away from any real dialogue and change that can be had. Yes, privileged people should speak up more and amplify the voices of those who are systematically oppressed and excluded. But it’s, perhaps, a conversation they should be having among themselves.
Danny K was right to comment about white privilege in South Africa but he should neither get a cookie nor to “keep the land.” What he does get, though, is the opportunity to dig deeper and go beyond the tweets both in his immediate community and in the larger context.