House Negro Syndrome in corporate SA
South Africa is in a depressing state of transition. We live with the dreadful legacy of apartheid and the hope of transforming society into a non-sexist and non-racial one is less fervent that it was in 1994 - for a number of reasons. We seek to undo racial inequalities that persist in society and all other spheres of life, but we are not moving at desirable speed.
Twenty years later, after all passionate attempts to move the nation towards the realisation of ideals of those who sacrificed their lives for the liberty of this nation, we have moved but an inch forward. There is marked resistance to change. Those whose unjust historical privileges are threatened by the transformation agenda are not surrendering to change without a fight. The poor remain black and the rich predominantly white. Corporate South Africa remains lily-white. An Irish coffee best describes the character of what we seek to address in the corporate world. There are a few black folks at the top while the rest are at the lower end of the corporate ladder in spite of their qualifications and experience.
One would ordinarily assume that those few black executives sitting around the boardroom table would be the agents of change who actively advance the struggles of the majority of black employees who, in spite of Employment Equity imperative, still face institutional racism. But in reality some of those few black executives only exist to maintain the status quo and to frustrate the pace of transformation.
Malcolm X once famously said, "There was two kind of slaves. There was the house negro and the field negro. The house negro, they lived in the house, with master. They dressed pretty good. They ate good, cause they ate his food, what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near their master, and they loved their master, more than their master loved himself. They would give their life to save their masters house quicker than their master would."
The House Negro Phenomenon is alive and well in corporate South Africa. Some black executives, in fact many of them, fulfill this role of the house negro referred to by Malcom X with great zeal. We see them. They live among us. They smile with us. They once motivated us. We aspired to their greatness and success, but around the boardroom tables they nod incessantly like a toy-puppy on a dashboard of a Toyota Cressida as their masters explore ways to derail the transformation agenda. They often revel at being the only native around the boardroom table, often volunteering to deal with those other cheeky natives who challenge authority and upset the master. These are our brothers and sisters who are so far up the rectums of their white masters that their vision on transformation has been permanently impaired. Steve Biko was correct in saying that, "The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." It is that kind of a black executive who is most poisonous and serves as an effective weapon by the white master to sabotage progress and derail transformation.
It is warm inside the master's house. The house negro has to protect his place by serving as a useful puppet for his master. Our brothers and sisters are betraying us and betraying the struggles of the majority of Africans who still exist on the periphery of the mainstream economy. Our struggle has been sold at the boardroom table for a beach holiday house and a shiny German machine. Steve Biko said, "Black man, you're on your own."
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