[OPINION] Looking at life through a white frame
Stereotypes about white people are a dime a dozen and we’re really good at churning them out. We’ve become masters of making fun of the things we don’t understand, and we like it. Mostly because we have had to swallow our words for so long, but also because I have yet to come across a way to insult white people with a single word that is as offensive as literally any other racial slur against a person of colour. What is it? What is the word that could tear through the exterior of a white person and deeply, deeply hurt them? I have yet to find one.
The lack of an all-encompassing slur has left us with poking fun or asking rhetorical questions to imply insult.
Why do white people wear shorts in winter? Why are white people afraid of spices/just don’t know about them when they literally spent centuries stealing them from other countries? Or why is it so difficult for them to clap on the beat, or dance on the beat for that matter? There’s even an entire website dedicated to making fun of things white people like. Slogan shirts for NGOs to prove they’re humanitarians, Bob Marley and ironic or funny tattoos in languages they probably don’t understand all make an appearance on the website. Oh, and camping. The fact that white people like camping makes an appearance on the website as well. Because damn, do white people like to camp!
My partner sent me a photo while she was at work the other day. Before it loaded properly on to my phone, I received the message that accompanied said photo. “Baby, we should go here on holiday,” it said. I was expecting something simple but idyllic and super comfortable. This is, after all, the type of people we are. The photo loaded. I opened it. It was a cave. An actual hole in a rock made of more rock on the inside. My immediate question was: Who the hell owns a cave? My second question (and my response to her): Who PAYS to stay in a cave?
The answer dawned on me quickly enough… White people. White people do. And it just so happens that my partner is white. And so she thought it would be lovely to go sleep on a small bed in a cold cave with nothing but a Primus stove to keep us warm at night. “Nope,” I said. “Also, that is the whitest suggestion you have ever made.” I did NOT struggle to pay someone so I could sleep in a creepy recess. It can’t be hard to understand that the idea of paying someone to assist me with struggling some more in cold cavity in the middle of some bush for a sense of “adventure” is just ridiculous to me. But it turns out it is very hard to understand that. Because… white privilege.
When white people talk about an experience like this they romanticise it to convince you how wonderful it is. They tell you things like: It’s nice to be in the middle of nowhere. It’s nice to live more “naturally” because you’re forced to simplify your life and get away from the comforts of urban living.
Dear white people, people of colour have lived in the middle of nowhere. Many of them still live in the middle of nowhere. It’s called the Group Areas Act and we still suffer the consequences of it today. Dear white people, people of colour have lived without the comforts of urban living for a long time. We know how to do it. We don’t need to pay elaborate amounts of money to experience a white version of it. My brother slept in a cupboard for the first few years of his life. We made the most of it, it was comfortable and we were happy. But it was a cupboard. We know discomfort. We know how to live without. And for the few of us who don’t have to live without anymore… Well, you can take the girl out the Group Areas Act, but you will not find her PAYING to go back to have the experience. I call that wasting money. You call it a holiday and the difference between those two things is what we call white privilege.
But it’s easy for us to recognise that privilege, just like it’s easy for us to relate to the “camping” experience without paying to have it. White people view expensive holidays with a “struggle” aesthetic the same way they view their privilege: a natural thing. So natural in the case of white privilege in fact that it has become invisible to them. Just part of their being. It’s not necessary to recognise it and it’s not necessary to deal with it. Because it’s not there… to them.
To prove that white privilege is just a fable - a filthy term people of colour have developed to further demonise white people, you will often find that white people use one of the following excuses as proof that they are not in fact privileged:
Affirmative action does not allow me to work in the place of my choosing.
The government doesn’t care about me, and puts everyone else ahead of me.
People of colour have privilege too. They have professions and probably get a bigger salary than I do.
We have been moved to the back of the line – what else do you want me to do to prove I am not privileged?
Other excuses include the old faithfuls: Some of my best friends are black, I voted for the end of apartheid, we went to marches, I don’t see colour – how can I be privileged?
But of all these reasons and responses, nothing angers white people more than point 4. And that’s interesting. Because if the one thing that angers you most is the fact that you are no longer first in line then surely you can pause and look beyond your anger and ask yourself why you are so angry about that? Why do you question your position now, but leave no space to question this embedded notion that you should be in the front of the line to begin with? Because white privilege.
Sociologist Joe Feagin conducted research and writing on oppression as a result of racism, race, ethnic exploitation and inequality over several decades. His findings lead him to coin the term White Racial Frame. This frame is how white people consume the world. Their method of consumption has become so generic and propagated for so long that their dominant status - their privilege - has become indiscernible to them because they do not see it as privilege. They see it as natural.
Whites have been taught the language of superiority for centuries. Their self-confidence does not disappear because of a shift in position in society. Standing at the back of the line because things have changed does not inspire introspection. It only fuels their entitlement to superiority. Woke or not, white people have it in them to believe that they are the vanguards of culture, politics, race and intellect. It’s why you will often find a white person at a march with the best intentions - who returns home only to proclaim that all races are equal. They’re not. But the fact that they’re able to so confidently state that is… white privilege. It’s the inherent ability that white people have that allows them to divorce themselves from race and “racist behaviour” which in turn further perpetuates their dominant status which they refuse to recognise.
Privilege to white people is so natural that it has become unrecognisable to them.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment.