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[OPINION] Anti-racism is exhausting work that must be done

There've been mixed reactions to Vicki Momberg’s sentencing for blatant and unapologetic racism. I was shocked when she was handed a sentence, I did not see that coming. After nearly 50 years of life, it was the first time I saw something legitimate being done to hold a racist in our society accountable. She is one of many racists and her victims are a few of millions subjected to all forms of racism - imaginable and unimaginable. We are not living in a free country; we are all making efforts to survive.

Until we independently and authentically explore the racism in our lives, our own friendship circles, our own areas of influence and places of safety and comfort, we are not free of racism.

If you don’t use the k-word, you are not absolved of being racist. If other people using the k-word forces you to find a voice, an objection or open a conversation, then we are being responsible for how this all turns out. If you turn an angry, frustrated, ashamed blind eye to that or any other derogatory, racist language, then you are complicit. It is the old adage that for evil to prevail, good men and women must do nothing, or say nothing.

Julius Malema’s hate speech is often referred to as racism. As a start, we need to define racism. My understanding of racism is that it is a word to describe the discrimination by white people, believing they are superior towards black people, assumed to be inferior. This can be the only justification for why people say black people can’t be racist. Racism was created to keep black people in their lane and at the back of the queue.

Hate speech, prejudice and verbal abuse could be used to describe unbecoming behaviour of a black person to a person of a different colour.

Until the majority of black people are equal in economic, social, academic strengths and opportunities, racism will always be aimed at them. If, at that time of equality and equity, black people then choose to oppress, disenfranchise and exploit people solely for being white, then and only then can we relook at the definition of racism. We are triple light years away from that possibility.

Hence, Malema makes many salient and important points in his public addresses, but in between throws in some hate speech and antagonisms towards white people. I believe all the urgent issues he mentions - which do need to be addressed and do need implementation plans - keep getting distracted by social media and braai place buzzes about racism. What I wonder about is whether white people really understand that the land issue is no longer a question. That affirmative action and black business opportunities have been sabotaged over decades by those resisting the necessary and overdue change. Racism seems like a scapegoat for action. I am keen that we somewhere acknowledge it exists, do something about it wherever we are and with whomever we are.

On a chat show I heard a number of white callers phoning in to talk about their frustration being in circles where the k-word is still commonly used. Where friends and family or friends of family are openly racist. What to do was the main enquiry. There is a simple solution, raise your objection, open a discussion about it, take what you get. If people minimise your opinion or challenge of their behaviour, then you get to choose whether you need to be there or not.

I know a lot of white people feel free to speak with me about racism. My question is, how many of them are free to speak to each other? Is it even a topic which causes some restless nights or a change in questionable behaviour in their homes, at the places of work and toward the people who provide service to them.

As a person of colour I am exhausted coaching and mentoring people about racism. I am anti-racism. Everywhere I am. It is a commitment I made that my children and yours will be free and equal in South Africa as long as I live and after I don’t.

I do expect most responses to be about the definition of racism and that is ok, I sit here wondering how many people will genuinely engage in the race issues they face daily and what their responses have been.

Being colour blind, promoting an unreal atmosphere of equality and ‘let’s just move on’ is not working people. In order to move forward, we must at the very least acknowledge where we come from. Once we cross that bridge it’s the arduous duty of checking how many bags of baggage and layers of rose coloured (no pun intended) blinkers are holding us back from creating a future where all our freedoms and our human rights are guaranteed. We have come a long way and we have a way to go.

We can do it together. We then do all need to do something out of our comfort zone, like acknowledging that through living in South Africa our prejudices are programmed by our environments. You will realise your prejudice every time there is a shocking sight of a white beggar at the robot, or the silent opinion of the young black woman driving a Porsche. Be conscious of your thought process when you observe any of these things. We don’t think about our thoughts, but we should. Our thoughts are formed by our life experiences. If you grew up during apartheid or you are living in its aftermath, you will get this 100%, if you want to.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn

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