An average black person’s “I am not inferior” is weaker than an “I am not inferior” of an average white supremacist (including those white supremacists who are not, themselves, white). Similarly, an average white supremacist’s “I am superior” speaks louder than an “I am superior” of an average black person. Why?
1. It’s a battle of convictions.
Well, we are all creatures of habit. It’s as challenging for a black person who just came out of oppression to equate themselves to — or to elevate themselves above — their white counterpart as overcoming an addiction. When your whole being is in agreement with the idea that, for example, you must smoke, drink coffee, drink beer, have sex, or [insert your own addiction here], you don’t just stop wanting to get some just because you so decide. Far from it! Whether you quit cold-turkey or through rehab, you have to make conscious decisions against your natural impulses every day. It takes a lot of will power, which most people don’t have; but there’s another reason why many people struggle so much to successfully quit addictive behaviour: will power is only a good starting point, really. The best way to sustainably overcome habit is to replace it with habit that will take over before will power runs out. Once you discover excitement, there’s no way you’re going to be okay with a sudden absence of any excitement. Addictive stuff is addictive precisely because it’s particularly nice, right?
In order for me to quit smoking and drinking some twenty years ago, for example, it helped that I enjoyed the challenge of telling my friends, who were much older than me, that if they ever see me smoking, they must take the cigarette I’m smoking and burn my neck with it. The agreement was that I’d only smoke when drinking. I knew they’d do it. One particular such friend was in prison more often than he was outside. (The subject of my dysfunctional youth will find its way onto this website soon.)
For a few weeks, I smoked only when drinking and I loved the feeling of regaining my power over nicotine, as well as overcoming something that most people considered almost insurmountable. This motivated me to try drinking only juice at the club and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was no less fun than when I drank alcohol.
That marked the end of my journey with alcohol and cigarettes. It started with me wanting to regain my power over nicotine and then I supported it with the burn-my-neck trap; and believe it or not, and the power rush was stronger than the nicotine high.
2. White privilege/home ground advantage.
On paper, South Africa has eleven official languages; but in practice, business is conducted in English and, to some degree, Afrikaans. The rest of the languages feature in between consequential conversations: in corridors, at the water cooler, etc. The reasons are both understandable and “understandable” depending on the context. When political correctness is called for, for example, it’s understandable that there are nine of the other official languages that would need to have an equal opportunity to be the alternative language accommodated in the business meetings and we all know that it’s not only white people would be marginalized, black people themselves typically don’t speak all nine of them. So it’s understandably impractical, right? There are those companies that try to display a level of progressiveness by throwing in some symbolic compromises like giving boardrooms African names, banks might throw in a warped semblance of African languages in their ATMs, etc. Black people appreciate the gesture in front of white people and because “they’re trying,” black folks might say; but in private conversations, black folks typically say such translation sucks ever so monumentally! Like, they are so bad that you fear transacting in Zulu because you might make costly mistakes because of potentially misconstrued instructions because, seriously, who says “eyesheke” when they refer to a cheque account? So this is the “understandable” side of the impracticality of language equality.
There are other reasons why black people transact in English though. Many upwardly mobile black folks find it easier to read and write in English than in their vernac. As a result of all these and other dynamics, white people have home ground advantage because even those who are not native English speakers have a better command of the English language than most black people. Many black people (You know I’m mainly referring to black people who are old enough to have been working for at least a few years, right?) actually think in their vernac, translate to English, and then verbalize their thoughts; and the reverse applies when listening: they hear something spoken in English, (partially) translate it to vernac and in order to avoid awkward delays, process only partially and rush into the process of formulating an English response. The difficulty of translation is further compounded by the fact that a lot of concepts simply cannot be directly translated to English; so black people have a hard time expressing their authentic thoughts in English.
Back at college, in a mechanotechnology lecture, a classmate was on his feet, answering to the lecturer’s question that was related to fire extinguishers. He needed to make reference to a fire truck and simply couldn’t remember what on earth it’s called in English. He looked towards me and asked “konje ke eng s’tima mollo?” (what’s a fire truck called?) He was an otherwise very street smart and opinionated fellow and I couldn’t resist saying the first thing that came to mind: “steam ice!” He went on to use that translation and got thoroughly embarrassed when the class roared with laughter and the lecturer, an Afrikaner man, went ballistic because he initially thought the guy was disrespecting him by being facetious/playful. Thankfully and surprisingly, that had no consequence for me.
Since a lot of words used in African languages do borrow from English or Afrikaans, they are the easeist to recognize and translate; hence, it makes sense that the guy found “steam ice” believable as a translation of “s’tima mollo.” In a similar translation crisis, I once flirted with a Pedi speaking girl who, for some reason, thought it necessary to speak to me in English since her Zulu wasn’t great. I went with the English thing until she suggested that I “fark” my laptop in the boot because it was on the passenger seat and would draw unwanted attention from criminals. Of course, “fark” sounds like a translation of the Zulu word “faka” which means “insert” or “put inside” in English. I immediately switched the conversation to SePedi.
3. Black people are nice.
Ubuntu is often strangely translated as meaning “I am because you are.” That’s like saying “I owe you,” isn’t it? Anyway, ubuntu is a quality of being humane and very courteous, and this is found throughout the black community. A mere greeting, for example, is a big deal in the black community. Greeting is an acknowledgement of another human being and that instantly unlocks serious “courtesy and favour” doors.
Ubuntu, coupled with decades of oppression and a heritage that lacks much professional and educational accomplishment, is not only mistakeable for being subordinated, it actually leaves black people vulnerable rather than poised to overcome any would-be advantage takers, not least of whom are white supremacists. It also doesn’t necessarily translate to competitive advantage in the job market as we know it today.
Black people are always dragged into the white man’s home ground to play his game according to his rules; and many wonder why they hate their jobs and why it takes so much more for them to be as good as their white counterparts. As a matter of fact, many black people might find it unpatriotic of me to sound like I’m saying white people outdo black people, at least in some respects. Well, I am not unsaying it. But then again, this is my personal account of experiences. Are black people less capable/intelligent? Well, black people are far from realizing their potential; whether it’s more or less than a white man’s potential is of no interest to me.
I can’t think of a better way for black people to maximize their potential than to establish corporations that think in their own mode of expression and flourish without setting their offspring up for transformation into English speakers. Why’s that a bad idea, you ask? Well, the Africans who were enslaved in America all those years ago, for example, lost their languages and are still playing catch-up with their white counterparts today. It’s not enough to turn our children into more fluent English speakers (or twangers), we need wealth, not an appearance of wealth; and we’re fools if our hope for accummulating wealth involves working on the white man’s field, his way, and speaking in his language. It’s not wrong, it’s just extremely limited.
It’s okay if we’ve thought about establishing corporations and still chose to be employed, even in white companies, but it had better be a CHOICE we made, and not a rut we stayed in because we were so broken by apartheid; and it had better not be that it’s simply what we saw white people do. Being employed by someone who thinks in your native mode of thinking is called home ground advantage. It makes the idea of achievement much more natural. A sense of achievement that comes from sending children to white schools and working in huge corporations whose mode of operation requires that you think in a foreign mode is so apartheid era! It means children have to fight through struggles that their PARENTS should have fought.
It cost white people blood, sweat, and tears to rise to a place where their children can compete on home turf; no wonder they are confused when black children lament #FeesMustFall and black girls fight over wearing their natural hair, etc. It’s struggles that only make sense to the black child. We can either build corporations that get them or we can demand that white people employ us on our terms, which is ridiculous, right? It’s weird to blame white people for paying each other more than they do us – it’s their businesses, right? Why do we think they are obliged to give a thing about us? If you think about this stuff, you realize why all we have is political power and we might not have it for much longer. Are we not being inferior in thought and deed? And is it not us, then, who make white people superior? Are we not, therefore, white supremacists, black as we are?