Stuff white liberals say and do

You’ve got to love white people. They’re so very white. Especially in South Africa.

You see, I’m something of a connoisseur. One day I woke up, thought about the fact that about 80% of our country is black, and examined my life. I looked at the friends that filled my photo albums, the people who had married into my family and my fellow customers at all the bars, clubs and restaurants I frequented. And I realised I was surrounded by white people.

If Bruce Willis was around this is the point where I would stage whisper to him: “I see white people — and they don’t know that they’re white!”

Ah, white people. I could write reams about the stuff white people like, but somebody already has.

I’ve run the gamut of white people variations growing up in freshly post-apartheid Pretoria, offering me examples both frightening and hilarious. From the parents of friends who looked at me over the braai and coolly announced that “things were better before,” to the adorable old grannies that would press chilli sauce on me at lunch, assuring mortified friends that “they like that sort of thing”.

But it was only later in life, when I came across the “enlightened” white person that I discovered my favourite kind … the white liberal.

To catch this particular breed you have to hang out at the right places. Think Asian fusion restaurants, music festivals and Kloof Street in Cape Town. To spot them use my handy guide to Stuff White Liberals Say and Do:

  • White liberals, and white people in general, don’t think they’re white. Growing up in a world where whiteness parades as normality means that you’re made damn sure at an early age that you’re black, coloured, Chinese, or anything other. White people however, especially in South Africa, sort of stumble upon the uncomfortable fact that they’re also raced individuals late in life, and then spend the rest of the time forgetting it. You’ll notice this by how they’re refer to any white person as a man, woman, girl, boy or child and everyone else by their race, eg. “So this black dude walks in … “.
  • White liberals never accept that they’re, you know, white white. That’s because generally they were the alternative and misunderstood kids growing up who later went on to litter various media, advertising and entertainment industries with their self-referential pseudo irony. They’re so consumed by their perceived sense of otherness within their own race that they can’t begin to fathom that they enjoy any sort of position of privilege and power.
  • In any conversation about apartheid, white liberals will immediately and loudly bring up the fact that their parents were forced to join the army. As if this fact mitigates generations of economic and political advantage. As if life is a neat game of tag where you can shout “Nix!” and invoke some sort of blanket amnesty, instead of the messy web of power it really is.
  • White people are very used to hearing the sound of their own voice. A white liberal friend once told me he had been to an academic conference where a paper was presented on the best responses to white guilt. It was lauded for positing silence, and listening, as a solution. I waited to respond to this interesting idea but my friend spoke about it without pause for about ten minutes without allowing me a word in edgewise. Eventually I left mid-sentence to get a drink.
  • White liberals who love Africa are the funniest. Look for the pale male donning an African print shirt and rocking out to Johnny Clegg. To be honest, the only actual black man I know who wears African shirts is Madiba. And he’s, you know, Madiba. Funny thing about this kind is that they’ll wax lyrical about the African dream but never quite bring themselves to date an actual black woman. I guess they leave that to the European tourists.
  • White liberals never, ever, think it’s weird that they have no good black friends. In fact, if you bring this up they’ll think you’re being racist. Then they’ll whinge about how hard it is to meet black people.

So there you go. Happy hunting. To be fair there are lots of good things about white liberals. There’s a reason I’m friends with so many of them. And, of course, not all liberals are as annoying as I’ve described. In fact I feel really bad for all the perfectly aware and sensitive white people out there who have the impossible task of making up for the rest of the race. So help them out. Go hug an annoying white liberal today. And remind them that they’re white.

  • Read Verashni’s response to the uproar this column caused here.

  • You can read Verashni’s column every Monday here and follow here on twitter here.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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