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Khaya Dlanga: To hell with polite racism

To hell with polite racism! 

Give me an openly racist person who tells me that he hates me because I'm black, than that phoney nonracism that always eventually shows itself. 

In my experience, those who never want to talk about racism are often the ones who are most acutely aware of race. They are paranoid about not wanting to come across as racist. They worry that what they actually think will eventually show in what they say or do. There is also a big difference between someone who has to realise that they are and have been racist all their lives, but are trying to change that.

To say you don't see colour but your friends all look like you and come from similar backgrounds is clear evidence that you do. So let's not fool ourselves.

I definitely see colour, but I don't interact with them as races, rather as people. The only time it actually does come into play is when I realise that I am being treated differently because of the colour of my skin, or someone else is being treated unfairly because they happen to be a different colour. Refusal to discuss race is more often than not a case of polite racism. 

An advert I wrote for radio once featured a very polite old white woman who has no "racial etiquette" but is trying really hard not to be racist. She has no idea that the things she is saying are racist, she says them out of genuine concern. And of course, hilarity ensues. 

In the ad, the woman in her 80s says: "I locked my car keys in my car the other day. I was distraught because my new Beyonce CD was in the car. So I called my new neighour, Sipho, to open my car with a wire coat hanger. He couldn't! What's happening to this country? People are losing their cultures!"

In another advert for the same campaign, the same woman comments on her new neighbours from Soweto. "My new neighbours had a swimming pool party last night. Myyyy! I didn't know they could swim! The good news is no one drowned," she says sweetly.

I suppose I wrote those scripts because I had similar experiences, but not to such a blatant extent. I imagined this woman as someone who said she doesn't see colour, but then proceeds to act in a racially motivated manner whenever she meets people of different races. 

One should also be able to distinguish between those people who have absolutely no filter, who will say the first thing that comes out of their mouths to whomever they come across, regardless of race. They are just offensive bastards.

There is a defence I usually hear, that someone is not being racist, they are just a jackass. There's a big difference between a jackass and a racist. Don't insult me by making them the same thing. The guy who is offensive to everyone may be a jackass but probably not a racist. A racist focuses their hate for certain racial groups. Not just that, but they believe that someone of another race is inherently inferior. When they get to a point where they realise that what they think is not true, it angers them and makes them more racist.

When a white person gets retrenched and the black person gets to keep their job, there is an assumption that the black person kept their job because the colour of their skin and not because they are actually good at what they do. It may be unspoken. That is polite racism.

When someone gives you an opportunity to speak out of sheer politeness because they feel they have to, not because they want to listen to you, and don't believe you could possibly have anything to say that could be of more value than what they said. That is polite racism.

Here are more subtle signs of polite racism.

At the end of the day, people are people. We will always find reasons to divide ourselves into groups. Even when everyone looks the same, we will find a reason to explain why we are different and better than the next person. It is one of humanity's worst traits – always wanting to be better than someone instead of trying to figure out a way to be better together.

We are different for a reason, and that reason is to make sure we all look at the same problem from a unique and different perspective. Sometimes the best solutions come from unexpected places. That's why it's important to listen to each other. That is how we will end racism.

When I was in high school and the schools had been opened to black people for about two years, there was a racist boy who worked at the library. He didn't want black people to touch him. Whenever a black person touched him, he'd say, "Sies! You touched me, man!"

To me, he was just an idiot who was doing what he saw at home and he thought it was the right thing to do.

One day, I tried to enter the library but the door was closed. I tried to get in but he wouldn't let me in. He allowed the white kid who was with me to walk in. So I pushed my way in. He then tried to shove me. As he was attempting to shove me out, I started wiping myself, shouting: "Sies man! You touched me! Sies!" The library full of white kids who laughed at him because they had always seen him do that. He walked out of the library. I stayed.

So rather give me a blatant racist, at least I know who I am dealing with and how to deal with them.

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