Things White South Africans Shouldn’t Say

“Apartheid ended over twenty years ago, black people should get over it.” White people telling black people to get over apartheid, colonialism and slavery etc, is like telling an abuse victim that they are not allowed to feel pain or talk about what happened to them. For many, if not most black people, it is worse than that: it is like hearing their abusers telling them to get over it while they are still bleeding. Yes, I know that dwelling on the past can be a hindrance to progress. Nonetheless, black people (all people for that matter) are entitled to their pain and are entitled to talk about those things that hurt them or their parents.

“I had nothing to do with apartheid.” The fact that you were born after apartheid or had nothing to do with its implementation doesn’t negate the fact that it favored you. It also doesn’t negate the fact that, if your parents were around during apartheid their silence allowed it to carry on for much longer than it should have. Yes, there are exceptions but whatever good some of our parents did against the apartheid system is was not enough.

Even if you totally disagree that you have benefited from apartheid, you cannot reasonably deny that it caused the suffering of millions of black people; that millions of them and their children are still suffering from its legacy. Of course apartheid’s legacy could have been more rapidly diminished by better post-apartheid governance, but it was never a legacy that was going to be completely erased within our lifetimes. White South African need to own the fact that apartheid is part of our history. Only then will we be forgiven for it.

“I am not a racist.” If you use the word, ‘kaffer’ or treat black people with less respect than you do white people or generalize about black people, then you need to take a long look at yourself. We live moment by moment and in the moment you said, ‘kaffer’ or treated black people with less respect etc you were being a racist. If you do those things out of habit then you are most definitely a racist.  Your denial causes as much damage (to yourself as well as those you offend) as the racist act itself.

When I do something wrong at work, I immediately tell the boss about it. That way I don’t double my troubles. If I deny that I did something wrong or try to minimize my mistake then I am guilt not only of the mistake I made but of trying to cover it up as well. It is the same with acts of racism. The denial of what you did causes as much, if not more anger, among black people than the racist act itself. It also displays your own ignorance. It would be much better, if you have done anything racist to say, “I am sorry that was racist. I admit it. It was wrong, totally wrong.”

Someone who steals is a thief even if he says he’s not. He might get a reduced sentence but only if he admits to what he did and expresses genuine remorse about it. He will one day no longer be a thief but only if, day by day, he creates a track record of paying for what he needs. White South Africans need to lead the fight against racism so that whatever history is written about us from now on proves that we are not all racists. Then we won’t have to say it any more.

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Troydon Wainwright is a philosopher and Reiki Master based in Cape Town. Born with mild cerebral palsy and dyslexia, Toydon learnt to write as a way to overcome the barriers his dyslexia placed in front of him. “I wrote my way out of dyslexia,” said Troydon, “or at least to the point where reading and writing aren’t a problem anymore.” During the day he works as an educational facilitator (someone who helps special needs students cope academically and become more independent). At night he dedicates his time to writing. He has won a Nova award for his short story, The Sangoma’s Storm, and been a feature poet at the Off the Wall poetry readings in Cape Town and at Cape Town Central Library. Three of his poems were also included in the anthology Africa’s Best New Poets. He has also been published in the South African Literary journal, New Contrast. One of his Facebook posts, in which he took a stand against racism, has gone viral (

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