"I think only stupid people have good relationships."
"That’s the spirit."
Ghost World (2001) dir. Terry Zwigoff
“I’m tired of people asking me to smooth my name out for them. They want me to bury it in English so they can understand. I will not accommodate the word for mouth. I will not break my name so your lazy English can sleep its tongue on top. Fix your lips around them. No you can’t give me a stupid nickname so that you can replace this gift of five letters.” - Hiwot Adilow (linked above, performing the quoted piece)
“Give your daughters difficult names. Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. My name makes you want to tell me the truth. My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” - Warsan Shire
pictured above: Entitled white woman Jenny Johnson in all her ethnocentricity. I grew up with women like her, they were my teachers, classmates. They resent any self-possessed “other” as “arrogant” for attempting to access the same common courtesy and respect they might allow those as vanilla as themselves. These women view it as their birthright to decide what is “weird” and “obscure” from within a niche limited to “white women named Jenny.” They blame their linguistic inadequacy on our parentage while resting on the privileges of their own. These women never amount to anything beyond an ignorant bully forever isolating themselves from incredible people with spectacular names.
our insistence that you pronounce our names correctly = “arrogance”
your insistence that our names are too difficult for you & that we should just deal w/the way you mangle them = ????? (the answer is white supremacy)
I benefited from Apartheid
Excerpt: Click on link in sidebar to read full article.
“It’s okay, people will appreciate it and forgive you if you just acknowledge it. Wear this t-shirt and let people know that you benefited from apartheid. Black people, don’t be shy… we’re sure you know some white folks who have tried to tell you that Employment Equity is racist. Get them a shirt! If you don’t know of any, just buy a couple and give them to the cashiers at Woolworths to hand out to their next customers.
If, however, you are, due to the way you embody transformation in your daily dealings, in no need of acknowledging publicly that you benefited, maybe you can get one for anyone of your myriad friends who still, embarrassingly say things like “these people” at dinner parties. These shirts also make excellent Christmas gifts for grandparents who think that there never used to be any coloured people in Constantia, and don’t understand why they want to move in now, dammit!”
We first noticed this shirt when a debate began raging when a friend uploaded a photo of himself wearing this shirt. We soon noticed news articles being posted about the campaign, both positive and negative. It soon became apparent that the people behind this campaign are as sick of ignorant, racist attitudes in South Africa as we are. Racism and discrimination have no place here. We think this campaign is awesome, and hopefully will achieve the goal of creating conversation, understanding and eventually forgiveness. We spoke to Leonard Shapiro about the campaign…
Click on source: podcast.cbc in sidebar to right to listen to podcast. Interview is within the first 15 minutes.
Satirical website Hayibo.com has admitted that it benefited from apartheid, saying that its legacy has given the site more material than it can ever use. “Thank to apartheid, South Africa is today bursting with panicky whites in denial and paranoid blacks in power,” said a spokesman. “And where would Hayibo be without misguided white outrage and ANC clot-cadres?”
The issue of whether or not young white South African benefited from apartheid without ever having supported the Nationalist regime made headlines this week after film-maker Roger Young and a friend printed and distributed a T-shirt reading ‘I benefited from apartheid’.
The T-shirt has sharply divided the 18 whites who pay attention to current affairs, with some describing the shirt as “amazingly amazing, because it, like, addresses stuff”, while others have vowed that they will “totally avoid making eye contact with Roger” when they see him at Vida e.
This morning Hayibo’s spokesman, Chatz Orff De Record, said that the T-shirt was not a new idea.
“We actually used to sell a T-shirt that said the same thing,” he said. “It was a picture of the old South African flag with the heading ‘Previously Advantaged’. But it didn’t sell because some whites are pretty literal and need stuff explained to them in full sentences. Also they get a bit skittish around satire, because everybody knows that once you experiment with satire, you end up having sex with your Shangaan lover in a hammock in a commune.”
However, he said, the new T-shirts had made the Hayibo team “really re-assess all kind of stuff”.
“Thank God for earnest messages on T-shirts,” said De Record. “I mean, if we didn’t see them on people’s chests at Vida, how would we ever know what to think about?”
He said that after a session of soul-searching, the Hayibo team had been forced to admit that it too had benefited from apartheid.
“Every single thing we parody is a product of apartheid,” said De Record. “Without apartheid, how could Jacob Zuma have blamed the non-delivery of textbooks on Hendrik Verwoerd? How could the majority still be living shitty enough lives to believe the empty promises of a Julius Malema? How could whites still be so coddled and out of touch that they unite against Woolworths but fail to unite against the Secrecy Bill?”
Asked if Hayibo would be doing anything to contribute to society now that it had realized it had benefited from apartheid, De Record said, “Absolutely not.”
“That’s the whole point of public statements of complicity. It’s a way of feeling you’re contributing, but you don’t really have to do anything other than keep having cappuccinos at Vida.”
Jacques Rousseau at Daily Maverick
Roger Young and Leonard Shapiro have caused quite some controversy with their T-shirts that proclaim: “I benefited from Apartheid”. I’m not sure I’d ever wear this shirt – despite the fact that I bought two of them.
I certainly benefited from Apartheid. And I’ve bought the t-shirt that says so – two of them, in fact – even though I might never wear them except in the company of other 40-something white liberals, with whom I share enough history that misinterpretation is unlikely.
Misinterpretation is unlikely, even as we agree on how many different things the T-shirt could be saying, and often also agree on what it should and should not be saying. It does not need to say that because I’m white, I should feel guilt. It should certainly not be saying that white people should withdraw from political comment, as Samantha Vice once argued.
But outside of the shared space of those of us who – to a lesser or greater degree – participated in some form of protest or activism in the 1980s or earlier, this shirt’s message is perhaps a little too ambiguous, and too open to misinterpretation. Two reactions illustrate the problem, and even though these reactions are both far too simplistic, they nevertheless serve as useful examples of two possible extremes.
First, there’s the contribution that “Frank” made to MyNews24, headlined “I benefited from Apartheid and other fairy tales”. Frank’s column discussed the “new liberal buzz concept that we as whites… have hugely benefited from a system that has been dead and buried for 18 odd years”. There’s no value in linking to this, as it starts out wrong-headed and quickly ramps up to triumphalist – but completely unreflective – smugness.
While the fact that he thinks this concept “new” might reveal that he’s only started thinking about this recently, more worrying is that he’s bought into a premise that I can’t help but associate with someone who’s unwilling to engage with South Africa’s past (and therefore, present and future) in an honest way. As I’ve argued before, the first democratic elections didn’t somehow flip a magical switch, whereby after 1994 we could be sure that everyone succeeds or fails entirely on merit.
Now, I might like to wear the T-shirt in Frank’s company too, so that he can know he’s alone in wanting to bury his head in the sand, or to engage in acts of “whataboutery” wherein you boycott SAA, or self-righteously stalk the aisles of Pick n Pay rather than Woolworths for a week or two, to say “what about this new-fangled form of racism, eh? Is this what ‘we’ struggled to achieve?”
But then, maybe Frank will think I’m wearing the T-shirt ironically, and never think about the message it’s intended to convey. Or maybe he’ll think, “well, perhaps you did, but my life was hard, and now my kids can’t get into UCT Medical School. And you call this justice?” In other words, maybe Frank will make the mistake we all (white, black, female, male, poor, rich) sometimes do, of thinking that anecdotes count as data.
And then, there’s the other sort of extreme reaction, this time a comment left at the Mail&Guardian (excerpted):
“sickening… how self-righteous some white south africans can be… so you think a sorry is good enough… a woolies t-shirt with those words is good enough. for me it simply shows the depth at which white people think black people are stupid. How lowly they regard black people’s pain. Will this t-shirt wipe away the memories of Apartheid, will it give me the land they took away from my family. will it educate me, will it take away the shame and inferiority complex I have that was passes down to me due to the whites manipulating black people’s minds.”
The fact that this reaction is a straw man of the worst order is besides the point, as is the fact that the author of this comment seems to believe that white people are in general insensitive, manipulative, and of the view that black people are stupid. To put it plainly, it’s besides the point that the author of the comment appears to have racist attitudes towards whites.
The reason it’s besides the point is that whether (many or most) whites are like that or not is a separate issue from whether a wearer of this T-shirt in fact benefited from Apartheid (which, in general, they certainly would have), what they are trying to say in wearing it and most importantly, whether they think that wearing a T-shirt is all they need to do to wipe the slate clean.
My answers to those questions are not going to be the same as yours. But the key point here is that regardless of what my or your answers might be, those answers aren’t going to necessarily overlap at all with how the T-shirt is perceived by others, and what they think you mean. Intentions aren’t transparent to those who pass us on the street, and the performative role of this T-shirt is a fundamentally ambiguous thing – not to mention potentially a rather offensive thing.
And lastly, there are two quite general problems with this T-shirt, which further decrease the likelihood of my ever wearing one, despite now owning two. First, because as much as it’s true that whites benefited from Apartheid, Apartheid – or at least its legacy – is increasingly becoming the narrative by which some tenderpreneurs and politicians (even presidents) enrich themselves at the expense of people who are currently, not previously, disadvantaged.
As much as the T-shirt would speak the truth if I were to wear it, would it be any less true if worn by President Zuma, even though the benefits might be of a very different form? If Apartheid didn’t provide Zuma and the ANC with a narrative of being essential to the liberation from Apartheid, would he and others not perhaps be in jail?
The other general problem is that what the T-shirt says is partly false. Yes, I did benefit from Apartheid, as (on aggregate) all whites did. But I still benefit, because of the cultural capital, the confidence, and from the fact that the vast majority of people in power at my institution are white liberal males, just like me. How could I not have benefited and continue to benefit? After all, isn’t that what Apartheid was designed for?
Interview On M&G
Naomi Meyer on LitNet
Roger Young recently co-designed a T-shirt with the wording: I benefited from Apartheid. Naomi Meyer asked him about this project.
Hi Roger, is that the correct description – your “project”?
You can find some information here.
Why the T-shirts?
See above. I truly just find myself quite irritated with people who say things like, “Apartheid was 20 years ago, why can’t just we get over it?” The fact is that white people in general can be very lazy about transformation, and the lazier they are, the more vocal they are on this level.
Is apartheid really and truly over? And if not, why the past tense (“I benefited …”)?
Legally, yes; economically we’re very far from it. And the time when we can hope the government will fix everything is over. All South Africans need to participate in our democracy on a more hands-on level.
So about the past tense: it’s a sticking point. I still benefit, it’s true, but we thought the present tense might be too much for some people to take on board. Maybe that should be our next shirt.
What is the next step, after we’ve been there and worn the T-shirt?
That’s going to be different for everyone. Should people even wear the shirt? I don’t know. The idea was to start a conversation about white privilege and what we should be doing with it. I just wanted to make them so that I could start conversations with very specific people. Those conversations have been very fruitful.
Lloyd Gedye in The Mail & Guardian
All white South Africans benefited from apartheid in some way. So why is it so difficult for so many to admit it?
Coming to the rescue are two white South Africans, Roger Young and Leonard Shapiro. Their black T-shirts with white lettering says it all: “I benefited from apartheid”.
South Africans can purchase the T-shirts from a specially created website that contains an artist statement, if you will: “It’s time to admit it. You’re white and you benefited. It’s okay, people will appreciate it and forgive you if you just acknow-ledge it. Wear this T-shirt and let people know that you benefited from apartheid.
“Black people, don’t be shy … we’re sure you know some white folks who have tried to tell you that employment equity is racist. Get them a shirt! If you don’t know of any, just buy a couple and give them to the cashiers at Woolworths to hand out to their next customers.
“If, however, due to the way you embody transformation in your daily dealings, you are in no need of acknowledging publicly that you benefited, maybe you can get one for anyone of your myriad friends who still, embarrassingly, say things like ‘these people’ at dinner parties.”
Young, a filmmaker, photographer and journalist who is working on a film called Suburban Whites, said the idea came one evening as he was taking part in a slave tour of Cape Town, visiting sites of historical importance.
“It was about the time the whole Woolworths debacle was happening in which white people were boycotting the store because of its employment equity policies,” Young said.
“I was with my friend Leonard and we were walking around Cape Town being confronted by all this racist, violent, hidden past of South Africa and at the same time we were talking about the Woolworths boycott. At one point I said: ‘All white people who complain about employment equity should all be made to wear a T-shirt that says ‘I benefited from apartheid’.”
The project started out as part of Belinda Blignaut’s A Shot to the Arse exhibition at the Michaelis school of fine art at the University of Cape Town, where Young and Shapiro, who works as a product developer in the craft sector and is studying art theory, printed 10 shirts and put them in the exhibition with a sign that read “Free T-shirts, whites only”.
Young said the T-shirts were gone in five minutes and in the weeks that followed he started to see people wearing them.
He wanted to know what reaction they were getting from wearing the T-shirts in public. So he started asking them.
The pair received one of two reactions. Some thought they were being smug and the wearers were confronted in an aggressive way until the statement was explained to them. Others thought it was a brave and honest thing to do.
“I don’t think it’s an honest thing,” said Young. “It’s obvious. However, I think that these interactions on the street around the T-shirts are very important. We all need to start talking about these issues as South Africans.
“White people in South Africa need to admit that they benefited before they can start saying things like this country is crumbling.”
But Young said he has received a lot of racist hate mail, mostly from expatriate white South Africans living in the United Kingdom or Australia.
One Facebook post read: “Let it go already we are all apartheid-ed out. We are in a new world run by racist blacks so what now, do we print a T-shirt for the Africans to say they benefited from this?”
Young and Shapiro have since printed another 30 T-shirts, 17 of which have alreay been sold in pre-orders. “I am buying my step-father one for Christmas,” said Young, “because he says the most ridiculous things.”
TO Molefe on Thought Leader
It’s time to admit it. You’re white and you benefited.
This is the challenge that Roger Young and Leonard Shapiro have set for white South Africans. The pair created and is selling T-shirts that read across the front: “I benefited from apartheid.” They say the T-shirts are their attempt at beginning “an important conversation about … being born into a system where whites were privileged”.
I think it a fair enough idea, though the phrase ought to be expressed in the present tense — I benefit. A quick gander at the indicators of privilege (income, asset ownership, access to opportunities) will tell you that whites still benefit from the effects of apartheid’s stacked deck, despite how some among them deny accruing a single benefit from the system and are the most vocal about the supposed hardships they face today.
The T-shirt’s Tumblr page has begun collating the responses of this vocal lot to being called out on their privilege. The results are predictable and mindboggling.
The other side of the coin is that this may devolve into “progressive” white folk wearing a T-shirt and earning cool points for acknowledging the patently obvious, yet doing little else beyond that. But let me leave white folk to their own and talk about mine instead.
It’s easy to critique another’s privilege but much harder to see your own let alone analyse and respond adequately to it. This is because privilege is an expression of relative position. Examining your own, though, is seldom a comparison of like with like. You hold up a subjective view of yourself against your outsider view of another. Your privilege you can qualify — I sacrificed this to gain that; I studied hard for this — but see little of the effort and sacrifices made by the other, often for naught. The privilege blindness becomes more acute when the relative privilege you enjoy comes at the expense of the other.
This is the only way I’ve been able to rationalise why there hasn’t been a call to arms from my people, the middle class, over the failure of this country’s public schooling system. I’d thought that we with greater access to the internet, TV and radio talk shows, news opinion pages and other public platforms would champion righting this injustice considering the effect education has had on our lives. But no.
We enjoy middle-class privilege primarily because we received a higher quality of basic education relative to what many others receive. We either lucked out and went to one of the few quality public schools there are or our parents could afford private schools — yet we credit individual efforts for our achievements. Not only that, the poor basic education received by many in this country makes middle-class privilege here all the more sweeter because we can afford things we might otherwise never been able to afford, like people to clean our homes and take care of our kids, tend our gardens, pack our groceries, open and close boomgates, pump our gas, shine our shoes … I could go on.
The point is the failure of the basic education system provides a large pool of cheap, unskilled labour to fulfil middle-class needs, whims and desires, and decreases the competition for middle-class jobs. As beneficiaries of the failure, it makes good sense, tacitly or explicitly, for us not to kick up a fuss over it, as inhumane and short term a view as that may be.
Things would be completely different if everybody received the same, high-quality basic education. There would have been tens of thousands eligible and qualified for that cushy office job you have and you’d have to clean your own house. Getting into university would have been tougher, too, if the public schooling system didn’t automatically disqualify almost 70% of those who matriculate from it.
So it’s no surprise that there was a muted response from us when Angie Motshekga said the right to education is not an immediately realisable right and that pupils should wait until government has the resources to deliver quality education. For this same reason there wasn’t as much as a peep from my people, the middle class, when the basic education departmentadmitted that it is likely to miss its target of improving the quality of basic education by 2014.
Which is why if Young and Shapiro’s campaign achieves its stated aim, I might start producing T-shirts of my own targeted at the middle class. Across the front they’ll read: I benefit from the failure of the basic education system.