Today I listened to a story told by a white woman to a white man about an ‘amazing’ white couple that moved to the inner city of Johannesburg. It is an area where poor black people live. It is also associated with danger. The danger is not imagined but real. The white guy who is my friend glanced at me quickly as though I should be impressed to hear these news. The lady telling the story was as impressed as though this was exceptional. Something in me quietly snapped. Perhaps not so quietly. Why should this be so special? I was sickened by this.
Of course no middle class person black or white would voluntarily live there. Well, it maybe true that there maybe a few black middle class people who may live there but it will not be seen as something to write home about. They will not be celebrated for living there. Why should I be impressed by this singular white couple?
It occurred to me that black people have been so historically demonised that when white people visit black areas they are treated as though they have done some special deed that deserves high recognition. They are looked at with wonder and their story is shared widely. “See how wonderful these white people are, they have willingly humbled themselves to live among these poor blacks.” They are treated as though they are special. Perhaps they may even write a book and do talks about how they lived in a black township.
They are not special. The white people who go or choose to live among blacks are not extraordinary. They have simply become human. Perhaps that is what must be applauded that they have found their humanity among millions who are still trapped in a lie. A lie that says they are separate and superior, a lie whose root is in hell that separates them from their true humanity. Humanity must have its roots in humility.
Both whites and blacks are guilty of being bewitched by apartheid and colonial demons. Blacks exalt whites by feeling privileged to have whites among them. Blacks bought the lie that whites are superior. What nonsense! Whites are not superior, they are simply human as blacks are. Blacks are not inferior they are human beings as are whites.
By applauding white people who go to black areas we are affirming the lie that blacks are dangerous. It is black people who have been attacked in white areas, not whites going to black areas. Of course there is no such thing as black or white areas in our country since the collapse of apartheid, however residential spaces continue to be constructed that way.
The truth is that whites are not special. They are only special because they are human. The truth is that blacks are special. Blacks are special because they are human. We are equal and special for the same reasons and no other. Anything that exalts one over the other is nothing but a lie.
Blacks and whites are supposed to live alongside one another everywhere including the townships. It is strange that, that is not the case. A chessboard is black and white. That is how the game looks like. The black blocks are as important as the white blocks, so is a piano keyboard. There is no music without the coexistence of the black and white keys. There is no chess game without the black and white pieces. We need to snap out of inferiority and superiority. It is an illusion that keeps us from the truth and from living.