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On white silence.

Samantha Vice also advocates for white people at least a partial silence and a political humility which would prevent white people from engaging in the politics of the day. White people have power. When they speak, they speak with the authority and arrogance that inevitably flows from their whiteness. Hence, says Vice, it is morally risky to speak publicly in our society if one is a white person. I have three responses to that: First, do we not have the duty to take this risk? Is it not a bit precious — showing perhaps inadvertently too much concern for ones own ethical purity and ones status as a not so bad person — by not wanting to take risks and not wanting to make mistakes?  Is this not a move to avoid exposing oneself to ridicule, hatred, criticism, accusations of racism and arrogance, of sexism and homophobia, which might well be levelled against some of us by others who, surely, we must be careful not wish to construct as utterly powerless victims of whiteness and of what white people do and say? Surely, despite the structural inequalities and the effects of past and ongoing racism and racial discrimination in our country, it would be highly problematic to hold that white people should be silent because this will be somehow respectful of black people and the powerlessness they experience in the face of white privilege? I do not experience black South Africans as powerless or being in need of my silence and I worry that believing that would be fundamentally patronising and disempowering towards black South Africans. If I make a mistake, if I talk and my words are seeped in whiteness or the arrogance that is associated with white structural privilege, I know that I will be told so in no uncertain terms by others — and rightly so. And is this not a better way to work on the self? By engaging with the world, with fellow South Africans, by doing so in a manner that is fully aware of ones privilege, by taking the risks, by getting it wrong and reflecting on why one got it wrong and trying again and by demonstrating in word and deed that one is not the font of all wisdom? Is this not how we even begin to embark on a journey of becoming full and equal citizens in this country? Will the silence, then, not be a whitely silence? Silence can appear like a cop out, like and avoidance of the burden of having to take decisions and taking risks, and for taking responsibility for one’s whiteness and for inevitably getting it wrong and taking responsibility for the effects of structural privilege and for doing something about it? Source: Pierre de Vos. (This is the part that got me thinking, the other bits not so much.)
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