Editorial: Activism, racism, justice and white crocodile tears

Ntokozo Qwabe’s Facebook post telling the story of how he and a group of friends refused to tip a white waitress provides us with a moment to reflect on activism, its aims, but also the stubborn obstacles to movement to a more equitable society.

LOL wow unable to stop smiling because something so black, wonderful & LIT just happened! And of course, the catalyst was a radical non-binary trans black activist – Wandile Dlamini – from the Rhodes Must Fall movement. Because trans activists have BEEN the ultimate blessers of this decolonial struggle!

To cut the long story short, we are out at Obz Cafe with the said activist, and the time for the bill comes. Our waitress is a white woman. I ask the said activist what the going rate for tips/gratuity is in these shores. They look at me very reluctantly and they say ‘give me the slip, I’ll sort that out’. I give them the slip.

They take a pen & slip in a note where the gratuity/tip amount is supposed to be entered. The note reads in bold: “WE WILL GIVE TIP WHEN YOU RETURN THE LAND”. The waitress comes to us with a card machine for the bill to be sorted out. She sees the note & starts shaking. She leaves us & bursts into typical white tears (like why are you crying when all we’ve done is make a kind request? lol!). Anyways, so this white woman goes to her colleagues who are furious. She exits to cry at the back & a white male colleague of hers reluctantly comes out to address us & to annoy us more with his own white tears telling us that he finds our act “racist”.

We then start breaking it down for this white man & ask him why they are catching feelings when we haven’t even started (like the part where we take up arms hasn’t even come & yall are already out here drowning us in your white tears? Really white people? Wow.). We start drawing him to the political nature of the act & why we couldn’t be bothered that they decided to catch feelings from the note. We tell him it’s great that business as usual has stopped & the pressing issue of land is now on the agenda in that space – seeing the cowntry was celebrating ‘Freedom Day’ yesterday. We then chase him back to do his job. And continue with our conversation before exiting the café.

Moral of the story: the time has come when no white person will be absolved. We are tired of “not all white people” and all other bullshit. We are here, and we want the stolen land back. No white person will be out here living their best life while we are out here being a landless and dispossessed black mass. NO white person shall rest. It is irrelevant whether you personally have land/wealth or you don’t. Go to your fellow white people & mobilise for them to give us the land back. That will be the starting point of all our interactions from now. We will agitate all our spaces with the big question: WHERE IS THE LAND?

Thank you to all the non binary, trans & all other black bodies who have been at the helm of this decolonial moment in the settler colony known as South Afrika. NOTHING will ever be the same again. Alibuye Izwe Lethu!

Qwabe’s Facebook page has been deactivated after detractors clicked “report” on his posts a few too many times for Facebook’s liking. In the meanwhile a staggering sum of money has been raised for the waitress, while many others wonder whether the incident is indicative of greater challenges gripping students movements.

Black rage and white racism is not the same thing

Many have equated Ntokozo Qwabe’s action at the Obz Cafe as black racism, or, *drumroll*  reverse racism. Let’s be clear, no such thing exists. Racism is imbricated in the structures of power. The average person in South Africa is still suffering from a history of disadvantage.  Racism meanwhile, seeks to maintain the status quo. If anything, the incident in Cape Town is an example of black rage – misguided, useful or not, that is another question altogether - but this stems from generations of economic and structural violence against black people.

Picking on a white, female, waitress. Really?

While the action cannot be described as racist, it certainly wasn’t righteous, principled or exemplary. Why take on the fight against white supremacy by targeting the lowest common denominator? The waitress, despite her white privilege, may herself be a victim of class and patriarchal structures of power. It seems like an easy target in the face of mammoth social and racial inequality and violence. And is humiliating a white, female waitress really going to chip at the problems our society faces. Where does humiliation fit in with leadership and the quest for dignity for all.

People are still obsessed with white tears
Nonetheless, despite the nature of the incident, the responses to the incident also illustrates how white pain is still seen as more deserving of condemnation and attention. This is white privilege at its finest. Condemnation of the incident has come from all quarters – Even the freaking Daily Mail led with the tears of the waitress.  And a Twitter campaign raised R13,000 ($900) as a tip to compensate the waitress.

Let’s take a step back.

Would any of the everyday micro and macro aggressions against black people in this country raise the same level of outrage and condemnation? Instead, black people are told that the aggressions they face are the result of their own incompetence. Can we imagine how much money Twitter would have to raise to compensate the collective pain of black people still reeling from centuries of colonialism?

What exactly does this all mean for activism, particularly the activism of our student movements?

We still need to find more effective ways to hold power to account

As those who stand against white supremacy and in solidarity with black people in this country, we are fast approaching an impasse on how to deal with questions of reconciliation without justice. While we don’t buy into the colonial notion that black rage needs to be tamed in order for it to be effective, we must also be cognisant of carrying out an intersectional form of politics which implicitly relating to class, race and gender are seen as interlinked and inseparable. The target must always be those individuals, institutions that have been and continue to at the forefront of maintaining the status quo.