Making excuses for racism: “This is how whiteness operates”

The furore over allegations of racism at the 12 Apostles’ Azure restaurant is beginning to calm down, but in its wake, some South Africans are deliberating over what constitutes racism and why their experiences of it are being denied. RA’EESA PATHER reports.

The “quiet racism” displayed at the 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa’s swanky Azure restaurant led one blogger to ask “But is it racism?” In her post, Rumbi Gorgens reflects on her own run-ins with racists and says that when she tells her white colleague about her experiences, she is made to explain why it is racism – until she herself begins to question it.

“Do I see race too easily? Am I too quick to play the victim in situations like this?” Gorgens writes. “But then, I realised the absurdity of it all. On the word of a white woman, who denies me my experience because she has never had it, I was denying myself my own narrative. It hit me: this is how whiteness operates.”

In an interview with The Daily Vox, Tumi Mpofu also described how subtle acts of racism can sometimes be.

Mpofu, who was part of the family who couldn’t get a booking at Azure until they got a white friend to call instead, said that overt racism – such as violence or derogatory name-calling – is often the only form of discrimination that white people associate with racism. Perhaps this is what makes it so easily excusable to some.

Asked for comment in the wake of the incident, the 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa’s general manager, Michael Nel, dismissed the incident as “human error”. Since then, some commentators have been careful not to use the word “racist” and instead searched for substitute phrases.

“Sometimes people make mistakes. Those mistakes are then compounded by other mistakes. And when a few more mistakes are thrown into the mix, a black gentleman and his family are left feeling rather insulted,” writes Kiernan for 2 Oceans Vibe.

“Racism at the 12 Apostles?” he asks in the title. But that’s the first and last time the word racism is mentioned, showing how effectively one excuse cast doubt over Mpofu’s experience.

Just as Gorgens found her experiences of racism to be swept away and her mention of them considered to be “playing the race card”, the comments on The Daily Vox’s republication of a blog post about the 12 Apostles incident highlight how easy it is to find a way to explain that something is not racist – despite experiences which say otherwise.

“Maybe it was a reservation and admin error, why go and blast the venue and play the race card,” writes commenter Gav.

Beyond the logistics of bookings, another debate emerged around the restaurant telling Mpofu’s family to quieten down for the comfort of other diners. On Twitter, a heated “twar” broke out when a commentator defended the restaurant’s right to protect “decorum”.

In a blog post, Zimbabwean Ricky Marima came to the conclusion that as a black foreigner in South Africa, he had been protected from the subtle racism that builds upon South African stereotypes and prejudices.

“Not having grown up with apartheid and racism I missed the inference, “you’re not like our blacks”. This is the [black foreign national] privilege. My accent and origins put these people at ease and I walked into and worked in places I probably would not have otherwise,” Marima writes.

Still, many South Africans are left having to justify their experiences, and at least one blogger has had enough.

“What I want, as a black person living in this city, is not to win the argument and convince everyone that it is indeed racism. What I want is to be heard when I tell these stories and not have them immediately dismissed as figments of my overactive black imagination,” Gorgens writes.

– Featured image: Pete Stewart via WikiMedia Commons.

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2 Comments

  1. Capetonian says

    Perhaps it’s not a case of “excusing racsim”, but guarding against false accusations of racism which are damaging and can destroy lives. Racism is condemned, for example in the case of Tim Osrin, the swim coach who assaulted a black woman thinking she was a prostitute, I did not read a single comment condoning his action. On the contrary, thousands of white people signed a petition to Virgin Active asking them to cancel his actions, which they did.

    1. Capetonian says

      correction: *cancel his contracts*

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