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“Biko Lied” – An Extract from Chapter 1 of Eusebius McKaiser’s New Book, Run Racist Run

Cover Reveal: The New Book from Eusebius McKaiser
Run Racist RunCould I Vote DA?DA of nie?A Bantu in My Bathroom

 
Bookstorm has shared an excerpt from the first chapter of Eusebius McKaiser’s new book Run Racist Run: Journeys Into The Heart Of Racism.

The chapter is titled “Biko Lied”.

In the excerpt, McKaiser points out how “white people can afford to be wilfully ignorant about the reality of racism”.

McKaiser describes meeting a young white man who casually dismissed the importance of racism as a topic for a book, saying that he “did him a favour” when he “took him to the cleaners”.

Read the excerpt:

* * * * *
BIKO LIED

 
(Why) are black writers preoccupied with race and identity?

Is Literary apartheid a feature of local racism?

Does white privilege extend to the world of the writer?

I recently had a drink in Greenside, Johannesburg. A friend of mine, Amy, had my keys. I had forgotten these at a function we were at earlier in the day. When I picked up the keys, she asked me to stay for a drink. I obliged. She was with another friend of hers, someone I did not know. He was a white South African male, bisexual and dating a coloured woman. Amy is very charismatic and full of laughter, and she volunteered this information on his behalf within the first minutes of us meeting. I think it was an attempt to say, ‘Guys, get on with being comfortable with each other immediately because you have, like, stuff in common!’

Except, Amy miscalculated. This dude – call him John – asked me what book project I was busy with. I told him that, actually, it was a long and complicated story. He seemed eager and so I told him I was busy writing a book on illness, death and the meaning of life. He seemed genuinely fascinated by those themes and wanted to know how on earth I had chosen these topics, and what I was hoping to say and achieve in the book. Because he seemed so interested in my work, I told him about my decision to put that book on ice. Instead, I announced, I was writing an anthology on racism, a collection of essays that built upon the first part of A Bantu in my Bathroom.

Having almost completed the entire book at that point in time, I was excited to talk to an interested person – like John – about it. I was ready to explain how the book had demanded to be written, and why the kinds of issues I raise and explore were distinct from any of the questions I had tackled before, or had been discussed in any public discourse on race. But the fucker dampened my enthusiasm before I had a chance.

He rolled his eyes. ‘Racism! Aaaah. That’s so boring! Surely racism isn’t a thing anymore? No one cares about racism. Everyone cares about illness and death, though!’

I was raging mad. Not because, obviously, he would not help my book sales, but because he illustrated a brutal reality: that whites can afford to pretend that racism isn’t a thing. Just like men can pretend that sexism isn’t a thing, and just like homophobes can pretend that being gay ‘isn’t an issue anymore’; so, too, white people can afford to be wilfully ignorant about the reality of racism.

Not all whites were or are perpetrators of anti-black racism. However, all whites benefited, and still benefit, from the history of anti-black oppression. Two profoundly vicious consequences flow from this: many whites are blind to racism’s continued presence; and, related to this blindness, many whites rationalise their ignorance by thinking that black people are ‘race-obsessed’. Not only does John fail to examine how our collective experience of racism’s history affected him, personally, but he has the audacity to be casually and confidently dismissive of the possibility that racism could be a significant, horrid truth for other people, every day.

As my late mom would have put it, I took him to the cleaners. ‘Racism doesn’t matter to YOU, because you’re white and you can afford not to see racism or not even think about it. I don’t have that luxury, OK? It’s no different, buddy, from you and me dismissing women who write about sexism. Because we happen to be born with penises and the world is structured to advantage us and oppress women, we can roll our eyes at sexism. That’s exactly the same with racism. If you think it isn’t an issue any more, I suggest you take time to speak to black people instead of assuming you know our lives. Use it. Don’t use it.’

I have zero regrets about making him go red. He asked for it. He deserved it. No, I am perhaps slightly too generous here. He didn’t deserve me explaining to him what he ought to know. I did him a favour. I don’t think black people have a duty to convince whites that racism is a reality. We need to get on with strategies for dismantling racism’s legacy. White allies in the fight against racism are useful and important. But it is a bonus to have a black person explaining ‘race’ to you, or why and how you are wilfully ignorant about racism, and why racism matters. And I am not even sure John is an ally, let alone an ally with blind spots. So while I was mad at John, I actually did more than I needed to. I could, just as acceptably, simply have chuckled, not upset the convivial Greenside pub atmosphere, and said, ‘John, let’s drink bud! BARMAN!’

Amy was wrong in her unreflective assumption that John and I could get along because we were both not straight, and because he was in an interracial relationship. You don’t have to be straight to be bigoted or ignorant. And being in an interracial relationship doesn’t mean you grasp the ways in which racism continues to play out. And, for Amy, an additional lesson, perhaps, was that as an ally in the fight against racism, there is a greater level of vigilance required in spotting and rupturing non-bloody manifestations of racism among white friends than you might have realised.

The encounter with John has remained with me because I had all along felt ambivalent about writing this collection on racism, and his dismissiveness took me back to that place of doubt. I was, until I actually started working on it, excited about Searching for Sello Duiker, a book that was neither overtly about South African politics nor about race. It took enormous resolve not to care about people like John who would roll their eyes at another book on ‘the race question’. (Not that people like John have necessarily read any other books on race.)

What the Johns of the world do not know is that black writers who have any self-awareness about the world in which they live and work cannot just let go of the race question. Because race continues to haunt us. And while it would be wonderful to write about a greater range of subjects – and, to be sure, many black writers can and do – there will never be a shortage of black writing on race and racism.

So, in a way, this essay is a meditation on the black writer’s preoccupation with race. The legacy of racism is so darn powerful and ubiquitous that it extends as a matter of course to the world of the writer. Contrary to popular assumption, many of us do not wake up and freely choose what to write. Our writing is in part a reflection of the world we live in, coupled with unique biographical facts about each writer. I want to both describe and defend the apparent preoccupation of black writers with questions of identity in general, and with race in particular. It is, in complex ways, a preoccupation that flows from the history of anti-black racism itself, and that history’s reach into present reality.

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Book details

  • A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics by Eusebius McKaiser
    EAN: 9781920434373
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 

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