It’s important not to view these as isolated incidents, or as slips of the tongue, but rather as manifestations of a structurally unequal system that allows white people to feel confident in expressing hateful and hurtful commentary about black people, or to claim ownership over land (‘our beaches’) or experience (‘victimhood’). Thus, racism and inequality go hand in hand, and racist ‘outbursts’ are facilitated by our system of economic and political inequality which continues to oppress the black majority. In a system where black and white people were not only legally but substantively equal, these comments would be readily identified as problematic. This system also allows racists to think that they are not racist, because their position of white privilege is so normalized (see Eusebius McKaiser’s discussion of that here).
Racism is harmful, that is indisputable and it manifests in economic inequality, in the continued dominance of white males in all business sectors (if you don’t believe me, check out the annual report of the Commission for Employment Equity). I was thus not surprised to read this morning that the ANC has decided to target racism as one of the primary themes of their local government election campaign. I assume opposition parties will soon be doing the same.
As a voter, keen to vote next year, in addition to racism I’d also like to see parties promote another policy focus – sexism. Let’s be clear, sexism is not ‘more important’ than racism, and a focus on one should not preclude a focus on the other. But there are distinct reasons why we should focus on sexism too.
Women make up the majority of the population in South Africa. Focusing on developing women and eradicating gender equality is known to have a number of positive effects not only for women, but for entire communities. Gender-based violence, fueled by sexism and gender inequality, destroys families, livelihoods, and costs the state billions of rand. Women leaders exist in all realms of government and business, yet sexist comments regarding their capabilities and position are easily let slide. The existence and frequency of these comments also arise from structural inequality.
So, for this year, I’d like to hear some political leaders criticising one another for their sexist statements, and actively promoting women’s interests. I want to know exactly what parties plan to do to address gender inequality and sexism at a community level, and within their own parties.
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