The Social Currency of Victimhood


Much has been made in recent months of the so-called “generation snowflake”. This is hardly surprising given the disproportionate role of millennials in re-shaping social and political norms in frankly sinister ways; the destruction of free expression and open conversation on university campuses; the championing of censorship, the anti-science impulses that run through gender-identity movements; and the segregationist attitude to identity in general. To be clear from the outset, I am always against the demonization of people just for the membership of a generation or age-group – I always found the stereotyping of Generation X as feckless and nihilistic or Generation X’s own loathing of baby-boomers distasteful. I was disgusted by the hatred directed at the elderly following the Brexit vote and I recognise that there are many millennials who are extremely frustrated by the attitudes of their peers. Be that as it may, generation snowflake, as a description of an attitudinal subset of millennials, is somewhat apt and warrants further analysis. Read More…

The Rainbow Nation Myth

the rainbow nation myth

I have always been optimistic about the future of South Africa (sometimes boldly, sometimes more cautiously) and this optimism has consistently been buoyed by my admiration for my fellow South Africans. We are a resilient bunch, to say the least; we have been through the historical ringer over the last 200 years and the changes wrought in my own lifetime have been incredible to witness. As a young country we have also not yet lost that patriotic fervour which is often replaced with cynicism in more established first world countries, made all the more precious by the fact that we can celebrate it under one flag regardless of our colour or community. Particularly, I have been impressed by the younger generation; their openness, their ambitions for our country and their colour-blindness has given me great hope for the future. The last few weeks, however, have been the first time in a while that my faith has been, while certainly not derailed, shaken. This spirit of nationhood to which I refer is part and parcel of the Rainbow Nation concept, which, has of late, increasingly been denigrated by a vocal minority as a myth or, worse, a ruse of the white establishment to keep people of colour in bondage.

The ongoing statue debates have been increasingly framed in explicitly racial terms and I feel unwelcome, as a white person, to comment on it. The whole idea, contextualised within a form of black consciousness, has become racially exclusivist by definition. I have heard a number of statements amounting to, “this is not about you, stay out of it.”

I respectfully decline the kind offer to keep my mouth shut while I am accused of being a participant in a grand racial conspiracy, even though it may earn me a few of the tautological cultural slurs and accusations of white supremacist motivations that are becoming so familiar in this debate.

Even white people sympathetic to the goals of the movement have their intentions questioned – the concept of the “white liberal” has come in for a great deal of criticism from the movement of late. SRC President, Ramabina Mahapa, in a statement saturated with racially divisive rhetoric (but containing little to nothing in the way of practical solutions to addressing the ongoing challenges we face in South Africa) said of white liberals that “subconsciously they share the same set of values and desire to protect their privileges” or worse “Whites have not even begun to see blacks as equals and as being capable of thinking for themselves”. If someone accuses me of not seeing black people as equals, all I can really say in my defence is “actually that’s not true” which, if my motives are in question by virtue (or in this case, inherent villainy) of my skin colour, can simply be dismissed as the deviousness to be expected from a member of the intrinsically untrustworthy white community. This is just another example of unfalsifiable racial rhetoric that silences even the most well-meaning sentiments of the white community and breeds suspicion and hatred.

As a white person I acknowledge that there is a lot of work still to be done, that the economic injustices of Apartheid do not simply go away overnight. I have no desire to live in a heavily-armed laager or a fortress walled by hedges of bitter almond as the first settlers once did. I am a human being first and a South African second and I may be white but I am and always will be an African, and no amount of unpleasant cultural invective about “whiteness” is going to change that. I decline to be told that I am a foreigner in my own country.

It is very positive to see young people in this country rallying behind a cause but disheartening to see it descend into racial identity politics – a self-evidently sinister road to go down. Aside from the unpleasant Zanu PF-esque connotations, it misses so much of the big picture. It is unsurprising to see this movement emerging from the campus of a university. Having spent four years on a university campus myself I know all too well how living in a world of theory can separate people from real-world cause and effect. I have heard next to nothing in the way of real practical ideas to address the problems of our country but plenty of vague post-structuralist theoretical clutter about consciousness-raising and symbolism, and a blame game attributing every problem in this country today to structures of white supremacy, from government corruption to the recent xenophobic violence in KwaMashu and Umlazi, following King Goodwill Zwelithini’s statement that foreigners must “pack their bags and go home”.

The Rainbow Nation is not a “myth” and it would be foolish in the extreme to throw away a jewel richer than all our crown. The idea of the Rainbow Nation as an end point after which everything will be easy, the rolling credits at the end of Invictus – that is the myth. In reality it is a guiding principle to keep us united as we struggle to make this country as great as it can be and the work is never done. This is the call for eternal vigilance echoed in Nelson Mandela’s choice of autobiography title – that “Long Walk” is far from over but we will trip and stumble unless we can walk it together.


Featured Image Credit: The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562) by Pieter Brugel the Elder. Source: Wiki Art

False Accusations of Racism are Stifling Public Debate

political correctness rotherham

Yesterday, I took the time to read the UK government’s report on the Rotherham rape scandal (and here too). It makes for grim reading. Intimidation, fear and wilful blindness, all the usual things that perpetuate child abuse went on in Rotherham, right up to the highest levels of the local government and police. That’s the really scary thing; the people who were paid by the public to protect them and their children from such horror were too afraid themselves to confront it head on.

It reveals something rotten in the political culture; a widespread paranoia that prevented people from speaking their mind for fear of being socially ostracised and labelled a “bigot”.

Political Correctness is often derided as something only racists worry about, and that really it’s just about being polite to other people. At one time, I think that might have been true, but now it has developed into something far more pernicious, a mechanism which silences people and stifles public discourse, reaching its dreadful apogee in Rotherham.

It is completely illogical to think that by going after a group of criminals who are Muslim that you would then, by extension, be criminalising all Muslims. That should be obvious to anyone in possession of a cerebral cortex. It is the most egregious distortion of truth and logic. It also treats Muslims as one big humungous blob who can’t be differentiated from one another. In fact, it was a Muslim prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, who went after grooming gangs in Rochdale.

So how did this happen? From where did this irrationality arise? It is from the terrible fear that something you say can be seized upon by spiteful schemers, a scandal-hungry media and the silly social media mob to defame and destroy you. It doesn’t matter if you had the best of intentions or were telling the truth. As a result, people begin to radically self-censor, to the point of absurdity.

In “Political correctness: How censorship defeats itself”,The Spectator’s Nick Cohen wrote after the Benedict Cumberbatch “coloured” scandal that:

After the battering he has received, I doubt if Cumberbatch will take the trouble to argue for fairer treatment for ethnic minority and working class actors again. Pursed lipped prudes, who damn others for their sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic language, while doing nothing to confront real injustice, are characteristic figures of our time. As characteristic are well-meaning people abandoning good causes because they cannot take the prudes’ condemnations.

On its own terms, political correctness is self-defeating. It drives away potential supporters, and substitutes linguistic change for social change. It replaces the desire to reform society with the desire to reform manners, and fails to understand that practised hypocrites and seasoned manipulators can meet the demand to observe correct form with ease. Indeed, they will welcome political correctness because it gives them new opportunities to intimidate and control.

This was the case with the rape gangs in Rotherham. They were off committing unspeakable crimes while everyone else trembled in fear of political correctness.

I had my own run in with the social media mob a couple of years ago, after I wrote an article for the Mail and Guardian’s Thought Leader about inner city Johannesburg.

My intention in writing the piece had been to change people’s perceptions about the inner city, particularly people from the surrounding suburbs who are very fearful of venturing into the centre. I wanted people to know that it’s not as terrifying as they might think (at least in the daytime, I have never walked around at night). At first, I received only positive feedback, and I felt good about it. But then a couple of days later I received a slew of aggressive comments on Twitter from total strangers (one of whom I later found out writes for The Daily Maverick and another for the Mail and Guardian) calling my article “lame” and “execrable”. I was shocked and very confused. I couldn’t understand where they were coming from. At first, I thought, “Oh, I’ve been too blasé about Johannesburg. I’m being irresponsible encouraging people to go there.” What did not occur to me was that my article would be construed as racist, which, after searching on Twitter (a humiliating experience, like finding out what the Mean Girls said about you in their “burn book”) I quickly discovered it was.

One woman had written about me in a tweet: “Someone should have told her before she published. Talk about revealing yourself.” Revealing myself as what, precisely? The piece didn’t mention race once and when I wrote it, I hadn’t even been thinking about race. Maybe I didn’t express myself clearly enough? Perhaps the headline was misleading? Who knows? What was truly surreal though was that I was being accused of the absolute opposite of what my intention was. It was bizarre. What was meant to be a blog about improving perceptions of Johannesburg was being portrayed on social media as an attempt to denigrate it. I felt as if I were Alice in Wonderland where up was down and down was up.

I had to stop myself from trying to “prove” I wasn’t a racist because a) I realised it would be futile, I had already been convicted in a kangaroo court and b) I didn’t have to prove myself, I hadn’t done anything wrong. They were the ones who were wrong.

I now regret not defending myself more robustly, but at the time, my family was going through an incredibly difficult period and I just didn’t have the strength.

After that experience, I never spoke about Johannesburg again and certainly didn’t make any more efforts to change minds about it. It was ruined for me, which, in hindsight, was a real pity because I was born there. It was my city too.

This is what happens. Well-intentioned people remove themselves from the conversation, and the hysterical, and in some cases, vindictive ones run amok, smearing and falsely accusing others with impunity. With people like that directing public discourse it becomes nonsensical and enters the realm of total insanity.

My trivial experience cannot in any way be compared to what happened in Rotherham, but it gave me a small taste of how a culture of finger pointing, browbeating and eventual self-censorship allowed it to happen.

Know that a decent, democratic society cannot be built on such shaky foundations. We have to come together in a free culture of open debate and contestation. Stand your ground. Voice your opinions.

“We cannot have a viable democracy made up of experts, zealots, politicians, and spectators.” – Liz Coleman

Featured Image Credit: The Salem Witch Trial of George Jacobs by Thompkins H Matteson (1692). Source: Wiki Art

UKIP Supporters: Not Stupid, Just Frustrated

Following UKIP’s runaway success in the European Elections, I wrote a piece reflecting on the mistakes of the anti-UKIP forces in both society and the media, and how this had played into their hands, giving them an almost underdog status.

I had my concerns in writing this piece. It is a fine line to tread criticising the opposition to a political movement while not actually pledging support for them, particularly given the climate of knee-jerk ad hominem to which I was drawing attention. That said, in the end, I felt it had to be done and the possibility of being shouted down as a UKIP shill would most likely only reinforce the point I was making.

Having friends and associates across the political spectrum the reactions to the piece were, for the most part, surprisingly reassuring. Many of my left-leaning friends agreed that the leftwing media had made a rod for its own back by stepping into the role of a rather elitist and exclusive metropolitan set, waving off concerns about immigration as ignorant while providing very little tangible engagement with the issue. Is there anyone who really believes that there is no conversation to be had about immigration policy or our place in the EU? The refusal to engage with a particular point of view on these subjects suggests there is.

The criticisms I got were surprisingly few and far between, perhaps I had managed to tread that fine line. But it was interesting to see how some of my critics immediately stepped into the role of the same condescending archetype I was trying to draw attention to. Responses ranged from the fact that UKIP are “thick”, that they are “closet racists” to any ad hominem in between, referring to either their lack of intelligence or their sinister clandestine intentions.


I didn’t fully address the “closet racist” accusation in my previous piece and perhaps I should have. This has been thrown around a lot lately and it is an extremely problematic way of engaging with people you disagree with. It smacks of a kind of neo-McCarthyism: “watch out for the racist under the bed”. When you accuse someone of being a “closet” anything you immediately invoke witch-hunt mentality, shift the burden of proof from your intended target to yourself and generally back yourself into a corner. It also smacks of desperation. You may find UKIP’s views on immigration xenophobic or isolationist but really what is at play here is the notion that because they are not anti-immigration they are automatically racist, which is to misuse a term which has a very specific and important definition in our society.

As for the now all-too-common aspersions cast on the intelligence of UKIP supporters, it simply is not true. While UKIP have ultimately framed themselves as a single-issue party which could appear myopic, there are great many intelligent (though more than likely disgruntled!) people who support them. So, again, we have an unsubstantiated statement projecting a sense of superiority and insulting anyone who disagrees, thus precluding any possibility of winning them back to your side. Given the extent to which this has enhanced UKIP’s underdog status, I am slightly less surprised to see comments on The Guardian website expressing extraordinary sentiments like, “UKIP are now the party of the working class”. UKIP are seen by many of their detractors as a party pandering to the uneducated mob (thus providing a perfect excuse to totally ignore the concerns of its supporters), but it is almost impressive to see how these same detractors have managed to deftly combine some of the most self-destructive aspects of both elitism and mob-mentality in their criticism.

UKIP are largely a reaction to a lack of alternatives, a feeling amongst a large proportion of the electorate that they are not being listened to by either end of the political spectrum. Is the most logical reaction to this really to bury your head even deeper in the sand?