By now every South African has watched the video and by now, every South African will have formed an opinion about it. One opinion making the headlines was that of Spur CEO, Pierre van Tonder, who said that the incident was not racist, but rather an act of anger.
OK but like, what is that supposed to mean? Let's not kid ourselves; this was a clear act of aggression by a white man towards a black woman. Sure it may be 2017 but it's still South Africa and we are still a country very much haunted by race. I could not watch this video without thinking about our history. As he raised his hand and threatened to give her a "p*** clap", I couldn't help but think: "would this man have acted in the same manner if he was interacting with another man, or even with a white woman?" It's obvious that this man's pride was hurt. I'm not sure if he expected this woman to just sit there and nod her head while he screamed at her. Was he expecting an apology? Was he angered by the woman standing up for herself?
We cannot forget that we live in a country where, just 23 years ago, unwarranted violence towards people of colour was accepted as the norm. It's ironic that the video went viral on Human Rights Day, a day where we commemorate the slain black bodies whose only crime was protesting the discriminatory laws of the land.
Not just racial
This incident also highlights how far we still have to go in terms of gender equality. We live in a country where women are subject to gender-based violence on a daily basis. In 2015, a UN report stated:"The violence inherited from apartheid still resonates profoundly in today's South African society dominated by deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes towards the role of women in society which makes violence against women and children an almost accepted social phenomenon". How can you watch this video without thinking of this statement? This video really had me going through the most.
Watching it for the second time, I was transported back to an incident that took place between my mother and a white man a few years back.
It was a weekday afternoon, my mother had picked me up from hockey practice and we were on our way home. Now, my mother is a late bloomer when it comes to driving which means she always drives with extra caution. As in, she always checks her blind spots at least ten times, never makes U-turns at an intersection and never drives over 100kph. So after a thorough check, and having her indicator on for the appropriate time, my mother moved to merge in her right lane. At that exact same time, a champagne-coloured Honda sped up and my mum ended up bumping the car.
My poor mum was a nervous wreck. We pulled over and she jumped out, full of apologies. It was clear that my mum was not in the wrong but the man was hearing none of it. He got right in her face and furiously spat "Are you stupid? Are you blind? Can't you drive, you stupid b****". My mum was not able to get a word in edgewise, this man just stood there yelling profanities at her for an incident he had caused. As he walked back to his car, I jumped out and explained that she shouldn't let him talk to her that way, but she told me to keep quiet. It was the first time I understood the effects of our past. My mother could not defend herself against this white police officer because our history told us she was not allowed to. I bit my tongue as he aggressively walked back with a pen and notepad to take down my mother's information. He carried on with his rant, never once acknowledging my presence.
Once he felt he had had his say, he jumped into his car and sped off. My mother took a deep breath and carried on, the same way millions of women, especially women of colour, do everyday. They swallow the hatefulness that is projected at them and keep it moving. When we got home I rushed to tell my dad the whole story, he flipped and called the man right away. He threatened to report him to his superiors and would see to it that he be disciplined for acting this way. Of course the policeman was now full of apologies, letting my father know he meant no disrespect. I couldn't believe it. Where was this respect when he called my mother a b**** in front of me? Would the CEO of Spur also label his behaviour as just "an act of anger"?
Look, I'm not saying all white men are racist. I'm not saying all men are misogynists. I just want to stress that we cannot discuss this incident without asking why it escalated in the first place. I only have one explanation for it - white privilege. It was privilege that allowed the man in Spur to feel like it was completely appropriate to physically threaten a black woman in front of a restaurant full of people. It was privilege that led to my mother being called names for an accident she did not cause. And it's privilege that allows for many people to say this was not a racial altercation.
If we shy away from calling out this kind of behaviour for what it really is, how can we as a nation truly expect to move forward? People will have different opinions, but this video has resurfaced a whole lot of baggage we need to stop burying.