07/07/2017 16:57 SAST | Updated 07/07/2017 16:58 SAST

Race And Social Media Is Complex in South Africa, Says Psychologist

"What we see on Facebook and Twitter may just be the tip of an iceberg."

Nasief Manie / Gallo Images

Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters had to explain herself on Thursday after she shared images of herself wearing latex gloves while feeding black children in Soweto, an act some on social media viewed as racist.

Speaking to HuffPost SA, clinical psychologist Nondumiso Mphambo says race is a complex matter in the country and can be further complicated when it plays itself out on social media.

"We must always be mindful of the context within which things play themselves out on Facebook or Twitter. It is never an isolated incident." Mphambo says it is usually a symptom of something else -- and usually the tip of an iceberg.

She says, psychologically, human beings function on three levels of consciousness: the unconscious, sub-conscious and conscious. It's the subconscious mind that seats all thoughts, emotions and experiences, whether good or bad. "When we sweep things under the carpet, they go to your subconscious and get repressed in this area," says Mphambo.

"For example, if you're an inferior race in terms of social standing and you are confronted daily with the realities of being inferior, for example, people saying or referring to you as stupid because of your skin colour, you might bottle it up because it's the socially acceptable thing to do, until you can no longer do so."

What platforms like social media then afford everyone is the ability to let it out, and usually "without any accountability", she says. Mphambo also points out that while there are groups that sincerely and responsibly partake in conversations on social media, others just like stirring the pot.

And while Mphambo can't say whether this is what prompted the outrage directed at Nel-Peters, she does believe that in a race-sensitive country, what may appear as a minor thing to one person may be the tipping point for someone else.