I don’t personally have any gold, I should clarify, just so nobody wastes time with me when the revolution comes. You should go straight to number 15 in my block of flats, because I think they have some Le Creuset casserole dishes. I’m not rich at all and neither are a lot of the white South Africans I know. We’re only rich when compared with most of the South African population, which isn’t a currency you can buy salmon with at Woolies. But the reason we’re richer isn’t because we’re more clever and more hard working. It’s because for centuries people who looked like us oppressed the hell out of people who didn’t look like us. We’ve never had to compete on a level playing field, and we still don’t, because we’re still dragging apartheid behind us like a zombie corpse. Legendary investor Warren Buffett said that one of the reasons for his success was that he only had to compete against half the population. He meant that for much of his career, women’s entry into business was either formally or informally blocked. White South Africans have only had to compete against 8% of the population for a significant portion of their history. Whenever white South Africans express unease about this state of affairs on an online platform, there is always a white person in the comments who sneers: ‘Well if you feel so bad about it, you should quit your job so that a black person can have it.’ I can never think of a good response to that because, despite the fact that the commenter is self-evidently a mega-twat, part of me thinks they might be right. I don’t want to give up my job, obviously – partly because I think I’m quite good at it and mainly because I’m not constitutionally cut out for a life on the street. I would definitely develop a galloping tik addiction within days. Speaking frankly, I also don’t see why I should
have to be the one to give up my job. If we’re going to make a list, surely it should be topped by all the ex-National Party politicians who somehow became ANC members of parliament during the transition to democracy while the rest of us were distracted with not killing each other? What is one to do? The philosopher Samantha Vice took a stab at this thorny question a few years ago, and her suggestion – which I am grotesquely over-simplifying – was essentially that white people in South Africa should ‘cultivate humility and silence’. I see the merits of this, I really do, but as someone who is quite chatty I struggle with it. Then Desmond Tutu really set the cat among the pigeons by proposing that white South Africans should pay a ‘white tax’, to which many white people responded with fury that they already paid a ‘white tax’ called ‘tax’. It’s cute how many white people genuinely believe they are the only ones who pay tax, as if whenever anyone else gets to the Shoprite till, the checkout lady presses a secret button marked ‘No VAT for darkies’. The way a lot of young white South Africans I know deal with their existential plight, other than by drinking heavily, is by becoming Best Whites. Everyone knows a Best White. Here is a short field guide to spotting one in the wild. 1) Best Whites are in an imaginary competition with everyone else in their blighted race. The competition is, in crude terms, a kind of antiracism pageant. If you win it, when you arrive at the Pearly Gates and are greeted by a black God, She will say: ‘Congratulations. All those other whites were quite racist, but you are the very opposite of racist.’ 2) Best Whites compete aggressively to spot and publically denounce white racism. Best Whites prefer the most racist possible interpretation
of other white people’s words, so their racism detectors are perpetually pinging. 3) Best Whites will start a conversation about white privilege within five minutes of meeting a black person in order to firmly establish the ideological gulf that separates them from bad whites. 4) Best Whites may, at one stage or another, have flirted with an Africa tattoo. 5) If the Best White is male, he may exhibit a compulsion to address black males in the service industry as ‘brother’. 6) Best Whites will casually mention their parents’ Struggle credentials to car guards. 7) Best Whites claim they went to schools that were interracial from the time of Jan van Riebeeck. It should be understood that there is a vast difference between Best Whites (capitals) and actual best whites. In the latter category see: Bram Fischer, Helen Suzman, George Bizos, Beyers Naudé, Johnny Clegg, Neil Tovey. I have strong Best White tendencies. I’m pretty sure that, on balance, it is better to be a Best White than an outspoken racist, but there is no denying that Best Whites can be exceedingly irritating. I also suspect that being a Best White is in itself quite racist, because the elaborate performance of anti-racism to black people that it demands is tailored to the race of the hearer. Best Whites operate under the assumption that black people love nothing more than a sympathetic white ear into which they can pour their lived experiences of racism. In a generation’s time, maybe being a Best White will seem as outdated and irrelevant a performance as someone who arrives at work on Rollerblades. Until then, you’ll find us checking our privilege. And then checking to make sure everyone’s noticed. ★
REBECCA DAVIS is an award-winning journalist whose writing appears in The Daily Maverick and other South African publications, including a weekly column on TV for the Sunday Times. Her Twitter bio @becsplanb – ’30-something writer, dreamer, lover, lemur, thinker, talker, reader, stalker’ – pretty much says it all. Her book is available from all good bookstores for R250 (RRP).