On White People Who Are Comfortable In Black Spaces.....

The other day a white acquittance and I went to the movies in Rosebank, we both had separate tickets. I had mine in hand ready to present it to the Ster-kinekor employee before we could walk through to our seats, as its ritual to do so. My white acquittance, on the other hand, shoved his, into his pocket. And eventually forgot where he put it. As we walked to the entrance, he was unfazed by the fact that he couldn’t find his ticket. I, on the other hand, wasn’t as confident. The person waiting for us at the entrance to the cinema was a black male. As the two of us approached, he came straight to me to ask for my ticket, as expected. But surprisingly he didn’t ask my acquittance for his, he just let him through without question or worry. With his whiteness in hand, he just confidently strolled in and didn’t have to present a ticket. The horror on my face was unmistaken, my acquittance later joked that being white and privileged means that the only ticket he’d need is his white skin. This was a case of every day #whiteprivilege that we as black people condone and help perpetuate. It was easy for the black guy at the movies to assume I might not have a ticket, therefore had to prove I had a right to be led in vs my white counterpart. It was easy for this black young man to trust that this young white man wouldn’t cheat them, but as a young black woman, I needed to prove myself otherwise?

White people are generally devoid of suspicion until they prove otherwise, meanwhile, as black people, society always assumes our guilt until we ‘prove’ ourselves innocent. White people get to walk into any place without suspicious eyes questioning their right to be there. Even when white people in this country somehow find themselves in places that are historically/presently black, like the township, people ogle at them for a different reason. Black people generally find the presence of whiteness in their spaces fascinating as opposed to threatening, we somehow romanticize the white people who leave Sandton and Bedford view to interact in the township. It's disturbing because I’ve heard black people who see such whites as ‘honorary blacks’. We see their comfort in black spaces as something to marvel at, as a quality that makes them ‘black’ just because they don’t feel threatened in our spaces. As if they have somehow reached some higher level of transcendence because they acknowledge our basic humanity, we never fail to show our gratitude by praising and parading them so that other black people around us know that we know and are acquainted with white people.

We embrace them too much and give them a lot of leeway, even though black people are never made to feel comfortable in spaces that are historically white. Black people who try to get comfortable in white spaces are regarded as invaders tainting white spaces. We are made to feel as uncomfortable as possible, so we never forget our place. White people in white spaces always make sure that us blacks never confuse white people’s minor tolerance of our kind as anything other than tolerance. Those blacks who live in previously and presently still white suburbs know better than to think that they are ‘welcome’ even though they equally have a right to be there. But as black people, we never question nor critique the presence of white people who are too comfortable in our spaces. We see them as the acceptable whites, some people go as far as to say they are white on the outside but truly black on the inside just because they see black people as humans. Sadly, we have a culture that privileges whiteness, that the few whites we see as ‘exceptions’ get glorified as though they are doing us a favour by not feeling threatened around our kind, especially in our spaces. Two and a half decades into a democracy, we still get too excited by white people who learn local languages and cultures as if that’s something to marvel it. Black people in this country have been compelled to learn colonial languages and socialized into whiteness as a culture, why is it so amazing when white people make a little effort to assimilate into cultures of a country they claim to be a part of? We analyze their presence in our black spaces through the colonial lens of whiteness that has long led us to believe that there are places for whites and places for blacks, the whites who fancy themselves ‘liberal’ enough to not comply to the colonial borders are seen as ‘one of us’. They are really not that exceptional because they live in an African country whose majority is black, and who’s 9 of 11 official languages are local languages. Its high time we stop treating them like they are special because it's giving into white privilege, we can’t praise people for doing the bare minimum.

The double standards and the hypocrisies that exist need to stop. Not so long ago a few friends and I ended up at a launch of a photo exhibition at someone’s house in Linden, Johannesburg. It was 5 brown people who arrived late to a house full of white Afrikaner ‘liberals’ who proceeded to unashamedly take a million pictures of us (the only people of colour there). It felt like we were monkeys in a zoo, like we were on display in a white space full of white people. We stood out and clearly made an ‘impression’, there was no way for us to ‘blend in’. Needless to say, they were obviously not expecting us. Maybe it was all in our heads, but we didn’t feel comfortable, so we left a short time afterwards because clearly our presence there was questionable. We felt paranoid about everything, we were even too afraid to use the bathroom in the house because we didn’t want them to blame the brown people if anything went missing (justified or not). My point is, white people, don’t get to feel so exposed, vulnerable and threatened when they are the only white in a room full of black people. Their reaction is not to count the number of black people in the room, just in case to make sure they are not the only one there, but we do. We are made to feel like we are invisible but at the same time, stand out like a sore thumb. In the case of white people in black spaces, its likely black people want to be seen with you, hence they want a picture with the white person. In our case, the whites wanted a picture of us, not with us. We were just subjects to be documented but not to be engaged with. As a racialized person, navigating spaces is always about power dynamics. In white spaces, white people are in control. They decide who’s welcome and who isn’t, so we never get to let our gut down. In black spaces on the hand, white people are still in power because we marvel at them for ‘coming to us’ and not feeling threatened by our presence. Even then, we have to be hyper-aware of our actions and movements to ensure the white person is comfortable around us.