I love white privilege. Without it I would have nothing to berate with disdain and utmost contempt. It would be work, work, work. Re-building black communities and black pride is a lot of hard work. I buy expensive magazines to distract myself from blackness. At my best, I sit on my lawn, listen to Orchestra Baobab, open a good bottle of red wine and slowly page through my favourite lifestyle magazine. I enjoy the herb and wine pairings, the month’s wine selections, wine news and the general food and wine pages and FAQS. I also love this particular magazine’s cover pictures. It makes me happy.
The magazine also carries great themes; the fine art of fermentation was a favourite of mine that particular month. I usually do not read their feature articles but on this occasion, my eye was caught by the sentence, “It became clear to me that studying economics was akin to studying the flight patterns of dragons…”. How wonderful, I thought, a lifestyle magazine that also uses economic theoretical fundamentals to explain why we love wine! My two favourite things. And with a glass of red in hand I began to read the article.
The author, whom I presume to be a mediocre white male, writes an entire piece questioning the fundamentals of economic theory. He bases his ill-conceived and flawed analysis on micro-economics 1, a subject he clearly failed. Here, he speaks of the principles of demand and supply and how, the price of a good is determined by the demand for said good. He forgets to add ceteris paribus, a Latin phrase that means “all things being equal”, to his unexceptional reasoning; a vital phrase that would have better directed him to a different, and opposite, conclusion.
He writes: “Can you think if (sic) any commodity whose demand decreases steadily as the price rises? Maize? People will buy maize regardless of price because people need to eat? Cars? Strangely there is always a demand for unrealistically expensive cars… Wine?”
Yes, the one-word sentences followed by a question mark appear as such in said magazine.
The “Wine?” sentence is a reference to the legendary Chateau Petrus, a 1953 vintage that costs about R10 000 a bottle.
Not only does the author have the audacity to dismiss entire economic fundamentals based on economics 101 theory but he gets paid to write. Say this person is paid R5.50 per word, a six-hundred-word article automatically results in a round R3 300 in his pocket. Or worse, he might be the in full time employ of said magazine.
In economics 101 theory, one learns about elasticity and inelasticity of demand; the demand for luxury items and how price behaviour changes based on the elasticity of a good. But white mediocrity wins again. A printed article, checked by a white editorial director, white editor and white copy editor finds itself neatly packaged on the last page for public consumption and is accepted as gospel.
This reminds me of a certain white economist who was discovered to be incompetent. He had made some unfortunate analysis over something of which he had no understanding. But whiteness made it possible for he to be a chief economist at one of South Africa’s top banks. Said white economist not only failed economics in his undergrad degree but marginally passed his Bachelor of Commerce general degree after many failed attempts. He was a chief economist for the very same banks who will not give internships to black graduates with honours’ and masters’ degrees stipulating one racist reason after another. This, by the way, is the very same economist whom white editors of business sections of national newspapers forced us to call for comment. Comment so highly regarded, that if it went against the feel of your comment and analysis piece – the piece found itself not published; blocked to never see the light of day.
I once wrote, “the problem with whiteness is that even at its worst mediocrity it believes itself superior. When it is clueless, has minimal knowledge, has nothing of value to contribute, it thinks… no, it believes itself superior.”
The very same column in this fine magazine reminded me of another white mediocrity situation.
I was enrolled for a course at a particular elite institution, as elite as a white South African institution can be. One cannot name such institutions when one can be failed, and as one was failed post complaining about the incompetence of one white female instructor. The same female instructor was to teach us online and digital journalism. At one point she said, and I quote: “I am not sure how to log into Piktochart or where to find it, but it is very good for creating own posters. Laura, can you help me?”
At the time I laughed and joked, “Had I known I would be made to pay a university registration fee and a course fee for a white woman to teach me about Piktochart – as part of a media and journalism master of arts degree – I would have gone to Cuba for a holiday.” But I am black; and I am a female; and I live in South Africa where we pay a shitload of money for mediocre white women to teach us what they do not know. And when you complain, they give you 60% for daring to complain and daring to escalate the issue of incompetence. I am told by a black worker at the same institution that the same woman now works for a global organisation bringing world peace and unicorns to the continent! It is nice to be white – male or female – in South Africa.
My favourite and funniest example of white privilege was when I worked at a certain independent newspaper a few years ago. I volunteered to write an article about inflation targeting and why it is not ideal for South Africa’s developmental economic objectives. The article was a tad technical and as such, the online editor thought to give it to the business editor to peruse. The very same business editor sat me down and explained that while my interest in economics was appreciated, my analysis of the South African Reserve Bank’s inflation targeting framework was off the mark. “It is completely ridiculous, the Business Day or Financial Mail would have written about this if it was true,” said the old, balding white man. He then suggested I attend a week-long course on investment principles.
All I could say was, “Haau, Kevene.” [Haau, Kevin, in English].
There I was, an economist by profession. An economist who had worked as an economist and had taught economics; an economist, who, while drinking cerveja and vino tinto in Maputo for a year decided to become a journalist; there I was, told to attend a week-long investment programme because I had an “interest in economics”. Jerrrr, Abelunghu!
The issue of whiteness is so intricate, so omnipotent, so visible that to destroy it, you must be half willing to destroy yourself. It is when we realise that this system is stacked against us, and when we choose to begin to destroy it than find malleability, will we begin to see progress. But that is not easy, and this is why you have a white boss who knows very little about company processes; or an account executive who does not know their target market; or a news editor who does not know what or the whereabouts of Luthuli House; or a business editor who does not have a business or an economics degree but administers judgement; while you, with your MBA, report to them.
One frustrated old friend wrote on a Facebook post: One day I will reflect on white privilege in the workplace. I have seen it and experienced it. Individuals moving from intern to managers in a matter of months, while others have crawled up the professional ladder for many years. Appointments not based on meritocracy but a job-for-pals model.
Haaaa, but did you first have to train the intern? I think a meme is required for black people in corporate, who are in such deep denial, they believe they compete on even ground.
You must simply love white privilege.