My grandmother would never give a homeless white man money. Why? Her logic was simple: Given all of the privileges of gender and skin color enjoyed by white men in America, he has no one to blame but himself for being on skid row. I am not as hard nosed on those matters as she. I have come to recognize how Capital is mobile and the myriad ways in which neo-liberalism has struck down so many in its scythe-like wake...across the colorline.
That qualifier now having been noted, I will freely admit that I have a hard time feeling any pity for the poor white folks of South Africa. As beneficiaries of Apartheid they must face their comeuppance for the arch of history is indeed long. Justice is not always easy. There is a tax to be paid and some redistribution to be done.
Race is America's national obsession (where to varying degrees the house that race built has given us all a role to play, such that on occasion we get to be amateur biologists, crude historians, lay social scientists and jackbooted philosophers on the big question of the color line). However, this dynamic is not unique to the United States. Racism and white supremacy were concurrent with the rise of modernity, colonialism, and Empire. Thus, these ideologies were also centuries long global projects that left horrible marks which the coloured peoples of the world are struggling to this day to repair and remedy.
Comparative race studies offers a number of powerful frameworks for making sense of White anxiety in the Age of Obama. Here, the voices of white South Africans in post-Apartheid South Africa offer a penetrating insight into the racial id of the White neo-John Birch New Right and the Tea Party GOP. While some of the pundit classes deploy the sophisticated (and often overused) language and frameworks of Critical Whiteness Studies and "white privilege" to explain the racial demagoguery of the Birthers, Deathers, Tea Party, and anti-Obama conspiranoids, there are more basic impulses motivating white racial resentment that often remain under-discussed.
Whiteness is always afraid of losing. Whiteness is invisible except when it is threatened. And ultimately whiteness is the luxury of never having to think about one's advantages except when they are in perceived as being imperiled....and then being justified in committing any deed (however unethical or immoral) to protect one's advanced placement in the marathon of life.
Unearned privileges are by definition taken for granted. There is a natural order of things that must not be upended for the psychic pain is too great. It is only through an internalization of this almost pathologically narcissistic way of comprehending social reality that White folks can even utter the language of "white oppression." When Beck talks about Obama hating white people, he signals to the sickness. When Buchanan talks about white men suffering under a 21st century Jim Crow in the Age of Obama he signals to the sickness. When Limbaugh, and the assorted cast-off waste water and human detritus that in total constitute contemporary Fox News Conservatism, talk about fictions of black superiority and white subordination--a world where Obama and his supporters will make whites shine black peoples' shoes--they are deep in the sickness.
There is a poetic irony at work here. In the United States, black and brown folk have never sought revenge against White people. The Black Freedom Struggle resulted in no mass killings of white people by African Americans and their allies. Individual acts of politically motivated violence and score settling were even more uncommon. Even when justice should have been meted out at the end of the barrel of a gun, the appeals for black freedom and liberation were inclusive and humanistic.
The goal of the Black Freedom Struggle was broad: this country's centuries long crusade for racial justice was in many ways an endeavor to save White America from the rotten core of its own bigotry.
In South Africa, black people and others suffered merciless violence at the hands of the White Afrikaners. After much struggle and hardship, they did not resort to pogroms or a culling of the heard as a means of working through their just rage against Whites. No, even in South Africa where the blood of liberation oftentimes flowed thick and deep in the streets, black South Africans are able to look at the white poor and have pity and empathy for them.
In both cases, White populists fear the universal laws of action and reaction. Historically, Whiteness offered so much ugliness that many White people fear an inevitable backlash--even while denying the historic and contemporary realities of white supremacy. This dynamic has always fascinated me because it is apparent that many White folks, and the Conservative White Soul in particular, fear getting their comeuppance for a set of ill deeds that they apparently do not want to admit even occurred. The twists and leaps of logic necessary to maintain one's sanity in the face of such madness truly boggles the mind.
Perhaps that is one of the gifts of the Black Soul and its Blues Sensibility to the world? In the face of white suffering we are able to empathize, sympathize, and share with those who may not do so with us. Is this a blessing? Is it a curse? I remain both unsure and uncertain.