For centuries the world has faced many viruses. Some that spread through touch, some being sexually transmitted, others and more recently airborne; and while many still do not have vaccines everyone simultaneously agrees that they need to be properly managed and that people infected need to be helped. We understand that unless we all collectively work together; the virus will continue to spread. But how does one cure a virus deeply rooted in the mind, a virus that is hereditary and that has the ability to be openly displayed one moment and hidden the next. More importantly why is a virus that affects marginalized peoples (or as I prefer to say under-resourced and under-represented peoples) – Black, Indigenous, People Of Colour (BIPOC)- and not the infected (the racist persons) not being actively addressed.
Racism has plagued the world throughout human history. The hatred of one person by another because of the skin that a person was born in, notwithstanding the persons language or culture. It has been and in many cases is still at the centre of every human injustice. From the colonization of land by White Europeans leading to the mass genocide of indigenous peoples – one of the most notable examples being what happened to the various Indigenous tribes in the now United States of America – the true history of which has been whitewashed and erased, leaving the peoples affected to conserve and preserve as much of their already lost history, but also many colonized, traumatized and hundreds of thousands of people dead.
While we know that the colonization of the Americas began in the 1600s we still see how this deeply rooted racism and sense of white superiority has adapted to the modern age as well as the ways that Indigenous people are still being negatively affected. The most obvious place to start would be the blatant cultural appropriation and racism – the mockery that is non-indigenous people dressing up in traditional clothing of the native peoples for trends or party attire. The fact that Native “Americans” make up 1.01 percent of the total United States population – which is a direct result of the racist and hate filled actions of those that colonized the land, committed and/or contributed to the genocide of the Natives of the land and then decades later forced the same people onto Reservations – land a mere fraction the original size they held. This land now also under attack by US government, the same government that turns a blind eye to the racially motivated murders of indigenous peoples and not to mention completely ignores the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman (MMIW) epidemic that has been occurring for decades and recently brought to light once again to many non-native citizens.
Racism however did not begin and end with the colonization and desecration of indigenous people and their lands. As soon as the people affected with this hereditary hate driven virus had taken the land to expand their empire, they quickly realized that they needed to build the future that their equally racist children would later inherit, but instead of building it alone they decided to build it on the backs of and with the forced and free labour of slaves.
Keeping to region another extremely well-known atrocity and human injustice that has taken place in The US is slavery. We are all aware of what slavery is. We were taught what it was and how it worked, who was affected and who benefited – and are still benefiting – from it. What they forgot tell us or rather what they didn’t bother to even mention was how intricate the methods and the kinds of warfare used alongside the obvious physical, emotional, and verbal brutality.
Mental warfare played a large role in the initial stages of slavery and continued for many years up until the “end of slavery”, June 19, 1865 – colloquially known as “Juneteenth”. This racially enforced warfare did not end when slavery was abolished in the states however.
For many years after these virus carriers ensured that Black People – while holding the title “FREE”- still faced oppression and the wrath of their racism through the system and laws that they set up. Be it with the Jim Crow Laws – laws designed to enforce racial segregation in the South, or by putting African Americans in densely populated areas while simultaneously ensuring that: they were not given reparations, not given equal opportunities in industry and business, flooding predominantly black neighbourhoods with Police – which is just a modern day branding slapped onto the old slave patrol system, and the cherry atop the human injustice and systemic racism of it all being the minimization of the all these racially driven injustices that are still happening because some people are to embarrassed or cant bring themselves to admit that they are in the place of privilege because of a system set up by people who have the virus because they fear it implies that they themselves are racist and responsible for the actions of those before them. This point being ever present in todays climate as the Black Lives Matter movement – akin to the civil rights movement- dominates the media and receives worldwide support calling for the end of systemic racism.
A bit closer to home we look to South Africa and how the virus has run in the past and continues to run through the very veins of our country’s system. South Africa’s virus can be tracked all the way back to the first time a white man stepped foot on shores of the Cape. The colonization of the land, the violence, mistreatment and murder of the Khoekhoe and the San – indigenous groups currently estimated to make up only 1 percent collectively of South Africa’s population of almost 60 million.
Leading up to one of SA’s most known injustices, Apartheid. The system of institutionalized racial segregation that existed here and in South West Africa – now Namibia- from 1948 up until The Sowetho Uprising in 1976 to the early negotiated talks beginning in 1992 and the end in 1994 with the formation of a democratic government. Hip Hip Hooray right? The oppression of BIPOC with use of a system that has been described as “one of perfect racism” has ended, so clearly that means that regardless of the trends that this virus of the mind has shown us in every situation over history so far, that things ended perfectly right? How I wish that were the case.
Racism is learnt. So, the apartheid government travelled the world and learnt ways to oppress BIPOC, this is how even though being the minority they were able to “control” the majority. The attack was one on multiple fronts:
Mental warfare – breaking down people and making them believe they were less than human. Physical warfare – the use of law enforcement to abuse, assault and murder people who “stepped out of line” or dared to defy a law. But one tactic that has truly left a scar in this county – one that if not resolved makes it harder and almost impossible to solve other injustices – The method known as Divide and Concur. Making Black people believe that because of different traditions or beliefs that one group was better than the other. The repurposing of the title “Coloured People” to provide my entire community with a category of privilege one step higher than Black people, while still managing to oppress us in ways that still affect us today.
While apartheid is gone the systemic racism and values that came with it still exists and beats through the heart of our country, making me wonder some days if we truly are “The Rainbow Nation” or if the colours that I see are just bruise marks new and old refusing to heal.
Racism is the greatest virus of all time. It is the virus that has pumped through history and why injustices disproportionately affect BIPOC – being that many injustices are intersectional. This virus is the only one that does not need a team of medical experts to sit for days or years to try and figure out a cure. While many may argue I believe the cure while difficult to dole out is a simple one: help, education, interaction, and compassion. While I don’t feel sorry for racists and would rather they not be a part of society, I recognize that sending them away does not cure the hereditary aspect and leads to newer generations of racists. Education and a unity from the ground up and from governments down is my solution. Like I said, this might won’t cure us it’s a good place to start.
by Gabriel Klaasen