May 5, 2012 · 73 Comments
In explaining her use of the word “kaffir” ; a derogatory term used to refer to black South Africans during apartheid, Jessica Leandra dos Santos stated that the use of the word was an angry response to “sexual remarks and sounds” by a “gentleman” inside a grocery store on 3 May.
For this piece we ignore questions hanging over the appropriateness of her response, specifically that of invoking a sexual harassment defence when her initial post on twitter was clearly of “triumph and conquest” over what she termed an “arrogant and disrespectful kaffir”.
Instead we focus on why, if indeed, there were verbal sexual advances by the “gentlemen” at “Spar”, would she bring his race into the picture, to the point of using a racial slur? Does it perhaps have to do with long held views about black sexuality by white South Africans?
Black sexuality has been the subject of negative ‘white obsession’ ever since the beginning of colonisation in South Africa, especially the period after the British took over in the Cape, bringing with them attitudes and injustices from the Americas and the Caribbean; albeit under the guise of “liberalism” – attitudes which to this day dominate discourse on black sexuality.
Viewed from the perspective of the British and the Dutch ‘colonisers’, black sexuality was something to be dominated, feared and punished. Black females, perceived to be devoid of ‘normal morality’ but ‘highly sexed’ if not ‘over-sexed’ were made to be sexual subjects – ostensibly not good enough to be considered as ‘normal’ people, but sufficing as tools for recreational and sometimes reproductive sexual intercourse with white males.
Black males on the other hand were seen as lustful, pursuing white women; who in turn would often came to desire black men – making them a threat to white male sexuality. It was then befitting, white colonisers argued, that such behaviour be prevented and when it occurred, to be severely punished.
As a result, fear of black male sexuality permeated colonial life and was linked that black violence; a logical expectation from a subjugated people, which ‘colonialists’ assumed would be accompanied by sexual carte blanche and the ravishing of white women. White women needed to be protected from such “rapacious black sexuality” – resulting at times to the castration of many black males.
Fast-forward to almost 300 years later, much of the same antagonisms remain. White South African males continue to view the sexuality of their black counterparts as a threat and through the creation of myths which among other things include the size of black male genitalia and the incessant need to keep their white race “pure” have perpetuated the same views as before. Not surprising given that interracial mixing, or the lack thereof, was the fundamental principle behind the creation of Apartheid South Africa.
Black South Africans, both male and female continue to lust after their white counterparts – at least according to surveys indicating a greater predilection towards interracial relationships among urban blacks more than any other race group in South Africa.
For blacks, a new hurdle that seems to reinforce age-old beliefs about black sexuality – HIV/AIDS. Stereotypes often used to explain the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among South Africa’s blacks have formed further barriers for black South Africans – with some white south Africans viewing them as oversexed carriers of the HIV/AIDS virus.
This, together with long-standing stereotypes has culminated in a scenario where any attempt to approach, comment or even view a white woman as beautiful or pretty (which I would argue was the case in Jessica Leandra’s dos Santos’ case given her modelling career) is considered taboo, guarded against and usually warrants a hostile verbal response
Consider the case of Jessica Foord for a moment. Jessica Food is a Durban resident gang-raped by five black South African males. Her incident drew a huge outcry from the South African public – naturally, it was a heinous crime. However, the uproar by white South Africans was mostly driven by anger against the fact that the perpetrators were: 1) black and that 2) blacks were now raping white women together with black women – supposing then that the same crime against the latter is not worth an uproar in the ‘white community’.
As result, what transpired earlier this week between Jessica Leandra dos Santos and the “gentlemen” at Spar may be explained using this “fear of black sexuality” – assuming that you accept the preceding argument.
Jessica Leandra Do Santo’s case is part of a bigger problem. So entrenched are beliefs of the apartheid idea of “separateness” that South Africans do not even bother to interact with each other – the 2011 South African Reconciliation Barometer Survey revealed that some 42% of South Africa’s population does not socialise nor form deeper social relationships across racial lines.
While it may be easy to surmise this latest incident as yet another act linked to the age-old “protection of white bodies”; specifically white women, from rapacious black sexuality – such a conclusion would not be complete. South Africans whether be they black, white, coloured or Indian, seem to be too pessimistic about race relations. Long held views and attitudes towards social relationships are only partial explanation for the low levels of interaction, which have remained relatively static since 2003. Greater effort by all stakeholders, especially the government is necessary to complete South Africa’s deracialisation – not the idea of race but its apartheid construct.
- Political Analysis South Africa