As Inherent Beneficiaries of Racial Injustice, Can White South Africans Be Considered Poor?

“White South Africans cannot be poor”, I tweeted, and with six little words, I had evoked a white twitter storm in my notifications. Somewhere between the barrage of insults and crimen injuria, I was able to make out that most of them were trying to relay the notion that poverty does not discriminate.

I was shocked at their response but not surprised. Not only is it easy for people who have no idea what it is like to be systematically and institutionally oppressed to impose their views on your lived experience as a Black person but it’s also easy for them to erase your entire history just to create a false sense of equality.

Now to expand on why I believe white people cannot be poor. When we speak about poverty, the imagery is immediately of Black people living in squatter camps and inhumane conditions. The same can’t be said for the imagery that comes up when someone says “poor white people”. Not in South Africa. It doesn’t even register. White people cannot be poor because white skin is currency in a country where racism was constitutional.

Not to mention that white people have “ownership” of land that was stolen dating back to 1652 when the first colonial settler arrived. Ownership of resources, corporate institutions and agriculture is all concentrated to a specific group of people, white people, a minority in South Africa.

In a country that claims to have freedom, it seems to me that the only people who got freedom in 1994 are white. Freedom to keep the wealth they accumulated from the oppression of Black people, freedom to keep the status quo, keep their Black workers. In fact, if we agree that one’s freedom is more valuable than money then surely we can agree that a poor white person’s poverty, is a luxury to me who has been denied all that they have gained from freedom.

Now, can white people have drastic financial problems? Yes. We all do. But the system that was built to sustain them, puts them at a much higher socio-economic standing. White people are inherently richer in more important things other than money.

I made the following analogy:

You have two homeless men. One is a Black person the other is white…I won’t say which is which but the presumption you make will drive the point home.

~One of these people is a rare occurrence, a glitch in the system, 1 in 1000… The other is a product of the system and statistically 1 in 7.

~One is a criminal before even opening his mouth to beg for food or greet you. The other has a story, people wonder what happened.

~One is presumed to come from nothing…The other probably has a family or friends that have spent a lot of money looking for him.

~One is chastised by society…The other is shown pity.

~One doesn’t shock people…The other often has people stopping to find out more about him, people point or stare and acknowledge his existence.

~One has a painful history of dispossession and slavery… The other has a history of rich ancestors and first-class citizenship.

~One can move out of their class because of the color of their skin and the opportunities afforded to people that look like him, the other’s skin alone, is a barrier between him and a corporate job.

Poverty is literally a product of discrimination. Any argument that says otherwise is disingenuous. It was the very same system of discrimination that fostered Apartheid. Apartheid had and continues to have a direct impact on the economic and social inclusion of Black people, or lack thereof. The relationship between discrimination and poverty is evident and unforgiving. It is discrimination that determined that Black people must be restricted access to employment, education, economic opportunities and fundamental living in general so the historic discrimination against Black South Africans has influenced their lives till this day. This is why I allege that white people continue to benefit from Apartheid.

So I’ll say it again for the people at the back, white people cannot be poor, they can be lazy or incapable of capitalizing on their history and maneuvering society, not poor.

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Thabi Myeni
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South African || BLACK || Intersectional Feminist || Founder of Friends of Hers

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