Wednesday, May 9, 2007

While waiting in line at the post office today, I saw a woman go up to the teller, and calmly and collectedly tell her that she, and the entire post office, was racist. “As an older white women in the country, I am discriminated against. You helped a black man with my same problem last week, but no one has helped me.” The teller, who, like almost everyone else working there, was black, patiently and without raising her voice explained to her that this had nothing to do with race: “I'm sorry that your dog chewed up your packet slip, but if we can't read the numbers on it we can't help you.” “But everyone went out of their way to help the black man last week, but because I'm white, you're not helping me. You are all racists.” The conversation continued along these lines until I left; completely civil, but not going anywhere.

While I've never heard someone voice their complaints so explicitly, in many ways this was a completly normal attitude for a white South African to have. Non-blacks complain all the time about government favoritism, like Black Economic Empowerment (BEE - or Black Idiot Empowerment, as one friend's mom put it), and how increasingly marginalized non-blacks are in society. There is a lot of resentment about how poorly Blacks are perceived to be running the country. While lack of education is certainly a huge factor in why many employees are usually incompetent, nepotism also runs rampant, making it even harder for the lucky few with education to get a job, or promotion. There's a sense among non-blacks that the blacks abandoned socialist policies after taking power in favor of enriching themselves. Any some blacks are getting very rich - but disproportionately so: while there has suddenly emerged a black middle and upper class, overall poverty and inequality has increased. No wonder that the Zulu term for white man now also refers to rich blacks.

With this perception of their country, it's no surprise that so many white South Africans are leaving. Those who are getting an education are getting out. Two percent a year, I was told by a South African who moved to Arizona 6 years ago, and was bragging about moving his Mom. “Less crime,” he said when asked why he liked the US so much, “and more white people.”

I, on the other hand, can't understand why anyone would want to leave such a beautiful place.