Judge Jansen, a Case Study on White Privilege.

by Iswamo Kapalu

The nation awaits, with bated breath the semi-apology of Judge Jansen. We have seen this before. She will probably be sorry that someone was offended but not about the fact that she was offensive. A million and one articles will be written about what a bad person she is and how there’s no room for her in the “new” South Africa. Some will beg that she be given time to explain herself and provide the context for her racist remarks. Many will call for her to lose her job. She’ll be called the “victim” of social media. There will be more calls to address the country’s race problem. Her ties to the Democratic Alliance (DA) will probably emerge, to the delight of many at Luthuli House. She will be talked about to a nauseating degree and eventually join the pantheon of PW-Botha- admiring, black-beach- goer-hating, black-springbok- dreading racists – who “have lots of black friends”.

But, in all of this, she will experience something very few black people experience. She will be treated as an individual. Her feelings, her disaffection in the “new” South Africa, her thoughts and values and how she came to possess such a wretched set of perceptions will be poured over in the media and in our private discussions. Her actions, though they point to a deep illness in the white South African psyche, will be treated as her actions and hers alone. She will become a fully fleshed-out and flawed individual.

This is a grace that the many black men who stood in her dock and awaited judgement did not receive. They were treated as an indistinct mass of hyper-sexual black bodies. They were treated as poor collective victims of their savage culture, with no agency, and no appreciation for the wrongfulness of harming women or children. Whether or not they were guilty, which they might well have been, was of secondary consideration when they stood before the learned judge. For them there was probably no assessment of their personal circumstances, their thoughts and their values, and how they came to possess such a wretched set. These men are to her, as they are to many South Africans, a collective evil: the savages that were just unlucky enough to get caught.

The treatment of white perpetrators as deviant individuals, and black perpetrators as indistinct parts of the bigger black problem, is one of the characteristics of white supremacy. It’s the reason why calls for the death penalty will ring out when a white woman goes missing and the suspects are black. It is also the reason why those calls will die out the moment her white husband becomes the prime suspect. The story and motivation of this suspect will attract attention, and everyone will want to understand him.

None of this is to say that rape and violence against women aren’t a problem. A sense of entitlement to female bodies is as much a problem in South African townships and suburbs, as it is in American Ivy League universities. Many women across the world will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, it is a legitimate struggle. So, the weaponization of this struggle and its use in her arsenal of bigotry, represents a unique kind of evil. One that anyone with a working conscience must reject.

Mr Iswamo Kapalu

Iswamo Kapalu is a young South African of Zambian origin. He holds an LLB from the University of the Witwatersrand and currently works as a researcher, writer and social justice advocate at the Jesuit Institute.

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