One of the things that I value most about my job is that there are no White people in my office. For some this may seem rather insignificant, but when you have spent more than a decade of your life attending former model C schools and then going to an “historically” White university where in all the years of your studies up to Masters level you have only ever been taught by ONE Black professor in the Geography Department where I obtained all my qualifications, there is a particular kind of liberation in being in a space where you are inherently affirmed. One of the many realities about being in spaces with White people is that you are constantly in a combative state. They say the most problematic things, sometimes deliberately and sometimes innocently, and you are forced to either respond or to stomach it for the sake of harmony – both which are extremely exhausting exercises. White people are also extremely violent, and it comes from both their socialisation and the affirmation they receive in society. They can, with shocking glibness, say violent things like: “Stop getting stuck in the past, just move on”, to a Black person raising an issue that is part of a chromatin network to which colonialism/apartheid is the nucleus. I don’t know how many such violent sentiments one has had to endure at Rhodes University, sentiments which are excused even by academics, in the name of “academic freedom”, which in such institutions is the bedrock on which intellectual dishonesty and racism grow.
Not working with White people also means that we have a safe space as Black people to engage on issues that White people in this country take umbrage to. And they take umbrage to a lot, as demonstrated by the interview we had on PowerFM with Asanda Ngoasheng this afternoon. White people are deeply offended by the rawness of our feelings. It genuinely offends them when Black people speak frankly about the condition of Blackness, about what it means to be hurled at the margins of economic and intellectual existence. They have this insatiable need to always respond, and the result is always either condescending or downright racist, like the caller who today sought to problematise identity politics by Black people without reflecting on how he is inherently affirmed by a system grounded in White normativity. Being a typical White liberal, he thought he was being progressive when in fact he was doing exactly what we were saying is problematic: wanting to assert his voice as an authority over those of two Black women who understand the violence of racism in ways that he could never comprehend.
So yeah, I am glad that I don’t work with White people. I am glad because it is honestly truly exhausting to be around White people all the time. It is emotionally and psychologically draining, especially if you’re a Malaika who is incapable of performing civility, a Malaika who does not know how to be palatable. Of course, there’s no telling whether someday I’ll not work in a space that has White people, because the segmented labour market of our country means there are more Whites in the labour force, and patterns of accumulation and promotion means more of them own enterprises and are in managerial positions. But right now I am very happy to be where I am, to not have to be dealing with White tears and White arrogance on a daily basis. It can be debilitating, and when you have endured it for as long as some of us had in these White institutions, you reach a point at which you cannot take it anymore.