Shaken by violence of white privilege

21 May 2015 - 02:07 By Malaika Mahlatsi

Growing up in the township of Soweto, in an unequal society characterised by a history of brutality and draconian laws, I have experienced first-hand the nature of systematic exclusion informed by my class position and race. I have been under no illusions about what it means to be black in South Africa. But never has this onslaught been as vivid as it was at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, where for the first time in my 23 years I came to understand what it means to suffocate in a pool of white privilege.Being a first-time writer, I have attended only a few literary events. Besides Franschhoek,I have been to the Kingsmead Book Festival in Johannesburg and the Open Book Festival in Cape Town. By their very nature, they are elitist and exclusionary to most black people who, because of the legacy of a history of dispossession, are unable to afford such spaces.The violence that I was subjected to by the white audience in Franschhoek left me shaken, more so because in that space few are aware of their privilege.In both sessions that I attended as a panellist, I endured disapproving stares and shaking heads every time I made mention of the legitimacy of black rage and how it is birthed by white privilege.In that space, I came to understand that literary festivals exist to create a platform for white privilege to anthropologise black thought.Black authors, especially those who dare to speak truth to power, are invited to these spaces to perform to an audience that has no regard for the existential crisis of blackness. That is why Thando Mgqolozana could be so viciously insulted.Black writers need to create an alternative literary space. The government needs to build a strong literary infrastructure for us, because the existing spaces are violent to black voices and threaten to choke the life out of us.Mahlatsi is the author of 'Memoirs of a Born Free'

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