Should whites be silent?
Stillness and gratitude: this is the right stance for white South Africans, according to Jon Hodgson (‘Whites, talk less – listen more’). Writing about UCT’s statue of Rhodes, he says that ‘my voice and the voices of other white people should not matter on this issue’ and that ‘white voices shouldn’t speak up in this process, other than to thank Rhodes Must Fall’. The Rhodes statue is now off the UCT campus, but Hodgson’s position is clearly meant to go beyond this single case. His approach continues to warrant attention because it might well be wheeled out, by him or others, on many future occasions.
If you are going to urge millions of your fellow citizens to be silent on some important issue – political, philosophical, cultural or otherwise – then you need a powerful argument. So what are Hodgson’s reasons for telling whites to shush? I can find three:
1. Ignorance. White South Africans ‘can never truly empathise with the profound violence exerted on the psyche of black students’.
2. Prejudice. White people have displayed their bias by making many racist comments about the Rhodes affair on social media.
3. Dominance: ‘transformation entails white people “filling up” less space and black people “taking up” more’.
None of these reasons is strong.