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How can White and Black South Africans heal as a nation...


Can Black and White South Africans heal as a nation?

Post-apartheid South Africa:


South Africa became a democracy in 1994, with Nelson Mandela, a global icon, as president and with a vision to create a more just society (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2014). The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a public performance of national reckoning and healing, was hailed internationally as something of a model for post-conflict societies (Wildschut & Mayers, 2018). South Africa was celebrated, not just for overcoming its racist past, but also for having the courage to face the pain and suffering that apartheid caused, and for engaging in the difficult work of reconciliation (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2014).


Desmond Tutu said: There is not a single person who has not been traumatized by apartheid – even the perpetrators (Lund, 2003). We have to pour balm on tortured souls (Lund, 2003).To heal as a nation, we first need to understand the nature of the psychological damage and its effects. South Africa is known as the "rainbow nation," and, because apartheid caused serious harm to our country's collective psyche, we all need healing. To talk in these broad racial categories is of course a risky business. Not all individual members of these groups have been affected or afflicted to the same degree or now deal with the burden in the same way. Nevertheless, such group analysis does have value because we share a collective consciousness (and unconsciousness) that shapes us and our society. I use the terms black and white here not only in a skin tone sense but, as Steve Biko does, to convey a whole social and political experience (Whitaker et al., 1979).


Black people have freed both themselves and white people from the political structures of apartheid, but the legacy of harm still permeates our culture as a whole. To heal as a nation, we must comprehend the nature of the psychological harm and its consequences. This supports us to identify and resolve social problems. From South Africans as a nation, this will take bravery, intelligence, and compassion. White people carry an unhealthy burden of guilt for their whiteness and black people carry an unhealthy burden of shame for their blackness. The two are closely interconnected and yet serve to keep us apart. Herein, I discuss feelings of guilt and shame as a broad oversimplification of a rather complex consequence.


What is Guilt:


Guilt is usually considered to manifest as a painful feeling of regret associated with moral transgressions or avoided moral obligations that are believed to have harmed others or one’s relationships with others (Katchadourian, 2010; Malti, 2016; Tangney, Stuewig, & Mashek, 2007). Guilt, by another definition, is thus a relational phenomenon in that it assumes responsibility for damaged self-other relationships (Ultimate Guide to Dealing With Guilt, Shame, and Fear of Punishment, 2020).


White Guilt:


Guilt is an emotion that is very prevalent among white South Africans due to what their ancestors did under the Apartheid government. This white guilt also refers to the guilt experienced as a result of being aware of unjustified and unearned racial privileges, the acknowledgment of personal racist attitudes or behaviour, and/or the sense of responsibility for others’ racist attitudes or behaviour (Salters, 2022). The younger white generation feels that the perpetuation of guilt continues due to the expectancy of black South Africans that keeps on imposing it.


What is Shame:


The definition of shame according to research: Shame is an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection (Brown, 2021).


Black Shame:


During the apartheid era, black people were exposed to this disabling shame. Their black skin, by definition, marked them in the eyes of the prevailing power structures as less valuable and less human (Salters, 2022). It even rendered them “illegal” (Salters, 2022). Due to this shame, they might have believed that they are less than white people. This shame has the ability to influence their self-concept or character and it might also lead to a sense of unworthiness. Due to this shame, some black people might still experience themselves and their group as “less” than whites, leading to lack of confidence and passivity.

As Frantz Fanon, psychologist and philosopher, put it: “The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.”Biko was talking about shame when he called for black people to throw off the yoke of racial stigma and to assert themselves with pride and joy as black (Anderson, 2018).


South Africans need to understand the impact of shame:


Due to shame, black people might not know how to deal with injustice and this can create a lot of fear and anger. This shame can make black people angry and destructive towards white people (oppressors during apartheid). This anger can translate into militant activism, into hatred towards white people.


Are there solutions for black people to heal this shame? The answer is Yes.


Firstly, it is important for black people to become aware of the shame they carry and its triggers. Black people need to understand the impact of the shame and the beliefs this shame has created about themselves, others and the world. To heal shame, South Africans need to understand the effect discrimination and exclusion had on their ancestors and on them.


Awareness and understanding will give them the internal power and access to their internal resources they need to heal themselves. Awareness will give them the ability to notice when others shame them, as well as the ability to notice the inner self-talk this shame might have created for them. For example: when they shame themselves by saying things like: “That was stupid!” “I can’t believe you said that!” “You’ll never be as good as the other students in this class.”


Secondly, it is important for South Africans to understand that shame is a social emotion (Brown, 2021). Shame happens between people and it heals between people (Brown, 2021). Shame makes us believe that we are alone, therefore it is important for black people to own and share their story as this will make them feel connected. The antidote to shame is empathy. Therefore, if black people who were victims can reach out and share their shame experience with a fellow South African who responds with empathy, shame dissipates. Empathy is one of the cures for shame (Brown, 2021).


Thirdly, black people need to celebrate themselves, for the healing which has happened. Black pride celebrations are joyously positive responses to both exterior prejudice and internalized shame. It is important for black people to shake off the yoke of oppressive racism and not to accept the racist dogma (Anderson, 2018). It is crucial for black people to overcome their own inferior beliefs and to understand that their culture, accomplishments, and humanity are just as genuine as those of everyone else. It is important for them to be a good advocate for themselves in their journey toward healing from shame.


What can the effect be if shame doesn’t heal:


If the feeling of shame does not heal, it is easy for black South Africans to feel like victims. An unconscious complaining and blaming of the past can result from this victim mentality. The story of apartheid can influence their future as it can act as a tool to justify their fears and limited behaviours. The past can easily create a rabbit hole of negativity for them. The past can also create a bias, stereotyping and negative beliefs about white people’s intentions.


This victim consciousness has the ability to create self-righteousness among black people. Victim consciousness or self-righteousness can cause black people to become closed minded, where they are only able to see things from one perspective. Self-righteousness is different from righteousness (Brown, 2021). In the case of righteousness, we are appropriately reacting to a true injustice, we are trying to do the right thing (Brown, 2021). When feeling self-righteous, we feel morally superior to others and are trying to convince ourselves or others that we are doing the right thing (Brown, 2021).


The combination of victim consciousness and self-righteousness can lead to a ‘you owe me’ mindset. Self-righteousness can easily be at the cost of others and still be perceived as empowerment. Moral outrage in response to injustice can be classified as righteous anger when motivated by a “true” concern about injustice, whereas moral outrage is self-enhancing, it is self-righteous anger (Brown, 2021). Self-righteousness has the ability to empower black people as the oppressors, as white people were during apartheid. This can cast the white person as the new oppressed. Self-righteousness can give black people the impression that they have permission to treat white people as less than and that they have the right to take opportunities from white people without feeling guilty.


Healthy Guilt:


Healthy guilt accompanied by a sense of responsibility did support the white South African to change their perspective of black South Africans. The function of guilt is change. Research suggests that guilt has a potentially positive function within social interaction by stimulating pro-social behaviours from others, and also promoting actions towards those who have been wronged (Brown, 2021). This guilt also protects South Africa from repeating past mistakes which were made during the apartheid regime.

It is important for white people to recognise the shame black people experienced and the impact apartheid had on black people. It is normal for white people to experience guilt, regret and to feel helpless as they cannot change the past. Even though white people cannot undo or redo the past, it is important to understand the mistakes which were made. Empathy is the antidote for shame; therefore, it is important for white people to have compassion for the hate and resentment some black people have due to the apartheid regime. (Brown, 2021).


Guilt can have a negative impact on white South African’s mental and emotional health:


According to research the effect of guilt is punishment: “I did something wrong, now I deserve to be punished” (Nelissen & Zeelenberg, 2009). This guilt has the potential to maintain cooperative behaviour and ensure equity, but it can become damaging to the white South African as it can serve as long-term tool of punishment as well (Ultimate Guide to Dealing With Guilt, Shame, and Fear of Punishment, 2020).


Many white people start to ask after three decades of democracy, “For how long do we have to feel guilty?” White people feel that this guilt has a negative impact on their psychological well-being as this guilt leaves them helpless. No matter what they do or have done, they start to believe that they will never receive forgiveness. The younger white generation feels that they have no reason to feel guilty as they haven’t done anything wrong. This generation feels that the perpetuation of guilt continues due to the expectancy of black South Africans who keeps on imposing it.


Many white South Africans start to question if Black Economic Empowerment is still about equality or is it about superiority, power and control? Does recognising the psychological and economic empowerment of black people require the death of white privilege or merely privilege for all?


Can white guilt become white shame as well?


It seems as if white guilt is turning into white shame as white people feel that they are seen as bad because the acts of their ancestors (Kämmerer, n.d.). Apartheid is making the young white generation feel embarrassed and unforgiven for something which they haven’t done. The white generation feels that they get treated unfairly as various opportunities, from school to business, are withheld from them due to the colour of their skin. This makes white people feel as if they do not belong.


We cannot change the past but we can create the future we desire:


It is time for us to heed Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s call to attend to our woundedness. The hard work of healing is an essential part of becoming the beautiful rainbow nation that he so firmly believed was possible (Kumar, 2021). Desmond Tutu never gave up hope, neither should we.


Apartheid taught us that by doing something in one racial groups way, it will never consider the whole of humanity. Therefore, apartheid and the current situation in South Africa teaches us that, as long as any solution is racially bound, it cannot bring collective healing to all South Africans. There will always be a race that would be discriminated against.


Regardless of the guilt and the shame, there could be long-term benefits to both parties if the social bond is reinforced (Waldroff, 2021). Cooperation brings healing and offers the possibility for whites and blacks to engage in a manner that recognises both groups as wounded, though differently, and to very different degrees (Community Tool Box, n.d.). Wounds received collectively are best healed collectively, in groups that offer safety and encourage authenticity. Most importantly, we all need to understand and respect each other’s healing journeys. To heal as a nation, each individual and each group needs to heal separately and together.


It is necessary to bring healing to fellow South Africans:


Does affirmative action really bring healing to South Africans?


Affirmative action raises awareness of the difference between races. With every employment and every promotion, race gets considered. This racial awareness increases racial tension and hatred (Stoffels, 2015).


Affirmative action sets lower goals for black people than for whites - a state of affairs that can cause black people to be deprived of the opportunity to produce high-quality achievements (Kruger & De Klerk, 1995). The setting of double standards can deprive black people of self-respect and pride (Kruger & De Klerk, 1995). With affirmative action, the message is conveyed that the black population has less potential. Affirmative action can create an ethical perspective that black people cannot perform at the same level as whites. This perception stigmatizes the black population (Kruger & De Klerk, 1995).


The view has already been held that affirmative action is reverse discrimination against whites because it has been found that affirmative action does meet the criteria for discrimination (Villiers, 2001). Firstly, corrective actions influence whites negatively and thus the white population is harmed (Stoffels, 2015). Secondly, affirmative action is based on the assumption that whites deserve unequal treatment. Thirdly, affirmative action is directed against whites only because the person's skin color is white (Stoffels, 2015).


Discrimination is wrong because it is a form of oppression (Stoffels, 2015). Affirmative action is then morally wrong for the same reason that discrimination is wrong. There are those who believe that affirmative action is a means to an end and that the individual's rights can be trampled upon (Stoffels, 2015). Maphai, also says that it is worrying if the 'greatest asset' of the community is used as an easy justification to trample on the individual's rights. According to the theory of personal freedom, affirmative action is not right and good because it affects the white individual's right to freedom and equal treatment (Stoffels, 2015). It’s important to note that during apartheid, black people were viewed as second rate citizens and post-apartheid, white people became second rate citizens – this racial divide cannot heal unless people are viewed equal as humans, regardless of race.




For South Africans to heal it is important for them to be educated on the emotion of hate and the impact of hate:


Unhealed shame might lead to hate. Hate is a combination of various negative emotions including repulsion, disgust, anger, fear, and contempt (Brown, 2021). We feel hate toward individuals or groups that we believe are intentionally malicious and unlikely to change (Brown, 2021).


What’s interesting is that we can develop hate toward people we do not know personally simply based on their affiliation with a group or ideology that does not align with our beliefs (Sternberg, 2003). Research shows that a lack of direct contact with such individuals can actually strengthen hate (Brown, 2021).


What's so fascinating is how our desire for connection fuels hate. (Sternberg, 2003). This hate has the ability to create common enemy intimacy; “I may not know anything about you, but we hate the same people” and that creates a counterfeit bond and a sense of belonging. I say “counterfeit” because the bond and belonging are not real, they hinge on my agreeing with you and not challenging the ideas that connect us (Brown, 2021). That isn't real belonging.


The researcher Sternberg found that hate moves from place to place on a “current”, and it needs this current to grow and travel (Sternberg, 2005). He explains that “those currents are provided by cynical leaders who capitalize on people’s insecurities to bolster their own power” (Sternberg, 2005). When instigators seek to gain traction for their leadership by spreading hate, they often attract observer (s) who do nothing or who, over time, move from being observers to being participants/observers to being active participants (Sternberg, 2005). Sternberg also states that “the more the leaders whip up powerful stories, even ones of hate, the more people follow them” (Sternberg, 2005).

Research found that the “goal of hate is not merely to hurt, but to ultimately eliminate or destroy the target, either mentally (humiliating, treasuring feeling of revenge), socially (excluding, ignoring), or physically (killing, torturing), which may be accompanied by the goal to let the wrongdoer suffer” (Brown, 2021). It is not clear that there is any magic bullet for curing hate (Brown, 2021).


South Africans need to focus on finding ways to refrain from hate and the government should query if certain requirements such as BBBEE level 1 can create an environment or a consequence of hate? Our education system has the potential to help South Africans to understand things from others’ point of view and to teach understanding, love and wisdom. To heal, South Africans need to learn how to use the skill of critical thinking and compassion when they engage in a multicultural context. If people of different cultures and race have the same job status it might be easier for them to realise that no matter what our skin colour is, we are not so different from one another.


It is important for all South Africans to heal the racist within themselves:


It is important for all South Africans to understand that both white and black people can be racists.


The definition of a racist according to the dictionary is:


Showing prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.


The new science of bias suggests that we all carry prejudices within ourselves—and we all have the tools to keep them in check (How to Stop the Racist in You, n.d.). Conscious prejudice is when someone outwardly expresses, through words or behaviour, a view denigrating a particular group (How to Stop the Racist in You, n.d.). Prejudice is a conflict that plays out not only with bad apples instead it plays out within each and every one of us (How to Stop the Racist in You, n.d.). It is crucial for all South Africans to understand that we all harbour preconceptions and that we are all equipped with the means to control such prejudices.


Here is an example of what all South Africans can do to stop the racist within themselves:


· South Africans must consciously commit themselves to egalitarianism (the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities).

· Acknowledge differences, rather than pretend that you are ignoring them.

· Seek out friendship with people from different groups, in order to increase your brain’s familiarity with different people and expand your point of view.

· It’s natural to focus on how people are different from you, but try to consciously identify what qualities and goals you might have in common.

· When you encounter examples of unambiguous bias, speak out against them. Why? Because that helps create and reinforce a standard for yourself and the people around you, in addition to providing some help to those who are the targets of explicit and implicit prejudice.


Forgiveness is part of healing:


Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness (What Is Forgiveness, n.d.). If white and black South Africans choose to nurse their hurt for too long, this hurt can eventually turn into hate and bitterness. Being unforgiving takes a physical and mental toll. Resentment gains momentum and chips away at the foundation of our well-being and at our relationships with fellow South Africans.


To heal, white and black South Africans need to make a conscious choice to forgive and they need to be open and receptive to forgiveness. The fact of the matter is that no long-lasting, healthy relationship can exist in life without forgiveness. (What It Really Means to Forgive, n.d.). Forgiveness isn't absolution. Forgiveness is a conscious decision to release feelings of resentment. It's a crucial tool in processing hurt and moving on. Even though South Africans may find forgiveness difficult, it's essential for the long haul. Forgiveness brings cooperation and cooperation is important for everyone’s survival.

Before South Africans can forgive the past, they need to understand what forgiveness will mean to them. Forgiveness does not mean that black people need to forget about the injustice which was done towards them during apartheid. Forgiveness pardons past behaviour and set a stage for just future behaviour but it doesn’t take away what has been wronged. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that South Africans will have positive feelings toward the offenders, instead forgiveness will release within South Africans deeply held negative feelings of the past. If black people choose to forgive, they will recognise the pain and suffering apartheid caused, this pain will have no power to define them nor will they feel like the victims anymore.


Many white people have a desire to bring healing but they are uncertain about what to do. Therefore, it is important for white people to do research and to educate themselves and others on possible ways to bring healing. It is important for white people to have awareness of inequalities, stereotyping, biases or anything which might prevent black people from rebuilding their trust in them. To gain insight on black people’s struggles it is important for white people to educate themselves on the systemic issues black people face. When a white person notices that another white person say, mistreats a person of colour, it is important to address it. It is easier to receive a correction from another white person than from someone of colour. It is important to sit down and to listen to people of colours’ experiences, understand how they view and perceive white people and listen and be open to their opinion of how to heal South Africa.


I will suggest that every South African to do the following exercise:


Every human has imagination and the ability to feel empathy. Therefore, every human can do the following exercise:


· How would I have felt if I was black and lived in the Apartheid Regime?

· How would I feel if this wrong was done towards my ancestors?

· What do I think the mental and emotional impact of Apartheid is on white and black South Africans?

· How would I feel if I was white and lived in the Apartheid Regime? Would I have felt a sense of superiority? Would I have done things differently from the majority of white people or would I have enjoyed the advantage?

· How will it feel to live in South Africa now as a white vs a black South African?

· What do I think the psychological impact of white guilt is on white people?

· What do I think the psychological impact of black shame is on black people?

· How does apartheid influence me today? What can I do to heal from your woundedness?

· How can we as a rainbow nation heal ourselves and each other and move forward from here?


Reference List:


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