My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
Plaatjie denied that his complaint was part of an Africanist campaign against Desai. “All judges are open to scrutiny by the public. This is not witch-hunting. The same scrutiny that the judge president is subjected to, surely other people should face the same scrutiny?” Plaatjie said.For his part, Desai said: “A very dirty war is being waged against me. I shall defend myself at each phase at it comes up.”
But why defend the indefensible? O dear, it must be because Mr. Plaatjie has been afflicted by the Hansie Cronje syndrome. Who cares if the person is a deeply flawed human being enveloped in the stench of corruption? Who cares if he is so self-centered and self-righteous that he would be prepared to destroy the judicial system rather than do the honourable thing and resign? Just because he is of the same race, the man shall be defended.
Mr. Plaatjie is a representative of the PAC, an organisation that is supposed to be steeped in the values of Black Consciousness. Sadly, this kind of racial solidarity seems to fly in the face of everything Steve Biko stood for.
It is true that many white people show solidarity with members of their own race because the deeply ingrained racism of our culture allows them instinctively to trust and defend others who are like them. It’s an attitude that is often unspoken but that suggests: “He is white so he could not possibly have done something wrong.”
I suspect, though, that given the power that racism still exert in our society, many black people who show racial solidarity do so in response to and as a defense against white racism and white power. The unspoken rule here could be: “If white people criticize black people we have to defend them because we really are defending all black people against prejudice.”
It is a bit foolhardy for me to say this as a white person, but I think that this attitude is unwise and that the knee-jerk defense of even the most ethically challenged person flies in the face of what Steve Biko would have wanted. By responding to criticism of a black person in a defensive manner – no matter what that person might have done – one is according power to the white racists against whom one is railing. They still dictate one’s actions and that means ones mind is not free and one is still shackled to “white think”.
It is only when we move away from our habits of racial solidarity that we – white and black – can really liberate ourselves from the racist past. It is a pity that a person like Mr. Plaatjie – who really should know better – seems imprisoned by a white racist discourse without even realising it.