The initiative, which has been called Awake SA, was kicked off by Bruce Muller, a 38-year-old partner in a branding agency who says that recent events “lit the fire to get things going”.
One of these events is the now infamous Penny Sparrow incident in which she complained on Facebook about black people on Durban’s beaches – although Muller is hesitant to give her additional coverage.
“The current level of discourse is very angry. There’s a lack of insight about racism,” says Muller. “Acknowledging white privilege is a good first step.”
He says that the next step is for white South Africans to take the pledge on Awake SA’s website, which includes the acknowledgement of their advantages and to continue educating themselves about what white privilege means and how it manifests.
On privileged black people
To date, 90 people have already signed the pledge. And, while many (including black South Africans themselves) might argue that some black people are also privileged, Muller says they’re only focused on encouraging white South Africans to take the pledge for now.
He believes that should any “self-described privileged black people” sign it, Awake SA would be jumping the gun, although it does hope to address all forms of privilege in the future.
Muller says people need to be educated as the discourse around race and the privileges associated with it is currently very angry.
Already, the group’s Facebook page, which is just a week old, has elicited angry comments from white South Africans.
“What a joke because nowhere do I see white priviledge [sic],” writes one Facebook user.
Another posted a link to an article arguing that the notion of white privilege is a myth.
A third respondent wrote that the very phrase was a “hate term” and a “sick guilt trip”.
However, there were others who argued that for many, it’s hard to white privilege within yourself.
“The concept of privilege is not even about what you have or don’t have, but more the fact that by being born white in South Africa [like i was] there were certain privileges and opportunities afforded to me that other races did not have,” said one Facebook user.
But Muller says that while there are definitely people who will never understand this argument, if people are more aware, they might come to a different view.
He says that post-1994 white South Africans were never asked to make a change or to reach out to their fellow black citizens.
With Awake SA, Muller hopes to get that change started.