Ntokozo Qwabe is a discredit to the Rhodes Must Fall movement
Making a waitress cry is not ‘something black and wonderful’
I’ve really tried to avoid this whole issue, and I don’t just mean the tipping or lack thereof shenanigans that happened earlier in a café in South Africa, but the entire Cecil Rhodes shebang.
Here’s a little intro: Rhodes was a 19th century British imperialist who had a vast and crazy diamond trade in Africa (please excuse this over-simplification). He pushed African families out of their land and wanted to hammer home the fact that he loved slavery and all the blacks would spend most of their time doing manual labour, ‘cause Brits were “the first race in the world” – an attitude not entirely uncommon in his time. His diamond trade was built on the backs of slaves who didn’t get to say what’s what – in short, he was a massive douche. Anyway, he donated a lot of cash to Oriel College and established the Rhodes Scholarship which is funded by his estate and helps lots of hardworking students work harder.
Everyone’s seen the statue of Rhodes on the high street, peeking down at all the tourists and the slow walkers you want to punch in the back of the head on a Saturday afternoon. A lot of people have found fault with this statue, viewing it as a beacon of institutionalised racism within the university. Its removal is the prime objective for the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign.
Ntokozo Qwabe, a Rhodes scholar and one of the many students behind the RMF campaign was in the news recently because instead of tipping a white waitress, he wrote on the bill, “we will give the tip when you return the land” and made her cry. Now, it strikes me that the majority of people behind the RMF campaign simply wouldn’t do that and that Ntokozo Qwabe isn’t actually as clear a representation of the RMF community as he thinks. Sure, maybe that’s a sweeping generalisation, but in only so far as saying everyone in 2016 knows how to respond to dining service.
Look, I’m not denying that there’s a chance that this girl might have been racist, that she was so mad and weird she felt she was somehow better than black people, that she had a topless poster of Cecil Rhodes in her room which she snogged every night before going to sleep, right after she’d sacrificed a lamb to him on a chalky pentagram to the tune of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” – or something equally demonically supremacist and fucked up. But in reality, she was a waitress whose mother was suffering from an understandably upsetting serious illness and it seems Qwabe’s note tipped her over the edge.
Qwabe stated later on social media that he had made her cry “typical white tears” and that he was “unable to stop smiling because something so black and wonderful had happened”.
I don’t think that helps the cause. “Typical white tears” are usually expelled at times like, oh I don’t know, a Taylor Swift concert or when a cute fluffy animal is seen on Buzzfeed. I don’t reckon weeping about your dying mother is “typically white”: everyone’s entitled to that slice of cry-pie, no matter what colour their skin is.
As for something “black and wonderful”… Something “black and wonderful” is Obama’s presidency or Rosa Parks standing up to the peen-holes who made her sit at the back of the bus, saying “fuck you” to adversity and oppression, not doing a turd of sadness on a waitress who probably just wants to sit down for a couple of minutes and call her mum.
You can’t equate centuries of slavery with one denied tip in a South African café, of course. But I can’t help but feel that you could ask virtually any of the many students who support the RMF campaign and they would be so so chill with leaving a tip (or simply not writing the note) and wouldn’t mind that the waitress was white. They would realise that the waitress, at least as a stranger, has no involvement or shared characteristics with Rhodes other than the colour of her skin, that black and white people are equal and the best way to perpetuate that fact is to act on it.
I like to say I can understand all the resentment Qwabe and many others have against white people, human beings who have demeaned and degraded other human beings for the colour of their skin. But in reality I’ll never be able to fully grasp that pain, purely because I am not black. Just like a girl won’t understand being kicked in the nuts, or a bloke won’t understand the feeling of having an actual person tear up his gooch when he gives birth.
But as human beings, we all understand suffering and we all understand love. We shouldn’t shrug off the past like it’s gone forever because it doesn’t die: ideally it just teaches us how to be better people. I want to think that everyone I know realises that racism is weird. Not just hateful, but fucking bizarre.
Regardless of whether you’re black or white, as a human being in the 21st century, you know that tipping a waitress is nice and enslaving another person is really not very nice. The waitress can’t help what happened all those years ago under an awful and despotic man who probably had terrible small-willy syndrome, and it would seem to me that Ntokozo Qwabe simply picked the wrong battle.
But maybe that’s just naive.