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Richard de Nooy

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A WARNING prompted by the attack on Binyavanga Wainaina in Berlin

European friends, white friends, meek and gentle friends,

Lines are being crossed on our continent and elsewhere. Racism has always lurked just under the surface of our societies. We kept it in check by creating laws to curtail its effects, but we knew it was there, know it is there, an ever-present threat. In the past, white people sometimes saw its grotesque head rise above the surface – laughable, inarticulate, ignorant. What we tend to forget is that black people see that grotesque head far more often, feel its baleful stare, hear its spiteful voice, experience the danger it presents, the discomfort it causes, the opportunities it devours. Today, the beast is out in the open, forming political parties, asserting its dominance and privilege, cordoning off its terrain, rewriting the laws that were written to keep it in check. It is gaining confidence, growing stronger, taking liberties in every sense of the word. More and more often it is expressing its misguided sentiments physically, violently.

Thirty years ago, I left South Africa because I refused to fight for a grossly unjust system. Today, I see and hear more and more people and parties in Europe voicing grotesquely familiar sentiments and espousing similarly unjust systems, inviting the beast out into the open. We must gather our wits before it is too late. I have no idea how nor if this beast can ever be truly conquered, but I feel the time has come to speak out and be counted, to extend my hand to others who have stood by and watched too long and to those who have encountered the beast in its many guises on a daily basis, so that we may stand together against its growing tyranny.

We know how bold and ruthless this beast can be, what destruction it can bring. But only older generations, those who have experienced war, know how fear can drive the silent to obey terrible orders, how it exploits the meek as foot soldiers in the execution of its terrible plans. As I write this, I already feel that fear gnawing away at my resolve, urging me to be silent, giggling nervously at the robust tone I have employed. Which is all the more reason to speak out, stand firm and be counted among those who will not bend, who will seek ways to keep the beast in check, who will defend those less capable of doing so themselves, who will bite the hand that feeds them if need be.

I urge my black friends, particularly those who have a voice, to keep reporting their encounters with the beast openly, as Binyavanga Wainaina has done, so that we can make more people aware of the beast’s growing strength and can take steps – legal, political, educational and artistic – to ensure that no one can ever claim that we did not know, that we were powerless against the beast, that we stood by and watched it grow, thinking that the darkest chapters in human history would never be repeated.

Richard de Nooy, Amsterdam, 2 June 2016.


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