Twitter last week was a thunderstorm of racial politics after tweets from Miss SA candidate, Bianca Schoombee — who has since withdrawn her entry — resurfaced. In the 2014 tweets of contention, Bianca uses racial slurs and makes fatphobic remarks. Before the backlash it seemed that Bianca was a public favourite, with many people expressing their support for her on social media.
Bianca issued multiple apologies on her Twitter account. Although she was younger, tweeps were quick to point out that this is a common occurrence — people are exposed for their racist pasts, and merely apologize in the hopes that everyone can move on. Many people called on her to delete her account and withdraw from the competition, both of which she has since done.
Much to debate
The backlash seems to have divided the public — some people are understandably angry, like EFF MP Mbyiseni Ndlovu, who said that racism is inexcusable and should never be forgiven.
Some came to Bianca’s defense, noting that she was 14 when she wrote the tweets in question and considered the often lack of discourse and cognitive dissonance amongst younger people.
This is raising issues of how important it is to vet and evaluate the types of people who represent our country and how discrimination is approached. It also highlights what living in the digital age means, and how the rise of social media is giving everyone a new type of social responsibility. How do we navigate this?
Okay, Let’s Talk
Marginalized groups are often expected to remain forgiving in the face of bigotry, which in itself is a form of violence. While approaches to a more equal society may differ, we must also question why anger towards racism, past or present, is villainized or invalidated. As a society that too often excuses racism, on large and microaggressive levels alike, do we have any right to mitigate how discrimination is approached?
As South African law is being pushed to take a stronger approach to racism (seen when Vicky Momberg was found guilty of four counts of crimen injuria and sentenced to 2 years in prison for calling a police officer the k-word) we have to reevaluate how we think of forgiveness in terms of justice. By entering into Miss SA, a competition based on integrity and values, Bianca opened herself up to the court of public opinion. Having a following and an influence on society means you are personally responsible for more than just yourself.
To understand and accept people’s anger towards this situation means to understand and accept the severity and deeply personal hurt that racism still has towards black people. This points to the importance of what it means to work towards a more equitable society, and the effects of carefully choosing those who represent that society.
Time Tells + Actions Talk
In 2017, founder of online publication Affinity Magazine, Evelyn Woodsen, came under fire when prejudiced tweets of her own against black people and latin Americans unsurfaced from when she was 14-years-old. This catapulted conversation on when it is necessary to chastise people for their pasts. Evelyn, a now-22-year-old black woman, has since proved to have unlearned her discrimination.
“Her remarks point to a larger issue of underlying racism as well as the society we are raising leaders in”
She went on to found Affinity Magazine, a youth publication focused on diversity and inclusivity, do community work and advocate for marginilized groups. Her apology seemed to ring sincere as people realized that she has worked on conscientizing herself and her beliefs, and unlearned and corrected her prejudicial behaviour in an active way. A clear example of someone who, like many of us, once believed problematic things and has since learned to do better, with much to show for it.
Where to from here?
Racism is learned. While Bianca may have been young, her remarks point to a larger issue of underlying racism as well as the society we are raising leaders in. It paints an eerie picture of the racism we may not see plastered on social media, but that happens behind closed doors.
The difference between an apology, and actively learning and unlearning, is correcting your past. Especially in the age where our every digital footprint is tracked and traceable. While no one should be expected to offer forgiveness for racism, we must agree on a united stance towards working on an equitable society. A society where prejudice is not protected, but rather confronted and addressed through methodological and regulated ways, supported by government and institutions.
Feature image design by Zoya Pon