The “Fuck White People” Phenomenon in South Africa: A Statistical and Discursive Analysis

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Sharlene SWARTZ, Human Sciences Research Council; University of Cape Town, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Benjamin ROBERTS, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa
Anye NYAMNJOH, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa
During the recent student protests in South Africa against inequality, racism, and educational inaccessibility, the phrase “Fuck white people” appeared on T-shirts and walls. When understood only as anti-white sentiments, these words have the potential to cause panic and fear. However, key questions to be asked concern the extent to which these opinions are shared, by whom, and what should be done to people who propagated these views. To address these questions, an item was inserted in the 2016 nationally representative South African Social Attitudes Survey (n=2988). Despite the sensitivity of the subject matter, an overwhelming majority of the adult population (96%) expressed a clear preference for how this phenomenon ought to be addressed. A quarter of adults (26%), recommended that those wearing/writing this phrase should be informed that they are hampering the prospects of peaceful coexistence between different race groups (the social cohesion argument), while 39% advocated refraining (“they should stop it”). A further 16% adopted a retributive stance (“they should be punished”). Little more than a tenth (13%) opted for a non-interventionist approach (“they should be left alone”). Only a nominal proportion (2%) believed such behaviour “should be praised” for drawing attention to persisting white privilege in South African society. As might be expected there were sizeable variations in responses by socio-demographic characteristics. We found no statistically significant variation in answers by sex, generation, employment status, educational attainment, and self-reported poverty status. We did, however, find important associations by race, political affiliation, living standard level and geography both between and within groups. We discuss these findings discursively as part of “white fragility” and “rainbow nation mythology” and conclude that while the narrative of a dying rainbow nation project has its place in protests, it seems that the majority of South Africans have not yet abandoned this dream.