It was clearly a bit of a long week for Gillian Schutte, who announced on Facebook last night that she was giving social media a break for a while after a news report on eNCA suggested that she was to blame for disgraced Judge Mabel Jansen “fearing for her life”.
She wrote: “OK I am done! I am really just underscoring the absolute double standards of mainstream media and liberal “anti-racists … It is so clear where their bias lies. As for Citizen, etc, I am truly disgusted at the media – most of it anyway.”
Here’s the actual post:
Her disgust at The Citizen was for an online piece quite hastily put together by one of the young content managers on our website, who somehow came across Schutte’s post in which she said “All whites are racist” and then explained briefly why this was her view.
Here’s that post:
The online journalist came to me and asked if he could and should write about it. Was it newsworthy?
In moments like these, my instinctive reaction is normally: Okay, people will probably read something like that because it’s a pretty extreme view. Also Schutte happens to be slightly more newsworthy right now than the millions of other people on Facebook sharing their myriad views on race because her outing of the racist comments of Judge Jansen was a very big deal.
So I told the web producer (who’s black, by the way, though I’m not sure if that’s important) to go ahead and report on it and let me have a quick look before he pushed the publish button.
In case you somehow missed it or have forgotten, Judge Jansen made some rather ridiculous generalisations to Schutte in a “private chat” online. She apparently based these views entirely on the dregs of humanity who were hauled before her over the years on a regular basis to be judged for their crimes. These crimes were, quite predictably, murder, rape, molestation and so on, which is similar to the terrible crime stories that media people like myself are confronted with every day in the news stories we have to publish.
However, it doesn’t matter how many stories about rape and murder I read, I doubt I’ll ever come to feel that “rape is part of black culture” and that I could ever think it impossible to find “a 12-year-old black girl who’d never been raped” (Jansen’s exact words).
Jansen told Schutte that, in her view, such fortunate young black 12-year-olds do not exist. Perhaps if the only black people I ever met were those in chains in a courtroom charged with despicable crimes, I might also come to some very uncharitable conclusions about all black people, but fortunately I have a bit of a life. And Jansen should definitely be getting out more.
It is truly extraordinary that this judge is yet to publicly acknowledge how daft and racist her views actually are, and that she has persisted desperately in trying to blame Schutte for all her current problems. She’s gone as far as to call Schutte “a coward” and has repeatedly tried to cast herself as the victim, with these latest “threats on her life”, true or not, being part of the pattern.
Despite all this, let’s try to keep in mind that saying a dumb thing doesn’t become less moronic just because millions of people suddenly find out that you said it. It just becomes more embarrassing. Schutte was perfectly correct and justified in expressing her concern that Jansen was working as someone expected to decide the fate of black people and she had clearly expressed a strong prejudice against them. If I were black, would I feel comfortable with Jansen holding the gavel? No.
Being cowardly would have been to do nothing at all, and Schutte did the right thing by going public.
But to come back to her disgust at our report about her saying that all whites are racist: in our defence, my journalist mostly just reported exactly what she had said, that “all whites are racist by virtue of their birth into a system of privilege based on a false construct of race, thus I say all whites are racist until whiteness is defunct”.
My web producer likes to use the words “tongue-lashing” when he writes about people having disagreements, and so when he saw a few comments from people criticising her, he mentioned them in that way – as he felt it might be important to point out that Schutte has critics even on her Facebook page (inevitable when you’ve got close to 5 000 “friends”).
My colleague originally just called her a “journalist and filmmaker” and I added the dreaded word ‘liberal’ (which I’ve subsequently discovered is perceived as an insulting word according to some of Schutte’s Facebook supporters and her own writings, which I’ve had to go and brush up on). ‘Liberal’ has become a bit of a swear word ever since it’s been lumped in with the theories of liberal (and hypercapitalist) economics, but to me it still just simply means what it always has in the classic sense (and I’m quoting the Collins Dictionary here): “relating to or having social and political views that favour progress and reform; relating to or having policies or views advocating individual freedom; or giving and generous in temperament or behaviour”. None of these things were descriptions I expected anyone they’re applied to would feel particularly offended being labelled as, especially if they are an activist for social justice, as Schutte clearly is.
All this aside, my journalist colleague and I published the story not only because anything about race in South Africa is “sensational” and “gets read” (and the article was indeed read and is still being read), but because what Schutte said was extreme and absurd.
It’s been a while since I did first-year philosophy, but I know what a syllogism is. For Schutte to say that “all whites are racist”, paired with the unsaid statement that’s evident by her face and name alone, namely that “I, Gillian Schutte am white”, ergo, Gillian Schutte is, by her own poor logic, a racist. And why should we care what yet another racist thinks.
It reminded me a little of that childhood conundrum that used to make my brain melt when I was eight years old, namely the statement that “everything I say is a lie”.
So … does that mean that he’s telling a lie about everything being a lie … meaning that he actually means he’s always telling the truth? At which point, my eight-year-old self gave up on thinking and went back to playing in the sand.
If that is her argument, namely that “I, Gillian Schutte, am a racist and so are all other white people”, I would have liked her to be clearer on that being her view.
A mischievous voice in the back of my head was hoping that our little story would prompt a sensible conversation about how a generalisation such as “all whites are racist” is obviously stupid, regardless of how you try to justify it. There isn’t a “context” that doesn’t make it a daft generalisation that could simply never be justified, just as there wasn’t a “context” that Schutte took Jansen’s comments out of (as the judge claims happened).
Daft is daft and, while I don’t think Schutte’s intentions were anything but noble and she was probably just trying to shock people out of a sense of comfortable complacency in their white skins (and no doubt she was frustrated by the never-ending stupidities, prejudices and hatreds of other people that she was encountering on her own), I don’t think what my young reporter said about her Facebook post was evidence of “bias” in the “mainstream media”, as she claims, or that it was “disgusting”.
She went as far as to speculate that we ran the report about her because “the whiteness machinery has still not got over the outing of Judge Mabel Jansen”, as if somehow we were upset that Jansen is now having a hard time and we want to blame Schutte for it.
Here’s that post:
I can’t speak for what eNCA thinks, but let me be clear: my colleague and I, as the “mainstream media” could not care less about poor Mabel Jansen’s “pain”. We weren’t “machining” against Schutte.
But in trying to somehow make out that we did, Schutte was trying to cast herself as a victim in a way not entirely dissimilar to what Jansen herself has been trying to do, which made me consider the bit of wisdom that this now-torrid Jansen racist saga has no heroes, just people telling themselves the lie – as most people do – that, “Hey! I’m the good guy here! Why aren’t you noticing that?”
Cilliers is the Citizen.co.za digital editor. He writes in his personal capacity and, like all our columnists, his views are his own, not representative of The Citizen or the Caxton Group (or the nasty “mainstream media” as a whole, for that matter)