Why white people cannot use certain terms

When I saw the tweet by journalist Carien du Plessis referring to pantypreneurs, it reminded me of a movie a few years ago in which a young white rapper hangs out with a group of black rappers. He is accepted into the group and is very comfortable in the group until one day he refers to one of the other rappers as “my N…”

He could not understand the outcry he caused by using the N-word when he was using it in a friendly, almost loveable way, just like he had seen or heard the others use it among themselves.

The problem was that he was not like them. Despite dressing like them, speaking like them, rapping like them, he was different. He was white and white people are not allowed to use the N-word. It is different when black people use it because they take ownership of an offensive word and use it almost in a satirical manner.

Du Plessis fell into the same trap.

No matter that the term “pantypreneur” is used widely in ANC and SACP circles, that did not give her the right to use the word, because, not only is she not an ANC member, but she is also white. And a journalist, to boot.

The ANC responded with venom, withdrawing Du Plessis’s accreditation to cover their birthday celebrations.

This is one of the conundrums of identity politics. This is why there was so much interest in the case of Rachel Dolezal, who was head of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in the United States when it was discovered that she was white.

As a black woman, Dolezal could speak with authority about issues related to black people in the USA. As a white woman, she lost that authority, no matter how much she claim that she identified with black people.

Du Plessis finally apologised to the ANC and was allowed to cover their birthday celebrations and, in a column, she tried to explain her slip-up as an affront to women. But it was not only an affront to women, but black women in particular.

Du Plessis said that “sisters” should not do what she did to other “sisters”. That is part of the problem. Even though she is a woman, Du Plessis will never really be a “sister” because she will never be able to change her skin colour, even though people used to be reclassified in apartheid South Africa.

"Sisters" is a term of affection used mainly among black women, in the same way as "brothers" is used among black men.

In the same way, the white rapper would never be accepted as black.

If anything, I hope that this incident will encourage people to be more circumspect before they tweet. It is not worth destroying your credibility and your career because of 140 characters.