Evelyn Groenink and Bart Luirink

The Case of Siba Nkumbi / Racism?

Siba Nkumbi and her South African friends, members of Zanele Muholi's crew, don’t doubt it: the airbnb owner who pushed Nkumbi down the stairs in Amsterdam on Saturday July 8th is a racist. Immediately, social media are full of denial. The women “judge too quickly.” They were in the wrong because they checked out late. It could just as well have been a white woman.

The latter however is very unlikely. Because this is exactly what it is about racism: that apparently impulsive action -in this case manslaughter- against black people, whether or not prompted by irritation about certain behaviour, is often fueled by prejudice. In this sense, racism is not a strange criminal thing that only total Nazis exhibit: ultimately everyone is infused with prejudice. These feelings usually don’t come to the fore and explode in anger when we are happy and content with the behaviour of the ‘other.’ But they do very often lead to insults and violence when the ‘other’ is judged by the dominant party -and in this world that is still practically always the white party- to misbehave, when she talks back, has a big mouth. When she behaves as if she thinks she is a ‘queen,’ as the airbnb owner shouted at Siba Nkumbi.

Siba Nkumbi has a big mouth -Zanele Muholi wouldn’t have her in her crew otherwise. Muholi, Nkumbi, and the others in their group, being black female activists from South Africa, have vast life experience and expertise on the subject of white male violence. It is therefore unreasonable and unfair to immediately reject the South African women’s assessment of the incident as racist. They understood what was going on as soon as the airbnb owner started to refer to the women as “you people, you people” and pointing at their hair. They know that irritation for a late checkout would very likely not have led to violence if they had been white.
Still, that is what many responses from white people on social media seem to say.

The Amsterdam police arrested the airbnb owner last Saturday. Two female agents visited Nkumbi in the hospital and took her statement. They responded promptly and appropriately. “But there is no racism,” a police spokesman said on Monday. Why he said that, he did not explain. But, like the white Facebook commentators, he also seemed simply convinced that racism is a very rare thing and that an angry white man who hurts a black woman for a late check out must surely be totally free of any prejudice

Every time that this happens, the lived black experience is dismissed and insult is added to injury.