It’s a sweetly grey day – warm, dry, a fresh breeze that feels like cool water – and it should be my favourite sort of day, a time for reflection with a gentle edge of melancholy. Instead, the edge feels more like unease. The night before last I ran a small experiment on Twitter to test toxicity levels, and for the first time it came back as close to deadly.
Browsing, I pick up on a thread where a group of young professionals are discussing their experiences in the workplace: how white South Africans often get fast-tracked into management and other deeply unfair practices. By the time I click into the thread various people are stating that whites never do internships and simply get promoted straight from school. So I take a chance and post that this is not true – while it can happen, professions requiring internships mean they’re mandatory for everyone. I add that the internships I’ve been exposed to had kids from every demographic and end with my own experience of having to work my way up to management. My motive? To introduce another angle, a fact. And then I wait to see whether this will bloom into a robust discussion (as it often has), signalling some flow of clean air and water through the system, or whether we’ve reached a level of toxicity where no interaction can thrive.
It takes less than five minutes for a reply which signals an intense backlash – predictably, I’m racist, I’m negating everyone’s experience by voicing my own, and (confusing for me): because people have experienced fast-tracking, the fact that white people do internships does not negate the truth of the statement that white people don’t do internships – it is made true by the personal experiences of a handful of people on Twitter. This is the point that gets belaboured for hours.
I persevere – my replies are calm: I acknowledge and rue the unfairness that exists alongside multi-demographical internships, and I hope to steer it to a discussion about the kind of practical solutions that could work in SA, but we remain stuck on the assertion that I’m, apparently, a racist who tries to obliterate everyone else’s experience with my own.
And that’s when I realise that we’ve passed some sort of tipping point: everything is subjective except for me. I may not be objective, subjective or even allowed to speak. Both the air and the water have been poisoned.