Many were outraged by a viral video of a white woman in South Africa teaching Black domestic workers how to wash their hands.
In footage posted to Twitter last week, a white woman gives a handwashing tutorial to more than a dozen adults. The woman is identified only by the likely pseudonym “Shelley,” and she appears to be standing in the courtyard of a suburban Johannesburg upscale apartment complex with Black staff who live there and help maintain the building and nearby grounds, as well as provide service to residents.
The video starts with a debate between a group of white people who had opposing opinions about the hygiene lesson. The unidentified man filming the video appeared to have a problem with it, while Shelley and another man insist the tutorial would be beneficial.
“This isn’t for you. This is for the residents,” Shelley told the cameraman before she began speaking to the domestic workers. She tried to get him to back up but he refused.
Shelley stood behind a table holding a bowl, soap and other supplies as she slowly explained the 20-second hand-washing steps recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the beginning of her lesson, Shelley addressed the crowd as “girls” before switching to “gentlemen and ladies.”
“We’re going to have a little bit of fun here,” she started as if she were speaking to a group of preschoolers. The employees stared at her with stoic expressions on many of their faces. “When I am finished and you understand, for 20 seconds, it will make a difference. I’m trying to make this into, not a lecture, not a lecture, I want to make this fun.”
“Fully grown adults, being told how to sink,” the person filming said with disapproval.
Shelley washed her hands and urged the workers to count with her. She also suggested they sing “Happy Birthday” to ensure they washed for at least 20 seconds.
“This is ridiculous,” the cameraman said. “This is absolutely insane.”
Several angry Twitter users agreed with his assessment.
“Livid isn’t enough to describe how angry this makes me. I want her arrested,” wrote one person.
“This is a different kind of racism, effortless racism,” observed another. “It comes naturally sought of like breathing, Peak whiteness.”
“How are you teaching a domestic worker how to wash their hands????? They know more about cleanliness than you…. honestly I’m disgusted by white privilege and ignorance,” said another critic.
The anonymous man told the Times Live South African newspaper he didn’t want to villanize Shelley but he was concerned about the workers, who live on the fifth floor of the building.
“My intentions were to ensure that the workers are treated with respect, dignity and have equal rights as residents at Walton Heath,” he told the outlet.
The man added, “Many of them have stopped me and or sent WhatsApp messages saying how grateful they are. They thanked me several times because they say they finally have a voice.”