Khaya Dlanga

#PretoriaGirlsHigh and the myth of multiculturalism

2016-08-29 09:55
Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga

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Khaya Dlanga

The world finds a black woman who fights for what is rightfully hers offensive. Here is a school called Pretoria High School for Girls where black girls' bodies are being policed under the rules of white respectability.

According to one @SiyaNtombela_ on Twitter, black girls were told that their hairstyles are not acceptable by the community.

I began to wonder what community. Who is this community? The white students? The parents of the white students? The neighbourhood where the school is? Are the black students not the community too?

After home, the first place racism has to be destroyed is at schools. Children shouldn’t have to be fighting racism. Especially in 2016. Yet here we are. Schools are the last bastions of racism in conduct.

"Don't speak that funny language," is something most black students who have gone to white schools have heard many times over. Yet children who spoke Afrikaans were not told not to speak it, nor was it ever called, "that funny language".

"Stop walking like you are in a taxi rank", "Walk quietly, this is not a toyi toyi", "Walk faster, this is not a go slow", are some of the racist things said to black students by their white teachers when I was in school.

The idea of multiculturalism is great on paper, but it is never put into practice in real life. It is a myth. What schools mean by multiculturalism is assimilation and domination of all other cultures by one to form a monoculture. Into whiteness or that which is Western. The education system's single greatest task is to wash Africanness away. What is best for the African is not African, it is whiteness. That is what the black child is taught in schools every single day.

The way forward

We cannot continue begging for acceptance in a world that is happy to accept black money but not the Africanness it comes with. This is why black-owned and controlled private schools are the way forward. These schools would teach a world history that does not only preach white achievements in the advances the world has made but contributions of the brown people of the world too. The idea that human progress has only come from the white people and not the entirety of the beautiful human race must come to an end. The University of Timbuktu for example is one of the world’s first. In the 14th century, it facilitated more than 25 000 students also making it the world’s biggest. These things children are not taught because we are meant to bow down before the altar of whiteness.

Many of these previously white-only schools have, for the most part, only white teachers. All figures of authority are white. The black staff are janitors, security guards and cleaners. Some children go through entire school careers never ever having been taught by black teacher. What that teaches children, especially white ones, is that any person who should have a position of authority is white. Therefore, white people are born and are meant to be bosses and leaders. That is what your mind will do if that is what you have seen your whole life. Black children on the other hand whose parents can afford to take them to these schools are often people in position of some authority, therefore, for the black child, it is not unusual for her.

Schools must start accepting that they are in Africa, not Europe and act accordingly.

Africanness is not an iota inferior to that of the West. Teachers say that because it is a nice thing to say, yet they do not believe it. Worse, their behavior also shows that they believe African culture is inferior.

When I was in school my English teacher had to go away for a term in study break. My entire primary and high school career in white schools, I never had a single black teacher. There was not a single black teacher in the schools while I was there.

An attack on my dignity

We had a substitute teacher and she asked us to write an essay over the weekend. After she was done marking the essays, she gave everyone their book and marks but me. I recount the event in my book, To Quote Myself as follows:

"‘Who wrote this essay?’ she asked.? ‘I did, Miss,’ I replied.? ‘Are you sure?’ she asked. ‘Yes, I am very sure I did, Miss,’ I replied, impatient. Obviously I had written a very bad essay and I was prepared to own it and take whatever I had to take for having written it.

‘What does this word mean?’ she asked as she pointed at my slanted hand- writing. I told her the meaning. Then her finger went down the page and pointed at another word. She asked, ‘What does this word mean?’ Again I told her. ‘What does this one mean?’ I told her and as her finger scrolled down the page to another word, I felt my dignity assaulted. It occurred to me that she did not believe I had written the essay and she did not think I knew the meaning of the words I had written down. She was sliding her accusing fingers over each letter, sentence, paragraph – the entire essay.

‘Excuse me, Miss? Why didn’t you ask anybody else in this class to tell you the meaning of the words in their essays?’ It was code for asking why I was being singled out as the black kid in the class, although that argument couldn’t really work because there were two other black pupils in the class. She told me she was not convinced I had written the essay on my own.

I responded, ‘Miss, if you had done your homework, you would have seen that I received the highest mark in the class for English essays in the most recent June exams, which were marked by the principal himself, Mr Friend.’ I had never talked to a teacher like that in my life, but then again, I had never had to suffer through such obvious doubt about my abilities and an attack on my dignity from a person who was supposed to be my teacher.

From that day on, I refused to answer any question she asked me in class."

All schools have to remember where they are. We are with the children of Pretoria High School for Girls. Fighting a fight they should not have to fight in the first place. Viva class of 2016.  

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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