Does white privilege survive longer than we would want it to?

2019-06-12 11:31
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As a white person it is a tantalising temptation to believe that the whole privilege thing will just go away after the law was changed. Take privilege out and our conscience is wiped, clean, we are home free. Unfortunately that is not how it works.

In short, I am going with Professor Madonsela on this issue. The impact of white privilege from the whole colonial and apartheid eras will stay with us for years to come. It cannot be legislated away. A super effort from all of us would be required to neutralise its effects over the coming decades.

Society is cumulative, because it builds on knowledge and values, which is cumulative too, and not necessarily always positive. Each generation builds on the previous one. A parent transfers to her children more than just the intentional stuff. Pink Floyd said it so well in "The Wall". Mother is gonna put all her fears into you.

That is why the white privilege thing is ingrained in the minds of so many South Africans. On the white side a sizable portion of white society still believe in the superiority of white people. They see Jacob Zuma and just know he is a bad politician because he is black: they have already forgotten about PW Botha (or insert another appropriate name, I can think of many), who was a bad politician, though white.

On the other side is the tragic result of South Africa's history. The white privilege convinced whites that they deserved the benefits, but it also convinced too many black people that the whites indeed deserved it. More than a generation of black people had their self-worth undermined by universal doubt in themselves as blacks, and this lingers in the psyche of black society where mothers could not help but transfer their own fears on to their children. Unfortunately the things we learn before we go to school are the obvious truths we live our lives with. It takes a mammoth effort to change the biases we developed during our formative years. It is called "formative" for a reason.

It is fantastic that we could change most of society to accept everybody should be legally treated as equals. However, to change the way people see themselves collectively will take more than a generation. It is the average guy that needs more support to cope with the demands of modern life, and unfortunately it is this very same average guy who will need more time to start believing in himself.

All black people need to believe they can successfully take responsibility for their own lives, even after black society's self-confidence were undermined by white privilege conditions for centuries. White people also need to know they have to (and can, mostly) compete as equals with everybody else in the country when carving out a living. Parents have to make a conscious effort to reduce the transfer of all those bad dreams. Unfortunately most parents are amateurs, doing this child raising thing for the first time, and changing normal human nature won't be easy - success and rapid elimination of the long-term impact of white privilege won't be the general result for this generation's children, I fear.

Sorry, Helen, getting rid of the long-term impact of white privilege on our society has not been accomplished. There is a long way still to go. People need to really believe in themselves before they can start to take responsibility for themselves and for the country. White privilege is hampering both white and black members of society to honestly believe in their own ability to take charge. A false sense of superiority is as much of a problem as a false sense of inferiority, and these two factors are not going to disappear any time soon.

Freddy Kay

New Zealand

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