‘First black something’ title should spur middle class to open doors for others

2015-07-20 16:35
Picture: Lucky Nxumalo/City Press

Picture: Lucky Nxumalo/City Press

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ANC leaders must appease youth and middle class

2015-01-12 13:42

Speaking during the ANC's 103rd birthday celebration at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday President Jacob Zuma said "the youth must be militant but disciplined." News24 editor Andrew Trench believes the ANC is walking the line between appeasing the growing black middle class and the disempowered youth. Watch. WATCH


“Does the title – first black female to obtain a PhD in mathematics – bother you?” Bob Mabena asked Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng in a radio interview early this year. Her response was calculated and to the point. 

“Well, it doesn’t [bother me] ... I think it was important for me to know that ... It made me think about ... I’m the first, so what? I don’t want to be the last. What is it that I can do to make sure that I’m not the last. Had I not been told that I’m the first, I wouldn’t have the discomfort of not wanting to be the last,” she said.   

“That discomfort sat with me and that’s why I started the adopt a learner initiative to get learners who are like me – black, from the township and villages – to get higher education and see the possibility of becoming academics.” 

The “first black something” is often used as a compliment or there’s an expectation for it to be received as such. Most subjects relish in the connotations that come with the title and some even go further to protect their turf and remain the “only black something”. 

Mokgethi’s statement is a clarion call to everyone who’s made it to the top in whatever field of work to open doors for others and make sure that success is not reserved for a selected few. There’s certainly nothing to lose and a lot to gain from this selfless act. 

It is not uncommon to hear stories of the “first black something” protecting the status quo with their miserable life. As soon as the second and third black somethings move into this creature’s turf they head for the hills where they’ll remain the “one and only black something”. Pathetic. 

It’s high time that people of means realise that not all is well with being “the only black at a dinner party”. Granted, one might have worked hard to get there and owes no one any favours. Kudos for that, but having an extra Khumalo or Mdlalose won’t really make one any less important. Just thinking out loud ... 

Read more on:    black middle class

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