Richard Baholo burning and our ‘concern trolling’

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Until his painting was one of those burnt by students at the University of Cape Town last week, Keresemose Richard Baholo was essentially missing from public discourse and memory

Furthermore, his work and contribution to work in this country are neither exalted nor taught in our appalling education system, which continues to not teach young people the history they should know – but somehow expects them to know it.

He, like many other black artists, contributors, professionals and thinkers, simply did not exist as far as current thinking was concerned.

Last week, however, his name and the fact that his was a protest work has repeatedly been mentioned as some kind of irony.

Many new friends of Baholo, who are using his name to point out some great hypocrisy, are concern trolls.

defines “a concern troll as a person who participates in a debate posing as an actual or potential ally who simply has some concerns they need answered before they will ally themselves with a cause. In reality, they are a critic.”

The friends of Baholo are not actually concerned for Baholo, because, if they were, the education system that continues to teach young people that “good”, “masterful” and “pioneering” art is predominantly by white, straight men (many of whom are appropriators) would be fundamentally different.

This education system, even the so-called good private system, teaches children about Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Beatles and little or nothing about Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Nina Simone, James Brown and endless other black talents and minds.

It still teaches entire syllabuses on Shakespeare and little or nothing on Sol Plaatje, Zakes Mda, Chinua Achebe, Miriam Tlali and others.

There is a gross erasure of the contributions and work of black artists and performers, and now some want to use their marginalised work as a critique of students who have taken the matter of decolonisation further than previous generations.

Often, these are the same people who want to be prescriptive on how young people who inherited an untransformed society should respond to the massive task now conveniently left for them.

To invoke Baholo’s name as though we actually care, and as though we have an education system that teaches young people about our Richard Baholos, is deceitful.

And to criticise that is not the same as saying art should be destroyed.

If we really cared about the Baholos and their work, about decolonisation and transformation, we wouldn’t have left the transformation of a desperately imperfect education system to the very same young people we have allowed to be (mis)educated by it.

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