2016-03-20 03:48

Let’s start from the beginning...

In the Genesis there is a country called South Africa with a university built by white people for economic purposes of white people. They are the ones who built it, not because they are a people of a special kind but rather because they used violence, they stole, they trespassed and they came to this land and conquered it.

This conquer created a special privilege for them called genealogy. A privilege basically that says since they conquered, they therefore took over and made the rules. Their generations and many other generations to come also benefit from this privilege because even their offspring today benefits from being descended of people who traditionally made the rules.

Whites have the privilege of having largely came to South Africa voluntarily and were able to secure land and homes, and “legally” able to own other human beings. This afforded whites a major privilege, that of being able to define normality or of assuming that their perspectives on everything under the sun is to be defined as the norm. The establishment of universities by them also followed the same logic.

When in the university students are accepted into the system as 1st years, there tends to be a blanket approach of treating them as the same simply because all their student numbers start with s216 in 2016. The fact that they lived for 18 years before coming into the system is not really regarded much and the fact that those 18 years they lived beforehand were not the same experience. Others had more privileges than others.

Given the racial socio-economic realities that define our society, there is a high possibility that the white 1st year student in their 18 years of experience in primary school & high school had (1) ample space at home (2) parents & siblings to help with homework (3) a desk, computer, learning software etc., and 4) a stress-free environment in which to study whereas the lower-class black child often does not have the same privileges.

We know that with the black child, there is a high possibility that they are confronted with (1) weak social controls in the family, churches and the community (2) weakened parental supervision and one parent being absent (3) a drug infested society (4) a small house with a lot of sharing of basic necessities & space (5) a knowledge that all progress, success, career, wealth & prestige were intended for whites (6) extreme violence and consistent police presence & police brutality (7) hopelessness, disempowerment and alienation.

Most importantly, the black child lacks the cultural capital that is taken for granted in white families. Cultural capital is another form of white privilege. Cultural capital represents social benefits that promote well-being. These include things such as (1) socialization on how to be respectful to white authority figures (e.g., teachers, judges, lecturers, employers), (2) education, (3) intellect, (4) modes of speech (e.g., the white accent "twanging”), (5) modes of dress (e.g., being neat & cool instead of “kasi/ratched looking” and (6) being taught how to resolve disputes diplomatically rather than with insults, crying or aggression.

The problems that disadvantaged black students will have in a white setting such as the university are predictable. The black child has been indoctrinated by the materialistic capitalist culture to have the same aspirations as other kids with reference to achieving middle-class status. He also wants a job, house, car, security, retirement account, adequate health care, and vacation time with a family. When he confronts the white university culture, however, he experiences extreme cultural shock and disadvantage because the university functions according to white middle-class rules.

This disadvantage illustrates the middle-class measuring rods that whites have imposed on education through genealogy. The criteria for success in the white university atmosphere includes: (1) ambition, (2) individual responsibility, (3) manners and courtesy, (4) neatness, (5) delayed gratification, (6) skills and achievement acquisition, (7) rationality and planning, (8) refraining from violence, and (9) respect for authority.

White students are taught and socialized into these values from an early age. This gives them a huge head start in life given that they will be evaluated according to the same standards together with black students. Given the magnitude of the obstacles placed in the way of black students, success in the lecture room space in the university becomes problematic as well. White academic measuring standards created and evaluated by white lecturers are relatively easy for white students to follow. When the rules are made by whites, for whites, it is easy, for example, to believe in individual responsibility while simultaneously eschewing communal responsibility.

Even during consultation hours, white students when consulting a white lecturer in their office about a subject content, they get to communicate in their mother tongue together and the white students gets more than what they bargained for in the consultation. A privilege that a black student does not have.

White students have convinced themselves that the playing field is level for everyone and if you have ambition and work hard you will succeed. However, as we have seen, the playing field is not level at all - it leaves black students at a competitive disadvantage. Blacks are told that if they fail it is because they are substandard. This of course helps to explain the self-hating that many poor black students exhibit because they are told that everyone should make it on their own merit. The worst part is that whites genuinely believe that they make it on their own merit and not with the aid of white privilege.


Whites have adopted a way of ignoring the problems of inequality and systemic racism by coining what is called the "celebration of diversity." The goal of celebrating diversity is to give equal opportunity to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, handicap status, sexual preference, etc. This is only a superficial goal of course because the real goal of celebrating diversity is to create the impression of fairness and equal opportunity while simultaneously ensuring that there is no meaningful redistribution of resources away from the white ruling elite.

Diversity allows whites to remain oblivious to racial inequality and systemic racism. Whites can pat themselves on the back for hiring a black person in their company and they are able to successfully neutralize the guilt that would be manifest if they were truly race conscious. Not only are whites not race conscious, but they actually pride themselves on being "colorblind."

It is common, for example, to hear white students who become distressed while discussing these issues, say things such as, “I am colorblind. I do not see race,” or “we are all just human beings,” or “lets focus on how we are similar,” or “why are blacks so sensitive all the time about race,” or “why do blacks focus so much on racial differences; isn't that racist too?”

Whites clearly have a vested interest in ignoring, or at least obfuscating, any distinctions to be made about race. As long as "we are all just humans," and "people who fail do so because they are substandard," whites do not have to confront the systemic racism in South Africa and the extremely hard work that must be done to bring about economic and social justice.

In light of the above discussion, the question becomes how can we get future generations of students made aware of the impact of systemic racism? The only way to do this is to continually raise these issues in ALL university classes particularly at 1st year level. Students, particularly whites, have to be made aware not only of the harmful effects of overt racism but must also come to see the privileges they have been given that are completely independent of their merits, abilities, intellect or hard work.

It is essential to point out that whiteness, while an unearned privilege that is granted in South Africa, it is not the only one available. In fact, there are copious categories of privilege available. For example, a person is privileged over others if the person is: (1) heterosexual, (2) male, (3) Christian, (4) upper-class, (5) physically able, (6) mentally healthy, and (7) educated. A white person, for example, who is gay, atheist, female, handicapped, has a mental illness, and is undereducated, is not better off than a wealthy black who is a university graduate.


The university in general and education in particular both need to be radically decolonized urgently. Education must seek to change the living conditions of people. It cannot be that our education produces graduates who hate the rural areas and the townships they grew up in because of the hostility of the university culture they were exposed to which taught them to hate themselves. Our curriculum is constructed in a fashion that it makes black students have disgust towards the communities they come from. They have an uncontrollable lust and desire for the city life.

Lets change things. Lets create a new university environment where it is going to feel like indeed colonialism ended. Lets produce an alternative education system that will be informed by the local philosophies of education and knowledge production. Lets bring back the connection between real practical life experiences of our people and learning. Lets have a value system in our universities that will mirror rurality, township lifestyles and contexts because that is essentially what South Africa truly is. The philosophy of Ubuntu and the pedagogy of its ideas must be visible in our education system.

Talent, ideas and expertise from the spaces I have mentioned above must not be crushed. If the education system does not grapple with this exclusion, there will forever be a large population whom education can never be said was for them. Education will remain persistently for the rich – for the few – for the selfish – for me – for myself- and I




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