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Why I can’t ‘get over’ apartheid

By Khanya Mathambo

As a black girl attending a private school, where white people are the majority, I often find myself on the opposing side of controversial issues. I think that this is a result of my own bias and what I feel are the blatantly ignorant views that form the basis of the opinions expressed by my peers. Many of my peers are so inward that they think that racism does not exist because they have never witnessed or experienced it. My intention is not to stereotype because, individually, people do not frequently present as narrow-minded, but as a collective their opinions are those that solely belong to the privileged.

White privilege is a very difficult topic to discuss. Those who benefit from this privilege vehemently deny that it is still detrimentally affecting the lives of people of colour to this day. And because many people of colour do not want to be seen as the run-of-the-mill angry “reverse racist”, we shy away from speaking about the topic. However, when white privilege is mentioned the first rebuttal is, “But there’s BEE now! White people have become victims of black supremacy!”. This sense of ownership over opportunities is, in itself, a sign of white privilege. This cry of the “racism” facing white people ignores how white people have never been and are not being occupied or oppressed purely because of their race, as black people were, and still are, around the world. And as Bantu Stephen Biko said, “… one cannot be a racist unless he has the power to subjugate”.

These opinions are regularly coupled with the statement that it was white people who brought civilisation to Africa. However, this “civilisation” was built on the backs of black slaves, purely for the benefit of the white man. Thus, the insistence that people like Cecil John Rhodes should be celebrated for transforming South Africa and, as a result, black people should be grateful to him and others like him, is backward. He may be a part of our history that should be remembered but the people he institutionally subjugated should not be expected to be thankful for his “contributions” to South Africa.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, Martin Luther King Junior wrote that he has “been gravely disappointed by the white moderate … who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice”. It is the white moderate who insisted that my friend and I were taking the matter too far when we reported an undisguised racist to his university. It is the white moderate that expects me to passively accept discrimination with the full knowledge that people fought and died so I did not have to face such discrimination. And so is it not obviously my duty to fight for my children and their children to come?

The white privileged answer to racism is to pretend that both race and racism do not exist. While this, to some, may sound like the ideal solution, it merely presents a plethora of other problems. It negates the injustices that affect people purely because of their race. Not only does this belittle the people affected by racism, it also introduces the concept of “colour blind racism” which aids the continuation of institutionalised racism. The refusal to see race will also only result in cultural assimilation, which “is the process by which a person or a group’s language and/or culture come to resemble another group”. And once all people of colour have adopted the language and culture of white people, will that not signal the success of white supremacy?

As a black girl going to a school where white people are a majority, I am expected to “get over apartheid” because my place in a private school immediately means I am not being affected by racism. Even so, how can I forget it when the majority of black workers at said school are cleaners or manual labourers as apartheid intended them to be? That, similarly to the Rhodes statue, constantly reminds me that, as a race, black people still have a long way to go before we can say we have escaped the clutches of apartheid. Thus, after rumination, the main goal should no longer be to gain acceptance by whitewashing myself or ignoring micro-aggression, but it is to continue the struggle for complete liberation.

Khanya Mathambo is a Matric student at a private school in Durban

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