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#RhodesSoWhite and the disappointing lack of unity

On Tuesday, this post appeared concerning race on the Rhodes University SRC Facebook page:

RhodesUni

The post was presumably inspired by the recent issues surrounding UCT and the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, as well as the calls to change the name of Rhodes University.

The post gathered hundreds of comments of those either militantly in favour or fiercely against. While the frankness of the post may startle some, one cannot deny the significance of its plea.

Have a problem with the post? Well, you might. Chances are if you don’t then you’re probably in full support of it: the reaction to the post exhibited a very clear polarisation of opinions, showing the extent to which young people in South Africa — even when housed under the same roof — are divided. Addressing uncomfortable issues like race invariably instigates prickly arguments, rather than acting as a forum for constructive discussion with the ultimate goal of finding some measure of common understanding.

Maybe you — regardless of your race — deny the existence of white privilege as a very real and pernicious entity that dictates material distribution, race relations, and racial perceptions because you have limited knowledge and an unwillingness to apply genuine inquiry. Maybe you’re simply defensive and of the belief that such things are accusatory or that it aims to push people apart. And if you’re reading this article purely to find out my position on the matter then you’re part of the problem; discussions on race aren’t about the pathetic need to be seen as the one who is right or moral.

Those that comment with the tedious “we all suffer, not only blacks”, or “why don’t we fight for all people”, or anything that begins with “it’s 20 years into democracy” also completely miss the point. Progress can never be made by adopting a lousy and ineffectual sugary-sweet everything-is-as-it-should-be mentality.

What’s alarming about the reaction to the post is the noticeable refusal from those that were offended by it to simply listen to what was being said. Rather than provoking defensiveness of a misguided sense of self, the post implores one to question the underpinnings behind the relations between people of the university and, by extension, South Africa as a whole.

Rhodes University cannot prove its so-called diversity by having a student body that is so clearly split into groups of people who are steadfastly clinging on to their identities, becoming defensive and violent once their interpretation of the world around them is challenged.

What the conflict really shows is that young people lack the bravery and willingness to understand and engage with phenomena such as white privilege, lived experiences of black people, and the simple notion that, while it is indeed two decades since apartheid ended, people of colour have barely got themselves up off their backs.

This entire issue shows that the Rhodes University name change should be the last thing on everyone’s mind; addressing the worrying lack of unity and common ground among youth must be the priority. A name change is, ultimately, cosmetic: there are root issues that need immediate and thorough investigation. A consciousness overhaul is desperately needed if we are to make any progress in moving forward. It is up to the youth to doubt, question, and evaluate everything, putting aside the awful jibes and hostility.

One hopes the post can serve as a springboard for a robust discussion where petty prejudices and beliefs are set aside, where ignorance can be replaced with enlightenment, and where young people can unite towards a shared goal via and reasoned debate. For me, however, that is not what I think will happen. Each group will fight to be right, no one will be willing to listen to alternate viewpoints, fingers will be pointed, there will be those who ignore it completely, and this will be forgotten about this time next week.

11 Comments

  1. Human7002 Human7002 20 March 2015

    Good article, although I really would like to see the same sort of motivation for us to overcome rape, murder, theft, corruption, child prostitution, drugs, slavery etc…

  2. kerushun pillay kerushun pillay 20 March 2015

    The article calls mainly for understanding of root causes, which is the beginning of a solution for every problem. Understanding must come first.

  3. Gilda Patricia Mavromatis Gilda Patricia Mavromatis 23 March 2015

    Sorry Kerushan – the only thing I do agree with you is the lack of unity. However, to place the blame soley at the door of white privilege is both simplistic and naïve. I have a son in Grade 11 at school – all his friends of all colours are freedom children. Not one of them has known a life of anything other than a degree of privilege. Perhaps it’s time that those who protest the most start holding the government that they voted for to account for it’s lack of delivery and transformation. But no, that would require that people take responsibility for their actions and even harder work to change the outcome – much easier to fall back on white privilege. Why not ask why the government has continued to allow education for the masses to degenerate to the state where they are unable to qualify for decent tertiary education? Why not ask the government why their student funding system is so flawed? The solution to both is apparently to attack tertiary institutions and make sure that we bring them down to the same appalling level as the state education system. Do you honestly think that by rewriting history, the present or future of South Africans will change? No it won’t. Power to the people – but our people don’t want to use it because it comes with a responsibility for your actions and decisions – no more others to blame. Please, don’t for a moment think that I admire Mr Rhodes, but then should I admire Mr Shaka Zulu – a tyrant and murderer of great proportions? – let’s write him out of history too. Although white, I was a forced immigrant to this country in 1974. I was openly exposed to the NP discriminatory policies applied to any who weren’t South African. We too did not have access to credit facilities to buy the basics to progress and improve one’s situation in life. I spent and entire childhood being referred to as a “white k…r” because we dared disagree with the policies of the day, and many more such events. But I have no sense of entitlement …………. I do not continuously blame the past oppressors. I have worked hard ……and I have used my vote ……. and I have built a better life for my family through dedication, honesty and hard work. Perhaps that should be tried by some of our downtrodden university students.

  4. RSA.MommaCyndi RSA.MommaCyndi 23 March 2015

    Yes, dear. My tribe were very much privileged by knowing Rhodes. He made us famous. The fact that he made us famous by putting us in the first ever concentration camps didn’t really make us feel very privileged

  5. RSA.MommaCyndi RSA.MommaCyndi 23 March 2015

    Could I ask why you think that everyone should think in the same way?

  6. Mark Linderoth Mark Linderoth 24 March 2015

    Robust discussion would include saying hurtful things, which is kind of part of the problem. White privilege is one side of the coin, and you can only reach peoples hearts when they trust you to be fair. The fact is it’s easier to be skeinheilig than to honestly look at ones owns skeletons in the closet – and it seems to me that bashing white values is politically correct because of white ‘privilege’. However I disagree that ‘white privilege’ is causing what Human7002 refers to. That responsibility needs to be taken by all South Africans.

  7. David Robert Lewis David Robert Lewis 24 March 2015

    Dear Student

    It has come to our attention that you may be a student at the University of Cape Town born after June 17, 1991. As you may be aware, the Population Registration Act enforcing apartheid race categories was abolished on this date.

    We thus have no way of identifying what your race description or racial identity may or may not be, and consequently are unable to determine, which students are black and which students are white. In fact, any persons occupying any one of the several other apartheid race categories resulting from the policy of scientific racism implemented by the regime, also cannot be identified, with any accuracy.

    We would thus appreciate if you could attend a special ‘race classification’ session at Bremner Building later today, where a board of designated “race agents” will be utilizing the latest pencil test technology to determine if you happen to fall into any one of the designated groups allowed to be offended by the Rhodes Statue, and to consequently hold an opinion on the subject.

    Yours sincerely,
    ‪#‎RhodesMustFall‬

  8. Richard Richard 25 March 2015

    Interesting study, but ad hominem arguments cut no muster with me. My IQ is at the 99.7th percentile.

    What’s yours?

  9. Richard Richard 25 March 2015

    Actually, the first concentration camps were used in the USA during the Civil War.

  10. RSA.MommaCyndi RSA.MommaCyndi 25 March 2015

    To the best of my knowledge, they were prisoner of war camps and not death camps for women and children – I may be wrong though

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