Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Access to white privilege equals freedom?

Since the mid-1980s, many black parents have sent their children to “white schools”. Much as they may have been criticised, they have not been bothered.

In the first years of their schooling, these children would, unavoidably, be one of five children, at most, in a class.

Some parents worried that this would make them lose contact with their African culture, heritage and identity. But growing up in an integrated world that strives towards non-racism and equality cannot make anybody less African. Instead, it helps children understand the complex nature of the elusive South African identity in a fast-changing world at a much earlier age.

Those who chose “white schools” should refuse to be shamed by accusations of raising “coconuts”, that is kids who are black outside but white inside.

For years, many middle-class parents were embarrassed and afraid to look at critics in the eye for trying to do the best they could for their children. But the motive for sending children to “white schools” was simply to give them access to a good education. Above all, it was to help them be part of a just and equal society that, presumably, everyone is trying to build.

Unfortunately, many people born before 1985 have been condemned by history to always look at things in terms of black and white. The motive for sending black children to “”white schools” is not because parents are, necessarily, well-off but want to give their children the best this country has to offer.

There are many parents who do menial jobs like domestic help, or work as messengers, cashiers or gardeners and sacrifice everything to give their children the best education, whatever that means.

Those who pursue the rainbow nation dream should be outraged and disappointed that after 20 years of democracy and freedom some white parents continue to move away or withdraw their children from schools because of the presence of African children. This is, simply, anti-nation building and social cohesion.

Even Nelson Mandela would feel awkward at this development, which undermines his dream of a non-racial, united and prosperous nation. In fact, citizens should be concerned that this is still a pattern in a country that holds so much promise for non-racism, equality and justice in the world.

It would be highly irresponsible for any proud and caring citizen to say they give do not give a damn about the “white flight” from increasingly Africanised neighbourhoods and schools. This spells death to the dream of non-racism, equality and justice.

We should be thankful that Africans have not chased whites into the sea. But some whites are holding their ground and running away from helping realise a non-racial society that so many people sacrificed their lives for.

In fact, to hell with racism, this must come to an immediate stop. It undermines the principles of our Constitution. We demand non-racism, justice and equality for all children, here and now.

But, again, it is superficial to solely attribute this withdrawal and flight to white racism. It is only human and natural for people to want the best for their families and friends. Remember we live in an economic system that promotes greed and selfishness.

Much as there is enough for all our needs in this beautiful country, there are far too few people that are willing to share and redistribute what they have. Instead, everybody wants more for themselves, only.

But there are some African, Indian and coloured parents that withdraw their children from schools because they are becoming “too black”.

But black is the new colour-blindness and not a threat to this country but its future.

Since 1985, when PW Botha scrapped the Separate Amenities Act, an increasing number of Africans have been afforded the privilege to attend previous whites-only schools. This is the environment that shaped and developed the awareness that equality and justice will always mean black access to white privilege.

In fact, as early as 1912 with the founding of the African National Congress there was a belief that justice and equality means access to white privilege. Thus for many previously disadvantaged people, especially Africans, freedom and justice meant having what white people have. Period!

After all, whites were seen to have enjoyed the best this country had to offer for more than 300 years. For many Africans to be convinced that they have the best they must have what whites have: money, plush homes with swimming pools, two cars and, above all, a quality education for their children. It will take a millennium to convince African people otherwise, that white privilege equals the best.

The impulse is to sneer at the notion of white equals good. But it is not about promoting white superiority and racism. At this odd moment in history, for many Africans justice and equality is only possible when they have access to white privilege.

The easiest thing to do would be for self-appointed Black Consciousness adherents to dismiss this thinking and attitude as upholding white superiority and racism. It is a distortion to consider this perception as simply meaning white equals good. But there is always that danger.

Africans parents need to make it clear that their wish to send their children to “white schools” is neither to promote white superiority nor to celebrate whiteness, whatever that means today. It is simply to give their children access to what is, right or wrong, perceived to be the best in this country.

And what is wrong if African people want equal access to that?

The guilt of sending an African child to a white school is fading, slowly. If we want to build the brightest future for our children to grow up and live in a non-racial and democratic society, characterised by justice and equality, white parents will have to come to the party.

It is time that whites acknowledged and recognised that this country belongs to all who live in it. All children have a right to quality education. If, for now, that is available in dominantly “white schools”, let the children go to the best institutions in this country.

It is not about being black or white but creating opportunities for the future citizens of this country.

Tags: , , ,

  • The Place of Sara Baartman at UCT
  • Committed to teaching in the midst of smog: Five turnaround strategies for rural schools
  • Some Remarks On A ‘Good’ University
  • Aesthetics of power and questioning what a ‘good’ university is