This essay won the 2020 Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s Youth Essay Writing Competition Against Racism
Dear student of colour,
Welcome to an environment that is not conducive to learning. You may or may not receive textbooks and learning materials. We apologise for the limited opportunities available for your growth and the lack of support necessary. Please do note that you are still expected to perform at the same level as students who have access to everything they need and more. We know that your parents have worked incredibly hard but were not given the opportunities nor the resources to reach their full potential. This unfortunately means that through no fault of their own, your parents are unable to afford anything better, so please make do. From this point onward, we will pretend that this system does not disadvantage you on the basis of your skin colour.
An underfunded and under-resourced school
Dear student of colour,
Welcome to an environment where you may become the token student to prove that this school celebrates diversity. We know that your circumstances are most definitely different from those of your white counterparts but this will not be acknowledged beyond this point. When you are treated differently solely based on the colour of your skin, feel free to report this. We will likely take no action and you will be further victimised. For this reason, we suggest keeping your complaints to yourself. Further, do understand that we will require you to work twice, maybe even three times as hard as white students to earn recognition. However, we do reserve the right to withhold any awards and leadership positions to allocate them to a potentially less qualified candidate.
An inclusive private school
Dear parent of colour,
Thank you for choosing this school for your pride and joy. Congratulations on managing to overcome multiple hurdles to afford our exorbitant prices. Do, however, be aware that this will not guarantee that both you and your child are afforded the same respect and opportunities as your white counterparts. Your child has already been notified that the colour of their skin will likely impact their experience with us. Please do note, if you call out any injustice within our school, we will not hesitate to paint you as unreasonable and vilify you in the media. Further, we will use this as an excuse to either worsen the treatment of your child and/or remove them from this school environment altogether.
An established private school
Dear parent of colour,
Thank you for trusting us with your wonderful child. We understand that you expect your child to receive the education you were never afforded. Unfortunately despite all your hard work to get your child this far, we regret to inform you they will face some of the same difficulties you did. This includes but is not limited to: a lack of resources and representation, strict exclusionary policies and racist individuals in positions of power. Despite the fall of the apartheid regime 26 years ago and the brave sacrifices of the 1976 youth, these issues will not be dealt with.
An improved school
Dear South Africa,
How many students have to suffer at the hands of an unjust schooling system for us to finally wake up?
Do not forget the words of Ahmed Kathrada, our “freedom did not fall from the sky, but was fought for with blood sweat and tears” yet our schools are a far cry from those that our predecessors fought for in 1976. As students, we continue to face racism at the hands of a syllabus that teaches every student the horrors of the Holocaust but fails to give the same significance to the atrocities of apartheid. Our own history is treated as an optional extra, effectively dismissing the trauma of people of colour once again.
Our syllabus glorifies the contributions of white people to society and routinely ignores and undermines those of people of colour. Why does our syllabus not recognise and represent the diversity of this rainbow nation? Even our policies often favour white students by requiring all to conform to Eurocentric standards of neatness. In doing so, we continue to perpetuate the idea that “white is right”. We actively tell students of colour that they are not enough while allowing white students and teachers to get away with microaggressions and overt racism. You need not look further than the multiple testimonies released by current and former students on various social media platforms for proof. The so-called “protections” in place are there only on paper.
Quality education has become a privilege. In a country where socioeconomic status and race are so closely correlated, this means that those left behind are largely students of colour. For even those who get access to quality education have to face more challenges than white students. In this way, our schools by design, disadvantage students of colour.
All of this means that with or without the presence of racists, schools by their very nature are places of racism. The sad reality, however, is that our schools are not empty of racists. We continue to afford racists positions of authority and power in our schools. Teachers use racial slurs, and students of colour are routinely held to the extremes of discipline policies while white students are almost always given second chances.
How can we continue to justify allowing the policies and structures that solidified the systemic nature of racism in our country to thrive?
How can we continue to ignore voices of colour and call our schools inclusive?
How can we continue to allow schools to be racist spaces?
A student of colour
Dear South Africa,
Not only do you fail to represent us and provide equal access to quality education, you fail to protect
our rights by continuing to allow our schools to be places of racism filled with racists.
But South Africa, we have the power to change this narrative. Our narrative. For in the words of Nelson Mandela, “if [we] can learn to hate, [we] can be taught to love”. So let us listen to the students we’ve left behind and do better. Let us free our schools of internalised and systemic racism. Let us realise the dreams of the youth of 1976.
Yours in hope and power,
A hopeful South African Student
So, to whom racism still does not concern, if after all of this, you’re still yelling “all lives matter”, ask yourself if you really think that, because if you did, you wouldn’t question the need for transformation.
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s Youth Essay Writing Competition Against Racism attracted the attention of over 400 young people from across the country who shared their thoughts and views on the topic of racism. The overwhelming response from young people once again shows us that people are speaking about and even experiencing racism.