'Young people are tired of having their blackness relegated'

16 June 2020 - 08:00
By Kgaugelo Masweneng
'Racism is not comfortable and once we can get past that hurdle, we can start having honest conversations,' says the writer.
Image: Fabio Formaggio/123rf.com 'Racism is not comfortable and once we can get past that hurdle, we can start having honest conversations,' says the writer.

Black people in SA are tired of toning it down and continuously atoning for existing in the same space as white people.

Alumni from elite schools across the country have become the latest to throw stones at systematic racism and seek redress as a matter of urgency. Young people are tired of having their blackness relegated and pushed aside in classrooms, sports fields, school transport and dining halls.

They are tired of leaving their languages, talents, hair and identity at the door just so they can please a system that has its knee on their necks and is suffocating them financially, physically, academically and most of all emotionally and psychologically.

In a sane world, these students would not have to do the emotional work of unravelling their distress and teaching white people how wrong racism is and why they should be treated with dignity.

To the schools being outed – and those that are still hiding – this is your time to grow up and do better. You can start by decolonising the academic text, allowing black hair to flourish in its natural state and abolishing the secrecy rule applied when black students voice their experiences.

It is time we made racial sensitivity training fashionable and compulsory at schools. Start by disciplining teachers who discriminate against students and stop sweeping things under the carpet. Start by disciplining people who direct the K-word at black pupils, do better at being determined against racism.

This revolt coming from schools encapsulates something much bigger: black people are tired and it’s time for white people to take accountability, self-reflect and commit to anti-racialism.

Even though the parents can afford the exorbitant fees at these schools, their children still pay with their souls. They then face the same difficulty at tertiary education institutions, and by the time they go to the workplace they have to prove that they are not a quota hire. As a black person you are undermined until you retire and must work much harder than your white counterpart to prove your worth.

Well, no more. You don’t get to sit around and fold your arms while blacks are trying to put out the fire you started. You don’t get to patronise us and make it seem like we are imagining the pain you inflict on our emotional and psychological wellbeing under the guise of “civility” ... Not any more.

You have not experienced racism. You have never been dominated through colonial brutality, unjust laws and financial power and all manner of inequality. This story only has one direction, so when black people speak out concerning racism, you need to listen, comprehend and change.

Being anti-racist is not something you can achieve overnight and tick off your checklist. It is a lifestyle, intercultural learning requires fundamental change. It is not something we should pursue only at a superficial level.

Rehabilitate yourselves, we don’t expect you to love us but treat us with basic human decency.

I wish you would apply that word you have proudly appropriated without actual understanding: Ubuntu. You know how you like to define it, that I am because you are - and it ends there.

I wish you knew just how deep that one word runs and what it means to black people.

Between a catch up and venting session, my good friend and writer, Nelisiwe Msomi randomly said, “Ubuntu  is not just I am because you are, it’s an experience, a love language, a love letter black people write to each other for the purpose of survival.”

It is not enough that you speak to us and smile. We know that your homes are breeding ground for racism, how else would a teenager tell another teenager that they wish they were still in apartheid?

What is happening in other parts of the world, where white people are genuinely marching in support of Black Lives Matter, is somewhat consoling. 

But the calibre and brand of whites in SA are not only resistant to change, but also refuse to rally behind the cause of antiracism. Trust is like a bank account, and right now we are operating on a deficit.

There is something fundamentally wrong with how you relate to black people, how you defend your privilege. In its nature, racism is offensive. If you are offended, imagine how pissed off I am. The problem is that yet another black person is pointing out these obvious facts to you. The problem is your insistent and consistent denial of racism.

The problem is you only ever want to engage on racism on a level where you are still comfortable. The truth is, racism is not comfortable and once we can get past that hurdle, we can start having honest conversations.

Just a little honesty, is that too much to ask for? Maybe by some miracle when we start being open and honest about racism, we can find each other and find meaningful solutions that our future generations will be proud of.