YOUTH SPEAK | ‘It can be hard to understand our role, especially on a day like Youth Day’

16 June 2021 - 12:05 By Nicole Taylor
Nicole Taylor urges South Africans to speak up for those who cannot, and step aside for those who can.​
Nicole Taylor urges South Africans to speak up for those who cannot, and step aside for those who can.​
Image: Supplied

My name is Nicole Taylor. I’m a 23-year-old illustrator who graduated from the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography last year with a BA in visual communication majoring in illustration. I was born and raised in Durban, and recently moved back after  graduating. I’ve done some freelancing work but, like everything with the pandemic, it’s been a bit of a struggle. I also started a small business reselling vintage and secondhand clothing on Instagram under the handle @luckyimposterthrift. I got to know Jay* when I was in third year illustration and he was in second year. My first impression of Jay was definitely the contagious laugh that erupted out of him unexpectedly. If Jay is laughing, you’re laughing too.

* Read her friend Njabulo “Jay” Hlophe’s essay here

White silence

As an introvert, one spends a lot of time listening. I was always shy growing up so I would often fade into the background and instead soak in everything. I sat comfortably in my privilege and ignorance, feeling as though the biggest struggle in life was to be seen as cool. However, the pattern of silence to which I became accustomed would also eventually lead me down the path of finding my voice and learning when to use it.

When I was young my family would say things that angered or upset me, but I wouldn’t know how to voice that anger. It simmered within me, fragments joining together like the pieces of a puzzle.

I remember studying the 1976 Soweto uprising in my high school history class. The silence of my white classmates was almost tangible. However, when they heard how some students had to kill a police dog that had been set upon them, they gasped with shock and disgust. They didn’t gasp about the 4,000 injured and 176 dead black children but rather at an act of self-defence. My silent, simmering anger grew until I reached university and was finally handed the tools I needed to speak.

Standing on a foundation of feminist, antiracist literature and discourse, I could finally scream out all my anger. The words stumbled out of me in the shapes of zines, collages and research.

Learning to use my voice, I also began to understand the importance of silence and uplifting black voices. White people have had the floor for centuries, always being the ones who dictated history.

I feel very proud when I look at the young people of SA and the world  who have started dismantling systems of oppression that are so deeply ingrained in our societies that it is almost unsettling to imagine a world where the structure of society is different.

The trajectory of our people and our planet are headed to an almost definite end if we do not continue pushing for change.

The innovation that is so prevalent among the youth of today is visible when we look at the increase in vegetarian diets, sustainable lifestyle choices, and even thrifting. I began lightly thrifting in high school but can say that I’m fully dedicated now with my wardrobe 80% thrifted.

I struggle sometimes not to buy in on trends in fashion, but I know the textile industry is one of the biggest contributors to landfills. I’m not one to point fingers at individuals who buy fast fashion because it is not feasible or accessible for  everyone to thrift or shop sustainably. However, I think reframing how we view clothing and fashion is a good first step in breaking the cycle of excessive consumption.

Standing on a foundation of feminist, antiracist literature and discourse I could finally scream out all of my anger

The people in my generation have continued to push against misogyny with an awe-inspiring fervour. I’d like to say I’ve been a feminist all my life but that wouldn’t be true as I had to battle against my own internalised misogyny to reach the point where I am now. My feminism became intersectional at university.

I was once again blinded by my ignorance and focused so heavily on my own lived experiences as a woman in this country that I didn’t look at the overlapping systems of oppression which other women face.

SA has no hate crime legislation so there are no statistics I can toss around about the dangers of being a lesbian or trans woman in this country. There are many experiences I can never fully understand because I’ve never lived them myself, but the more important thing is being there for those who have, and to use my white privilege as the megaphone which they may need to be heard or acknowledged.

Feminism has had a dark past with racism and homophobia, the two often existing parallel or intertwined. Yet again we have to deconstruct these systems that have left so many voices shunned into the outskirts of society.

When navigating our identities as young, white South Africans, it can be hard trying to understand our role, especially on a day like Youth Day. To look at a day that celebrates the bravery of thousands of young black students who didn’t choose to be martyrs but instead chose to fight for their freedom and education, and then speak on my own privileged education and upbringing seems ridiculous.

When I was in primary school all we cared about was dressing up for a civvies day. Meanwhile many rural schools still lack water, sanitation and basic school supplies and some students have to walk up to 20km to get to school.

When we look at our country now, it can sometimes be easy for white people to opt out of important and heavy conversations, perhaps using the guise that conversations about racism don’t apply to them because they aren’t racist.

However. this refusal to acknowledge the past, and how our people built systems that continue to benefit us, will prevent us from deconstructing these same systems and building the SA we can be proud to have contributed towards. The key to redefining what the future could be for our country is collaboration. Speak up for those who cannot, but step aside for those who can.​