Black­face: A chance to up­root prej­u­dice

CityPress - - Voices - T.O. Molefe

Racism and other prej­u­dices pro­lif­er­ate in our so­ci­ety. How could they not? Like other so­ci­eties, we’re prod­ucts of a long his­tory where prej­u­dice en­abled one group to op­press and claim do­min­ion over another. Men over women. Rich over poor. Lords over serfs. The Dutch over the in­dige­nous peo­ple of the Cape. The Bri­tish over Afrikan­ers. Whites over blacks. Het­ero­sex­u­als over ho­mo­sex­u­als. South Africans over other Africans.

The list is end­less. And it criss­crosses us such that no one’s in­no­cence is ab­so­lute. In­no­cence can only be mea­sured by de­gree.

We’ve come far in dis­man­tling some of the op­pres­sion in­scribed into law by this his­tory, but the op­pres­sion re­mains, at times in­di­rectly. And prej­u­dice passes from par­ent to child.

The “black­face” in­ci­dent at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria was a pre­dictable man­i­fes­ta­tion of this his­tory and our in­ad­e­quate ef­forts to ad­dress it. The two stu­dents, think­ing it a cool cos­tume idea for a party, dressed up as do­mes­tic work­ers.

They painted their faces black, wrapped their heads in doeks and padded their be­hinds to make their butts look big.

It was an of­fen­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion of do­mes­tic work­ers and the black fe­male body, which varies in shape and size. The cos­tume was lit­tle more than a reprise of Euro­pean cu­riosi­ties about Saartjie Baart­man’s body. And it made a mock­ery of the un­just re­al­ity that our so­ci­ety lim­its the as­pi­ra­tions of mil­lions of black women to do­mes­tic work only – a noble ca­reer, but only if it’s of your choos­ing.

You don’t have to think too far back or limit your­self to racism to re­alise that this his­tory has reared its ugly head many times. It will con­tinue to reap­pear un­less we dis­man­tle all forms of op­pres­sion and rid our minds of prej­u­dice and su­pe­ri­or­ity com­plexes. Only then will we be­gin to re­sem­ble the so­ci­ety we as­pired to be­come af­ter 1994 – one founded on hu­man dig­nity and equal­ity.

It is un­for­tu­nate that the univer­sity has ex­pelled the two young women from cam­pus res­i­dence and launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into their be­hav­iour.

These ac­tions ap­pear to sin­gle out the two stu­dents as ex­cep­tions when they are the rule. Our so­ci­ety prac­tises mul­ti­far­i­ous prej­u­dices, the univer­sity is a mi­cro­cosm of so­ci­ety, and these young women are the prod­ucts and wards of both.

The ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion in this case, along­side mea­sures to hold the two ac­count­able, is a per­ma­nent, struc­tured ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme to raise con­scious­ness about prej­u­dice among the en­tire stu­dent body.

Other uni­ver­si­ties, in­sti­tu­tions and house­holds should do the same. As for the op­pres­sions that prop up our so­cial ed­i­fice, they too must fall.

It was an of­fen­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion of do­mes­tic work­ers and the black fe­male body

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