hat are you likely to do if a relative were to make racist remarks in front of your children? Would you set a good example by speaking out and showing that such comments aren’t acceptable? Are you likely to repudiate them or to join the conversation?
Do you consider speaking out against racism part of your job as a parent?
Let us bring the argument closer to home. How do the parents at Roodepoort Primary School explain the school’s temporary closure to their children after protests between parents over the school’s governance and financial management?
I have had more than 30 meetings with various education stakeholders in the Davidsonville community in Roodepoort over the past 11 months to resolve challenges at the school.
During those meetings, some community members asked me to commission an independent investigation into the appointment of the principal and conduct a financial audit. I did that. But they rejected the reports. The provincial government had no alternative but to temporarily close the school.
We have now taken a decision to establish a task team comprising religious and community leaders to mediate and find a lasting solution to the school’s challenges.
The question is how some of the parents are going to explain that, among other things, the school was closed because some of the parents demanded a coloured principal and claimed that the process of appointing a black principal was flawed.
I’d like to be a fly on the wall when parents try to explain why their children have had to attend nearby schools. Why? Because I know many parents struggle with what to do or say when someone says something racist in front of their children.
I know many parents will be too uncomfortable to talk about the fact that one of the reasons the school was closed was because of the appointment of a black principal.
This is the ignorance that’s being passed down from one generation to the next, and it is not making things better. The most important thing is for parents and teachers to talk about it – not hide it.
I hope the parents of Roodepoort Primary’s learners will not be afraid to talk about racism. Fear of the topic creates ignorance, and that’s no way to live. Parents have a responsibility, because bias begins at home, in our remarks and attitudes.
There is no place for intolerance in our hardearned democracy. Schools must take the lead in insisting that learners respect each other and that they, in turn, are respected.
Who is teaching children racist bigotry, and why? Ultimately it is the adults in their lives who are afraid or angry, like the Roodepoort Primary parents. They are responsible for passing hatred from one generation to the next.
Children don’t know they are ethnically diverse. They don’t know race, so they don’t know racism. They don’t know there’s a great deal of racism in the world, but they begin to feel it when parents and other adults make the differences obvious.
Segregation and discrimination are woven into all aspects of life, including education. We’re all tangled up. It’s time to unravel this web of racial hatred.
Children grow up with the fear, anger and hatred they see in adults’ eyes. Too many adults don’t reject or correct it, but accept it. And so the hatred and racism goes on. This is not the way to fight bigotry. If we want to stop this legacy of hatred, we must work together – blacks and whites – to eradicate it from our homes, schools and lives. We must direct our anger and fight bigotry together. If we succeed, our children will live and learn in peace. Children have to be informed; they need a coat of armour, a sense that they are somebody. Home and school prepare them. Let us talk to them about what they may encounter in life. Speak honestly to them about racial biases and how to address them.
I know that when it comes to sensitive personal beliefs, people tend not to be honest; they don’t want to hurt others’ feelings; they don’t want their own feelings hurt. I hope this does not happen with the Roodepoort Primary parents.
Teaching children about racism and our history – without teaching hatred or fear – may be difficult, but it is necessary. We must give children a positive world view.
Teach them techniques for dealing with racist bigotry; tell them they will encounter it daily and will need to be prepared.
When racism shows up in a child’s classroom, as at Roodepoort Primary, the way a parent reacts also has an impact on the child’s perceptions. Children will take to school whatever they learn at home.
Let us emphasise a positive attitude to our children about who they are and ensure that everything we do contributes to their self-esteem, so that no matter what they hear from their teachers, or anyone else, they will know better.
If we give them faith in themselves, no one can take that away.
Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for education