Who taught you to say that black girls stink?
Iam in possession of four short but disturbing WhatsApp voice recordings sent to me by two concerned black girls who want to do something about the way they and those like them are perceived and treated by their peers in South Africa’s private schools. In the voice notes, three black boys who attend a prestigious private high school in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands discuss how much they dislike black girls, how much black girls stink and how they prefer hooking up with white girls.
“I’d rather be with a white girl who picks her nose than a black girl who eats pap with her hands at a restaurant. That’s disgusting man; who does that?” one boy asks.
A friend who listened to the recordings with me asked: “But how did we expect these kids to turn out after sending them to the sausage factory of white supremacy?”
While the cracks in South Africa’s rainbow nation project deepen, it would be wise for black people to clean house, to reflect on the choices our leaders, and inevitably we, made against ourselves during the aborted revolution of 1994.
What type of education are our children getting and who is benefiting from it if a black child can emerge not only ignorant of his own value, history and self, but hating his sister and his mother?
So eager were we to have rightful access to developed white schools that we failed to develop our own schools.
Rhodes University lecturer Dr Nomalanga Mkhize questioned this situation in a recent Business Day column, in which she recalled the paradox that a lot of black parents faced when sending their children to elite white schools because “the school was ostensibly offering the best available education under the sun, but it also seemed that it was teaching me nothing at all of what was going on around me”.
Whose responsibility is it to ensure that black children are educated to their benefit? Is it government’s? Is it up to the colonially influenced schools to transform? Or should I, the future parent, be prepared to build the school I want my child to attend one day? Fortunately, it’s not a matter of choosing one or the other – all three options are viable and there are a few good examples of public and independent schools that are undoing the legacy of our history. But ‘few’ is the operative word.
Black people with money can no longer rest on colonial laurels. What little black capital there is should not continue to flow so enthusiastically into the coffers of established private schools that are the breeding ground for the miseducation of not only the black child, but of all the children where anti-black ideas and perspectives ripen inside them.
It is not enough to observe what the angry university students are doing without the willingness to change what we – the black elite, the comfortable classes – have become used to in the past 22 years.
We need to organise around causes that are beyond the celebratory, beyond self-enrichment and beyond the contemptible idea of charity that funds and maintains the status quo.
It also does not serve our progress to congregate around things that make us angry if we do not turn that anger into organisation and that organisation into cemented initiatives. How do we do it?
Do we learn from Jews and Muslims, who take their children to Hebrew school, Yeshiva College or madrasah, in addition to or as an alternative to “normal” schools, so that they can be taught the value of their communal history? If a black child is taught about his or her history, language and exceptional intelligence, what are the chances that he or she won’t value that history, language and intelligence enough to want to preserve it? What are the chances that such young people won’t want to build wealth around it?
We have the benefit of knowing the value of community, yet we do not capitalise on the inherent monetary value of aggressively building wealth from within and for the benefit of black communities. Imagine if all the money black people gave away to centuries-old, slave-built wine estates that host weddings in the Western Cape was funnelled, instead, to empowering a blackowned business?
Knowing that black children deserve better is not enough any more. Such knowledge is useless without mobilisation and organisation. There is a long tradition of education in black South Africa. Both my parents built multiple schools from scratch, through fundraisers, donations and other means.
Many of our parents did, so this is not a new or impossible task, especially because the conditions have not changed – our relationship to them has.
For those of us who have benefited from these schools, we cannot be so naive as to think it is still good fortune to be able to send our children into these seasoned lions’ dens without a backup plan. The treatment and perception of black teenage girls
by their private school peers is the subject of a documentary that is currently in development
by a young South African film maker