There is no place for racism in a rain­bow na­tion

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - PANYAZA LE­SUFI

RACISM. Be it sub­tle or overt, it con­jures up images of heated ar­gu­ments and fights, fre­quently shak­ing the psy­che of our rain­bow na­tion.

When the yoke of racism rav­ages schools, we should all be afraid. The prob­lem is so deeply rooted in our sub­con­scious and in the very depths of our minds that most of us can­not even de­tect or see the prob­lem right in front of our eyes.

Here are ex­am­ples of racist in­ci­dents at our schools in just one week: A ge­og­ra­phy teacher at St John’s Col­lege al­legedly told black pupils in his class the only rea­son they got good marks was be­cause they sat next to white pupils. The rest is his­tory, but is an in­dict­ment on our na­tion.

Par­ents of Klip­spruit Sec­ondary School have protested against the ap­point­ment of a black prin­ci­pal and have de­manded the ap­point­ment of a coloured prin­ci­pal, be­cause there is a lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of coloured peo­ple in school lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

In Kempton Park, pupils at Wind­sor House Acad­emy were al­legedly kicked out of the school be­cause their tra­di­tional African hair­styles were deemed un­ac­cept­able by the school’s prin­ci­pal. I have given the school three months to come up with an in­clu­sive code of con­duct.

Of course, racial in­equal­ity in our schools is a prod­uct of our deeply-rooted his­tor­i­cal and in­sti­tu­tional racism dat­ing back three cen­turies.

But look around you. Look left and right. All around you are al­lies in one of the great on­go­ing strug­gles of the South African ex­pe­ri­ence – the strug­gle for the soul of democ­racy, the strug­gle for so­cial jus­tice and, most im­por­tant, the strug­gle for equal ed­u­ca­tion.

In­deed, as a na­tion, we have made gains in fight­ing racism since 1994. Racism has ceased to be the overt, crude, in-your-face of pre-1994. To­day, it is gen­er­ally more sub­tle, so­phis­ti­cated and covert.

Why should racism be al­lowed to ex­ist in a coun­try in the south of the African con­ti­nent that is sup­pos­edly known as a great melt­ing pot, a rain­bow na­tion?

Racism is a silent epi­demic, it is in­sid­i­ous and treach­er­ous. It ex­cludes in­stead of op­presses. It is gen­tle on the sur­face, but un­re­lent­ing and hor­ri­bly dam­ag­ing at its core.

The fact that racism per­me­ates our so­ci­ety is not an ex­cuse for school per­son­nel, par­ents, com­mu­ni­ties and school gov­ern­ing coun­cils to per­pet­u­ate it.

As an in­sti­tu­tion, each school must take re­spon­si­bil­ity for ac­knowl­edg­ing and ad­dress­ing racism. Un­less the school, the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties, gov­ern­ing bodies and par­ents take steps to coun­ter­act racism, they are ag­gra­vat­ing ex­ist­ing in­equal­i­ties.

Racism is fre­quently sub­tle, un­in­ten­tional and in­vis­i­ble, but al­ways po­tent. Of­ten it in­volves com­plex and cu­mu­la­tive fac­tors, for ex­am­ple when pupils do not have ac­cess to teach­ers with full cre­den­tials, be­cause they can­not find a teacher of a sim­i­lar race.

When gov­ern­ing bodies or lo­cal school poli­cies have the ef­fect of ad­van­tag­ing or dis­ad­van­tag­ing cer­tain racial groups or when funds or re­sources are dis­trib­uted un­equally, racism is fre­quently at work. When racial dis­par­i­ties go un­ad­dressed, this too is a form of racism.

The next prob­lem is that many peo­ple tend to think that one form of racism is bet­ter than another form or that racism in one com­mu­nity or sit­u­a­tion is bet­ter than in another.

Racism is racism. In all cases, lives are de­stroyed. Peo­ple are harmed phys­i­cally, psy­cho­log­i­cally and emo­tion­ally. Racism in any form, quan­tity or shape must not be tol­er­ated.

Some peo­ple who are com­fort­able and who do not see racism reg­u­larly, have the habit of deny­ing racism ex­ists. When one talks about racism, another soul, de­luded, may sling ac­cu­sa­tions of whin­ing and whinge­ing.

Racism is also easy to trace, be­cause we can feel its ef­fects. Think about how the na­tion re­sponded to the St Johns, Klip­spruit and Kempton Park in­ci­dents.

How do you make peo­ple see that racism is a prob­lem in our com­mu­nity? Racism is cre­at­ing sit­u­a­tions that seg­re­gate where peo­ple live, where they at­tend school, work and how they live their lives.

I be­lieve that ev­ery­one would love a world with more equal­ity, with more bridges across this great racial di­vide, but the prob­lem seems too over­whelm­ing. Our seg­re­gated schools, town­ships, sub­urbs and cities make it eas­ier to turn our heads.

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