White South African Privilege: Between Shame and Responsibility

Not my picture. Image rights the property of www.indexoncensorship.org

Not my picture. Image rights the property of www.indexoncensorship.org

A few weeks ago, I responded to the incident of blackface by two white female students at University of Pretoria by writing an article highlighting how this incident exemplifies a phenomenon called white privilege. Reflecting, I noticed a huge hole in the piece that demonstrates the irony of writing about privilege– that you often speak from privilege when talking about privilege. Littered throughout the article was the separation of white South Africans, including these white women from myself. It is as though I would rather talk about them, those other white people who perpetuate oppression. By pointing to them, I could feel good in my blanket of privilege and roll over with the feeling that somehow, I am exceptional; exceptional because they cannot see their own privilege while I can. Digging deeper into this, it became apparent that I was walking a continual line between shame and responsibility– shame at receiving the unearned privileges my skin and gender bestow upon me, responsibility as an advantaged person to participate in the dismantling of privilege systems. Continue reading

Blackface, white privilege in post-apartheid South Africa

If I am because you are, and we reflect each other’s true humanity, then we are obligated to protect one another’s dignity. When two white women, students at the University of Pretoria participated in blackface they infringed upon their own dignity while demonstrating the deep racism that is still present in our society. Without neglecting the dignity of the victims of racism, I still believe that what we all have in common is a desire to live in a country that affirms the humanity of all who live in it. In order to do this, we need to have conversations that seek to find common ground, speak truth and find ways to build beyond ourselves. I write this not to condemn the women as human beings, rather to condemn their actions and demonstrate how these actions are part of a larger white racial frame dominating institutions from the Cape to the Limpopo River. I aim to highlight the extent of white privilege in the country so as to foster a conversation about how we can uproot the inherent oppression that gives birth to these hurtful realities. Continue reading