Why White People Don’t Get Affirmative Action

As part of the ‘Cape Town is Racist’ furore (why is this news?), some of the commentators on this article at Daily Maverick are upset that white people are getting denied opportunities to medical school and say that this is racist too. (I really shouldn’t scroll down comment sections, otherwise blog posts like this happen.) I often hear this lament from my family and misguided white friends/colleagues/acquaintances who don’t really seem to understand the concept of racism and cry ‘reverse racism’ like its a thing that actually exists. (It doesn’t, by the way. Race is a construct, and so are bullshit theories that racism is exclusive to one group or another. Like sexism, it cuts both ways.)

It is easy to see something as an attack when one is part of the hegemony. Just as men might not understand that it is sexist to be called ‘chick’ even if meant well, white people might not understand that concepts like affirmative action are not meant to be exclusive. As we currently watch waves of retrenchments ripple through the world and the poor continue to get fucked with lube made from spiders, it is always prudent to question who suffers most by certain decisions and why. When quotas are put in place, it is to give some people a leg up that they might not get otherwise. Let’s use the medical school example, since its the one that always comes up, and makes me pretty tired of repeating myself.

100 students apply to med school. Since the standards are pretty high, chances are that those who have had access to top education and opportunies to do the shiny community engagement activities will get a chance to get in. People also like to forget that those who can ‘donate’ to the institution in question, and who are perhaps alumni, already give their kids a better chance. Let us also consider that our education system is undoubtedly fucked, and has been for the last sixty years. Now, chances are that white students (and especially males) have had better chances and better schooling, with money for tutors and textbooks. I say males because most of the popular and prestigious schools in the country are boys schools. Children in affluent white families also have the option to study at universities away from home, or to earn scholarships or bursaries through sporting or other extracurricular activities.  I know there are poor whites, but chances are they aren’t applying to medical school in the same number as the private school kids. Considering that med school fees run into the hundreds of thousands over the course of 7 years, this is not an option for most. (Just first year entry to UCT costs R47,000, before residence, equipment and textbooks.) The school I went to placed huge emphasis on prestigious titles like doctor, lawyer, scientist. The art and drama classes were tiny compared to science and biology, and this is at a girl’s school, supposedly home to bullshit beliefs like ‘girls do secretarial work’. (We didn’t even have home economics as a subject).

Then compare the undeniable fact that the majority of South Africans are black, and most simply do not have the same opportunities and money and connections. Is it so terrible, then, to make sure that the whole class is not made of up rich white kids? Why should South Africans not have doctors that speak languages other than English and Afrikaans? If places are not set aside so that there are fairer opportunities, nothing changes. Maybe all those white kids who didn’t get in applied late. Maybe they actually didn’t score as high as they claim. (Amazing how they assume they scored higher because they’re white.) And maybe the class was just full, dammit. And if they didn’t get into med school, why not try for animal sciences? Or are they just too awesome to become teachers, police officers or postal workers? (You know, like black people.) Or is it because Daddy was a doctor, and now they must be too? To turn around and say ‘they didn’t let me in because I was white’ is to vastly misunderstand the entire reality and reason behind the concept. It is insulting to the black students who do work hard to get in, and are only there because of huge sacrifice and one space allowed to them. Daddy’s little 7 distinction, rugby-playing snowflake has plenty of other options, and can always apply again or somewhere else.

Yes, sometimes people are token appointments. Sometimes a woman will get a job because she has big boobs, or because someone owes a favour.  The system isn’t the problem; its the people in it. But speaking as someone who knows my career will be torpedoed if I choose to have a family, the system still needs work. There are so many glass ceilings, and some people just don’t get it because those ceilings don’t exist for them. Sometimes well-meaning whites don’t realise how horrifying it is when they say things, ‘I love black people but’ or ‘yes, but they say things like that about us too’, like children who hit back when someone hits them. It is not okay to be racist because the other side is. Just as we are all embarrassed by our parents’ racism across all race groups, we should seek to be better than ‘well, they call me mulungu and that’s rude’. And I know that everyone has a little racist teddy bear inside that they cling to, whether it is beliefs about taxi drivers or ruthless white men, but surely we should all at least try to keep that shit to ourselves while we work through it. It doesn’t help that the South African media makes a fine living off off everyone’s racism and fear by amplifying it to ridiculous levels and suggesting that everyone everywhere is racist all the time. I’m sure Malema’s quips paid their Christmas bonuses.

Its 2012 now and we still behave in such medieval ways, and it is especially sad that so many whites struggle to show any kind of contrition that doesn’t end up being some kind of backhanded insult. I am embarrassed to be white most of the time because racism is such a part of our conversation and so embedded that no one even sees it any more. We shouldn’t say things like ‘all taxi drivers are evil’ or ‘every maid steals’ and not be hauled over the coals for it. Just as the Capetonians shouldn’t say that they have a class issue and not a race issue, its also not okay for ANC cadres to claim that all whites are thieves. (Although the level of theft and corruption that the National Party managed to achieve is still dazzling in its audacity today.)

In other words, don’t say things like ‘some of my best friends are black’ as a caveat to saying pretty racist things. That’s racist, yo.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Absolutely brilliant read. “Lube made of spiders”…Powerful imagery. I am scared of spiders. My word.

    But you do raise some really strong points. I agree with all of them. But I do have one issue. Sometimes it is not that “white” people do not understand, it is that no one gives them the opportunity to understand, no one takes the time to explain it to them. I agree that affirmative action should exist, but perhaps the policies should be explained, otherwise people will always cry “reverse racism” at each and every turn.

    Goood article. Really interesting read.

  2. That is some top notch writing. Love it.

    And you raise some damn good points too. Affirmative action is very necessary. The quicker people understand it’s reason, the quicker people can make their peace with it.

    But it isn’t all white people that do not understand…There are some that do. It just sucks that they are few and far between…

    I am liking this Paper Ninja. You will now be added to my Google Reader. Mwahahaha! *Evil laugh*

    1. Zo says:

      My blushes, sir! Thank you for taking the time to read so many of my most humble posts. I have ensured that you shall write, and I shall be notified.

      It is time to rule the blogosphere!

  3. darryl fleming says:

    I strongly suggest that you read this http://www.hoover.org/publications/hoover-digest/article/8108. We should have laws that prevent and prosecute discrimination but I’m not so sure we should have laws that award wealth to those previously disadvantaged (especially when that wealth only gets distributed to the rich few, who know how to game the system).

    Also what I find interesting is the question that if cape town is so racist why did black wards vote the DA into power there?

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