Tag Archive: Open Stellenbosch


So this past week a picture appeared on my Twitterer of a white girl with a statement written on a board that made me cringe:

iams

Suddenly more and more of these pictures were popping up all over Social Media and turns out there was an #IAmStellenbosch group inviting students at the University to write statements about themselves which challenge the stereotype of a typical Stellenbosch student and highlight the differences and individualities of each student.

Their vision statement reads: To create an awareness of the thousands of individual identities that are housed in this university and bring them together into a single identity that is Stellenbosch University. 

iam

To those who have been keeping some kind of eye on recent Stellenbosch events, this seems to be a response to the Open Stellenbosch movement, much of which was capture in the video ‘Luister’ that was put together by Contraband Cape Town in collaboration with Open Stellenbosch which you can see over here linked to an article by Layla Leiman in which she writes, ‘The documentary shares the testimony of the lived experiences of black students at Stellenbosch University and the culture of racism, discrimination, exclusion and violence that continues at Stellenbosch University 21 years after democracy.’

What is quite interesting to me, reading the vision and mission statement of #IAmStellenbosch [which you can find in their Facebook group] is that line one of their mission is: To create a platform of communication in which students listen to each other this not being through dialogue but discourse.

Whereas their poster campaign seems to be a knee-jerk reaction doing quite the opposite.

And it becomes quickly clear from reading some of the response comments to #IAmStellenbosch that there is some deep listening that needs to happen:

Nkosikhona Rabu Ntshiqa: This is all silencing fam. No real issues are on this mission statement; there’s nothing about the curriculumn change or anything hard core as that. Please take Black people serious; these are baby answers to very old and martured problems. There is no decolonization or anything of such form in this mission statement; this is all Mandela politics
There is no systematic change or anything of such. Students won’t take each other serious if this is all that you guys are planning to do. The same system that was undermining Black people is the same one used even now; this will cause conflicts and more frustration amongst Black people. We demand true decolonization; not just pictures of people with no problems writing shit and smiling for the camera; this is a serious issue please treat it with such seriousness and energy. Don’t waste our time.
Ruwayne Williams: This #iamstellenboschcampaign is the same as the stupid#whereisthelove event which was used to silence black voices and ignore black pain.#Furious#
Bonunu Ditshego: Is this something like#AllLivesMatter campaign that followed#blacklivesmatter? You people should take your patronizing BS and F yourselves. Try to#StopKony while you at it.
Sandile Mzilikazi Khumalo: This is the kind of institutionalised racism pandered by liberals who want to the existence of class identifiers, in particular the experiences of the black working class, at the expense of superficial individual identities.

THIS IS NOT JUST A SOUTH AFRICAN PROBLEM

During our time in Americaland, i became very aware that the story of people of colour over there mirrors that of those living in South Africa in so many ways. Even though the chief narrative is quite different for a number of reasons, many of the same themes and similar experiences and mindsets seem to pervade and so i believe there is a lot to be learned from studying both.

Earlier this year #BlackOutDay started trending on the Twitterer as a means for black people to celebrate black beauty and fight against the kind of negative images black people were used to seeing in the media:

You Tube personality Franchesca Ramsey told ABC News:

“Unfortunately, in most popular media talking about black people and our bodies, it’s mostly of us breaking the law, being killed or mistreated,” Ramsey added. “So it’s nice to combat these negative images and stereotypes with positive representations of ourselves.”

i found this blog post written by Akilah Hughes titled It’s Not About You which highlights some of the same issues that the detractors of #IAmStellenbosch are seeing and feeling:

During the wildly successful Blackout Day of March 6, black people posted and reblogged selfies on social media to promote community and the acceptance of features less visible in popular media. It was an uplifting day meant to remind black people, “you’re beautiful, too.” Some white people took offense. It wasn’t long after #BlackOutDay started trending worldwide on Twitter that the ‘whiteoutday’ hashtag became a thing.

Blackout Day did not claim that non-black people are immune to body image issues, or that others don’t face societal pressures. But, without fail, any time a historically oppressed group asserts their equality by boldly denying any inferiority to someone outside their group, some member of the un-oppressed majority takes it personally. Well, when oppressed groups take the initiative to lift themselves up, it is not an invitation to victimize yourself. Would you go to a toddler’s birthday party and kick over their cake to announce that you, too, have birthdays? The answer should be “no.”

Akilah ends off her post with this statement:

It. Wasn’t. About. Me.

Since that conversation, I’ve learned to listen before I follow my knee-jerk reaction and take offense at movements about which I’m not educated. It isn’t always easy to stop the instinct to be defensive, but it is necessary if things are ever going to get better. After really hearing the other side, ask yourself if anyone loses rights or status when that group gains theirs. John F. Kennedy said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It’s important to remember that sweeping progress benefits us all, so let others do what they must to finally achieve equality.

HOW DO THOSE IN THE KNOW DEAL WITH THOSE WHO AREN’T?

Which brings me to a question i posed as a status on Facebook yesterday and want to dig a little more deeply into:

Brett Fish Anderson: So ‘‪#‎IAmStellenbosch‬‘ – ridiculous right? As is ‪#‎YesAllPeople‬ response to‪#‎YesAllWomen‬ and ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬. i was thinking about it today and it comes i think out of a place of ignorance. So my thought is that it belongs perhaps to the privileged (and not the marginalized) to sit and explain to those in ignorance. So they can know. If then, they choose ignorance after being informed, well then they’re on their own. Those are thoughts that have been running around my head.

As friendlyly as is possible, what is your response to that? i know many of my informed friends are just exhausted from explaining and that for too long it was expected that the marginalised should explain so that is my light bulb moment for today. What think you? ‪#‎IAmFacebook‬

To which some of my friends responded:

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Nick Frost: The marginalized can’t explain because the privileged don’t listen. That’s what the whole thing is about, the inability to shut up for once and listen. Stellies students think they can slap a hashtag on a half assed “upliftment initiative” and sing their problems away.

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Bruce Collins: Yeah. I looked at that #iamstellenbosch stuff and all I could think was “what is the point?”

It seems like a way to minimise what people are really experiencing by saying that others do not have similar experiences. It is also, in my opinion, an attempt to justify all that’s wrong at Stellenbosch. You see, just because some people are ok with the status quo that doesn’t mean that the status quo is right.

Furthermore, #iamstellenbosch is all about speaking and very little about listening.

What bothers me most are all the “I’m not a racist” statements. Instead of saying that, live it by listening.

Nick Frost: White guys listening to rap music does not equal the end of racism. Sorry #iamstellenbosch

Bruce Collins: Word! That was so ridiculous. “I am Afrikaans and my favourite artist is Drake”
Noddy badge? Hell no!

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Alexa Russell Matthews: Opportunities to be allies is what went through my head…. [This is a reference to a piece i am working on putting together with some friends of mine over here]

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Beben Cadman: It does not end anything but it highlights stereotypes. Doing something is better than nothing.

Kerri-Leigh Wayne: Exactly, it reinforces stereotypes

Beben Cadman: I don’t think it does. I think the more we say who we think we are the more it creates dialogue, the more we can be challenged, the more we grow. It’s the pretentiousness for a long time that culminated in these realities in this crucial year of 20 years of democracy. Yes we should be listening but talking tells us where we really at. I welcome any dialogue as long as we as people are challenged, reconciled and unified. Even us who might think we standing on the right side of human rights.

Tanisha NishNash Schultz: I feel “I am Stellenbosch” is trying to reinforce unity amongst students.

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Wayne Eaves: Good ask – we are at the beginning of a rise of a new wave of black consciousness in SA (or one just more public, I admit my ignorance), a conversation to which we are not invited at this juncture. Speaking into something uninvited is in many ways the quintessential essence of postmodern privelege. We need to learn to listen, to dig into our own history, deconstruct and restructure various paradigms – which facebook does not give me space to deal with – love the question!

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Megan Furniss: I have a new take. A brand new one. I will no longer be embarrassed by these ignoramuses. I will not care about them.

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Kerri-Leigh Wayne: It definitely isn’t the marginalised who should be explaining. I try to be listening more, like Wayne suggests, that’s been something I really have to work towards. But I still talk to white people around me, even if they remain ignorant and my views are unpopular, because I was, and still am, ignorant too. Being called out is what helps me to see that. I am not embarrassed by these people – they don’t represent me and many people have been socialised quite heavily into believing what they do, so it does not even reflect on the type of person he or she is. I also try not to ever take a conversation (or its derailment) personally. Having said that, I cringe intensely when I see an album like the #IamStellenbosch one but I am glad to see that some of the heaviest criticism of the privileged views espoused by the photos are being tackled by white people in the comments section.

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Brett Fish Anderson: i will blog further on this cos i think it is a helpful conversation to do a little deeper in. i think one of the big problems is that those of us who are somewhat informed – who have walked a bit of a journey in this – take for granted the informedness we have and then assume others have it and are making those same choices. i think we need to give more grace to uninformed and ignorant so that they have the opportunity to become informed and norant? Okay that’s probably not a word but it should be.

i doubt a student in Stellenbosch was being malicious, they honestly did what they thought was a good thing and so there has to be some moment of that opportunity happening to change that. i look back on my journey and at 41 I have been digging into this stuff more deeply for the last five years and so i could quite easily have been that student. I didn’t do so good. So it feels necessary for me to be prepared to take time to coach other people through.

Megan Furniss: You know what I think Brett? You are clever and kind and norant, and brave and full of energy. Spend it on those who need it most, and who can use you best. Others can get in line. There is work to be done and we need to act fast. Just went to witness Lingua Franca and I was totally humbled by them. It’s not about ‘us’ (read white people) anymore.

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Picture of South African Flag

What about you? If people around you [or online] seem ignorant about something which you have learned/studied/lived through/experienced do you believe that it is worth taking time and energy to school them with the facts so that they can understand and have a chance to ‘get it’? Or should the focus and emphasis be on those who do and moving forwards with them? Play nice in the comments but i would LOVE to hear some conversation on this…

[For some Creative Ideas on How to Become a Better Ally, click here] 

My friend Dre [actually Andrea Thorpe] has been commenting at various places in the ‘What about Bob?’ conversation and so i asked her if she’d be up to sharing some thoughts of her own…

dre

[I’m a white, English-speaking South African. I was born in the Eastern Cape in the ‘80s. I studied Journalism and Media Studies and English at Rhodes University, and later completed my Masters in English at Stellenbosch. I’m now roughly halfway through my PhD in English at Queen Mary University of London. I’m writing my thesis on South African literature, specifically, on South African writers writing in London from 1948 onwards, and so I spend a lot of time, while living in London, thinking and writing about South Africa. (It’s very meta.)]

I’m writing this as a follow-up to ‘Bob’s’ letter that Brett shared. I don’t want to do a point-for-point response as others have already done, so thoroughly. As Tsholo, particularly, has eloquently pointed out, some of Bob’s ideas about progress and colonialism are problematic, probably racist (e.g. that colonialism ‘saved’ Africa from itself.) One of the commenters on Bob’s post said it even more pointedly, calling him “ignorant” and “bigoted”. And I’ve asked, in my comments on Tsholo’s post, whether we should actually entertain or even respond to such conservative ideas? Is Bob reaching out for answers, or attempting to justify his privilege and prejudice?

More than anything, Bob’s post seems almost tiresomely familiar. I’m thinking of inventing a new game called ‘White South African Opinion Piece Bingo (2015 Edition)’, which would include boxes like ‘Rhodes Wasn’t Such a Bad Oke’; ‘What About Xenophobia, Hey?’; ‘Reverse Racism is Totally a Thing’; ‘I Know This is Politically Incorrect but I’m Just Saying it Like it Is’; ‘The Country is Going to the Dogs and All They Care about Are Statues’ and ‘Privileged? What, Me?’

Okay, I’m being facetious. But my point is that perhaps these posts are coming from a common place, a shared emotional, psychological impetus, which is maybe worth addressing. This feeling is best summed up by this passage in Bob’s letter:

“I am white, I am made to feel ashamed of a history I had no control of and no one is interested in what a white person has to say because whatever they say or do is racist or from a point of white privilege” and again ,”I am a racist by association and don’t belong in South Africa”.

I read this as expressing two key sentiments: ‘I feel ashamed, and ‘I feel left out’. And what I hear beneath the rambling about government and Mugabe and statues (by Bob and by others) is this:

1) ‘Poor me, I don’t belong’:

Do you really feel as though you don’t belong, or is that your self-pity talking? You have all the rights of a citizen, and furthermore, you are white and therefore privileged.

During apartheid, black South Africans were forcibly removed from their homes, were often forced into exile and were denied the full rights of citizenship. They were truly made to feel as if they didn’t “belong”. Furthermore, in many places, black South Africans still feel excluded. For instance, many black students are marginalised by the structures and cultures of our elite universities: #Rhodesmustfall at UCT, The Black Student Movement at Rhodes and Open Stellenbosch are therefore focused on making our universities truly inclusive.

I think, as white South Africans, we are included more than excluded by South African society. I personally care more about those who, 21 years after the end of apartheid, still feel materially excluded from key sectors, (especially since it’s my field, in higher education) than I do about Bob’s existential crisis of belonging.

2) ‘I feel excluded from discussions about race because they’re not about me’:

I think a lot of white South Africans try and derail discussions about race (“race isn’t important”, “apartheid is over” etc.) because they feel left out, irrelevant. Bluntly, it’s not about you. Apartheid did not disadvantage you. The global imbalance of power cantilevers in your direction. So while you can listen and learn and contribute, debates about race are not going to put you – or people like you – in the centre.

3) ‘It makes me uncomfortable when my whiteness is made visible’:

Discussions about white privilege make white people uncomfortable because they are used to thinking of themselves as ‘just a person’ and are not used to having their race matter. Of course, race doesn’t ‘matter’ – we shouldn’t stereotype or generalise based on the category of skin colour – but it has consequences in terms of the economic, political and social power it’s entailed, historically. That doesn’t mean you have to feel ashamed about this: it’s just a fact. Also, having privilege does not automatically make you racist: it’s not acknowledging this privilege which is problematic.

4) ‘I don’t like it when people accuse me of racism’:

We’d all like to think of ourselves as tolerant, good people. But even if we try really hard to be non-prejudiced, our immersion in South African society (hey, in the very imbalanced world) has a way of coming out of the woodwork. Racism is not just about disliking black people. Racist ideology hides itself in a whole series of assumptions about ‘culture’, ‘civilisation’, education, the West and Africa, identity and so on. If we want to be better South Africans, better humans, we need to able to acknowledge, and hopefully transform, our deep-seated ideas about race.

I know I can always do better. I make mistakes and reveal skewed assumptions I didn’t even know I held, all the time. Example: I’m not even sure if it’s okay for me to write this post. Maybe it’s inappropriate of me to speak on behalf of black South Africans. Maybe I’ve made generalisations or over-simplified certain issues. Maybe not, but it’s worth asking the question. (So let me know what you think.)

It can be uncomfortable carrying out this mental ideology check, constantly, but it’s essential. Of course it’s not just about ideas: ideology can (and should, if it’s beneficial) translate into action, but your mind is a good place to start, I think.

What ABOUT Bob?

Maybe it’s pointless to respond to people like Bob. Maybe they don’t want to change, because that would mean accepting the possibility of a transformed South Africa which might not fit their needs and wants. But I hope that this discussion, sparked by Bob’s letter, can open our eyes to our own assumptions, and can help us to look beyond our own insecurities and emotions, so that we can truly, humbly listen and empathise.

When our kneejerk reactions to being told uncomfortable truths about race and privilege are defensiveness and self-pity, we miss out on an opportunity to really engage with our fellow South Africans, to acknowledge their pain and our shared, difficult history, and to make our country better.

[This is becoming a long conversation, but there is a lot of greatness and importance in here and so we need to keep on with it – get involved in the comments section, bring your friends to look and if you want to find your way to the beginning of it all with links to all the consequent pieces, click here]

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