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Blacks With Access: What Are We Doing With Our Privileges?

Instead of spending R33,000 on a culturally appropriated traditional Sotho jacket from Louis Vuitton, support the Sotho designer who sells his/her things at the local market.

04/12/2017 18:44 SAST | Updated 04/12/2017 18:44 SAST
Jabu Afrika Gaddafi-Tshabalala

There is a guy I once knew. His dad bought him a Porsche for his first car when he turned 18. When brotherman crashed the Porsche, he got downgraded to a Range. When he crashed that, he got downgraded again to the ultimate vrrr pah Golf GTI. It is for this class of young Blacks with Access I put pen to paper. For the Gucci-wearing, Louis Vuitton-toting, luxury-car-driving, multiple-overseas holiday-going, Apple MacBook-owning, always-nice-time lifestyle living youth. Progeny of the elite.

There are responsibilities that come with our rights. There are additional responsibilities that come with being Black and having access. By access, I mean the ability to move and live relatively easily and comfortably in this white supremacist country.

Those of us who are young, privileged with loud voices, access, freedom, time and resources are required to be meaningfully engaged in politics. In short, our personal praxis needs to become explicitly political. History will judge those white people who refuse to acknowledge that which must be acknowledged and corrected.

White people's 'ignorant' privilege is an affront on its own and it is that very same willful ignorance that will ensure the conditions of their judgement. On the other hand, there is a special place in history reserved for Blacks with Access. I speak specifically of the Blacks with Access who made it to the master's house; failed to dismantle it but instead stepped inside and shut the door behind them; thereby keeping the white man's system in place. Modern-day Black elites will be demanded to account for the ways in which they paid black tax, if at all, by both God and the non-elite Blacks of this country.

Those of us who are young, privileged with loud voices, access, freedom, time and resources are required to be meaningfully engaged in politics.

You find Blacks with Access in every sector of society; we are everywhere and we need to begin to engage in Trojan horse politics, take up space, change systems, and throw open doors. As I have argued elsewhere, African youth are too large a cohort to remain on the margins of politics. We must, and now, use our voices and the spaces we find ourselves in, to uplift and bring along others. To do this we need to start engaging with each other in politically meaningful ways. To quote the Cannabis Queen of The South Dr. Thandeka Kunene, "This revolution is easy, we just have to make different decisions."

#FeesMustFall is an example of what happens when Blacks with Access (proximity to whiteness) self-organize to do things differently. The narrative of decolonizing higher education was put on the national agenda in 2015 because blacks who studied on the stoep of the master's house started making as much noise as their fellow students at Fort Hare, VUT, TUT, WSU etc.

Historically black universities have been protesting against the inaccessibility and commodification of higher education since before democracy. This issue only became a 'serious' one worth national attention when the 'better' Blacks, the Blacks with Access joined the protest. #FeesMustFall was indeed a 'middle-class' student movement, WITS, SU, UCT, UCKAR - as historically white universities - are the alma mater of many who either hold or have access to the androcentric and asymmetrical levers of power in this country. In a white supremacist state, it is only when enough white people are uncomfortable do the things that normally remain unseen become starkly visible.

Again, young Blacks with Access need to start engaging in politically meaningful ways; we need to utilize our positionalities and resources to create networks of youth to engage each other on our vision of change.

A vision of Azania – of a society where the basic needs of people (water, shelter, food, education, safety) are met without question, fault, irregularity or excuse. A vision of a society that provides the opportunity for all to self-actualize; a vision where the self-actualization of one peoples is not institutionally and systematically based on the cultural, economic, political and historical dehumanization of indigenous people.

We need to utilize our positionalities and resources to create networks of youth to engage each other on our vision of change.

If reconciliation has not worked, then what must happen? We must answer this question because the actions and decisions of white people in Africa affect all of us more so than the decisions of Black people. In the same way, our decisions and actions as Blacks with Access - Blacks with political power - enable white people in their continued colonial positionality and power.

We continue to colonise ourselves so successfully that all the people comfortable with their privilege in this country (somewhat irrespective of race) now have the ability to say, "it's the black government that oppresses you, not us or our privilege." Well, yes. If the decisions taken in the halls of power serve the same purpose (preserving the status quo) then yes, it's the black government.

We need to begin to articulate intersectional strategies that can implement our vision of Azania. We should be able to distinguish between the strategies that dismantle and deconstruct the current system vs. those that build and erect a new functional, parity-based one. We need to start engaging each other – seriously - as Blacks with Access: about food security, health services, children's care, education, knowledge production, housing, clothing, etc.

It is time we go back to our Black Consciousness teachings on the necessity of Black self-reliance. The system exists to perpetuate itself and not to take care of us, the people: the fruits produced by the system and the people who enjoy those fruits are an elite living off old rhetoric used to justify the exclusive eating of those democratic fruits.

When I look to the powers that be I see no ideological coherence. No clear vision, no sense of a society that has space and place for all who live here. I see self-interest, moral bankruptcy and a lust for power and money. "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it."

And when I look at those around me, I see confusion, I see apathy, I see a lack of understanding, lack of feeling, fear, and deaths of the heart. Some Blacks with Access that have found clarity are utilizing their agency as gate-keepers, to perpetuate 'business-as-usual'. Because it serves them. Yes, I speak about some of our parents here. Never should our parents' efforts be negated (but, also, never to excuse corruption.) Black people have had to work twice, thrice as hard to provide their children that which they did not have growing up under apartheid, I call attention not to them but to the fruits of their labor. You. Us. "The children of the top ten percent," to quote a friend of mine Mukovhe Masutha. It is our challenge now.

I challenge us all to reflect on our praxis and 'what' we are doing with the privileges our parents and positionality affords us.

In other words, instead of getting your dad to buy you a new luxury car after crashing the first two, ask for money to start a business and employ other Blacks. Buy land, farm it, feed other Blacks; start Black schools and universities that teach and centralise African history and experience, schools that instill a proper sense of self thus rendering all these problematic private schools last choice options for black education. Go on one or two less international holidays a year and support black businesses or provide bursaries; instead of spending R33 000 on a culturally appropriated traditional Sotho jacket from Louis Vuitton, support the Sotho designer who sells his/her things at the local market. We as Black people must start to live the way the Jews, the Chinese, the Indians and ultimately, the way white people do; buy Black, circulate money within the Black community, build ourselves, grow ourselves, take care of ourselves. There is nothing racial or radical about this.

If you feel any semblance of the angst I feel about the future of the world then you know we have a duty to DO something to change ourselves, our country, our continent. And the world. That, as a collective, we are not single-mindedly galvanizing to protect and insure the inheritance of future generations, quite frankly, scares me. Our inability to take seriously the issue of climate change today endangers our tomorrow.

If you can, you must. We must do what we can with what we have. To those that have been given much, much will be required. "With great power comes great responsibility" is not just a cliché. We must find a new praxis of self that values ultimately, our collective futures over 'lifestyle.' It is easy enough to be skeptical of timelines of the pending revolution but what I do know is that I expect to live at least another 70 years. A lot can happen in 70 years, so can we please start making positively different decisions?

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