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Racism Is A Cunning And Covert Monster -- As The St John's Scandal Shows

What hurts and angers me the most is the thought of these young people being exposed to such caustic attacks on their personhood/intellect due to their colour.

03/08/2017 03:57 SAST | Updated 03/08/2017 06:19 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters
A student reads placards left at the entrance of the St. John's College in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 28, 2017.

The recent racist scandal at prestigious private school, St. John's College, where a white teacher told black students that "the only reason they were getting good marks is because they sat next to white learners" among a long list of other racist slurs he uttered is just another glaring sign that racism continues to live and breathe –- as a cunning and covert monster.

In his seminal work on race, Charles Mills suggests that the world is governed by a racial contract. A contract we all "sign" at birth unknowingly. He says, "The racial contract is real, and economically, in determining who gets what, the racial contract is an exploitation contract." The racial contract, then becomes the stronghold that creates the social realities we find ourselves in. Basically, everything in our society is an offspring of a race-based verdict. Always.

He further states "all whites are beneficiaries of the contract, though some whites are signatories to it," which alludes to the idea that white people receive the better end of the deal while those that aren't of whiteness, are the troupe that must be excluded.

The Racial contract provides great ground work in understanding how we then view ourselves first, as racialized beings then social beings, second. With this in mind, our beliefs and customs are then informed by this contract. Therefore those that benefit from it, can behave and act with the cavalier authority of benefactors of this imbalanced arrangement.

The news throughout the year has been littered with many stories of racist incidents in schools. From parents of the students at Klipspruit Secondary School protesting the appointment of a black principal to a young black boy's haircut being called "unacceptable" at Wynberg Boy's High. We also cannot forget the Grade 11 pupil at Pietermaritzburg Girls' High School who venomously spewed out the K-word in an audio recording that went viral. This St. John's College story joins a long list of incidents that I believe are the precipice of more to come, unless we directly address institutionalised exclusion of black students in these private schools, we always spurt out big words like 'transformation' but I do not think there have been honest attempts at this.

We need a purposeful, sustainable strategy, one that delves deeper than a quarter-hearted, over the counter prescription that only results in a placebo effect instead of tangible change. Again, unless we acknowledge the past, we can't hope to have a different future. What all these racist incidents in our schools expose, is how we keep re-signing the racial contract with every generation, without actually revising or altering the terms of conditions and any dream of ever eradicating racism seems, from this lens, futile. That is to say, we are bound by this until we re-visit the contract.

Most of us dream of a world where race doesn't determine this hierarchical social order.

What hurts and angers me the most, is the thought of these young people being exposed to such caustic attacks on their personhood/intellect due to the colour of their skin and the traumatic nature of retelling the story in the presence of the teacher during the internal investigation, which stinks of ethical issues. It's as if the cycle of pain and violence continues to only be in, around and through the black body. This was violence, the teacher may have not physically harmed the students but the words he uttered will live with them for a while. Words carry weight. Words stay behind long after we've left. Words burn.

Most of us dream of a world where race doesn't determine this hierarchical social order, where white people enjoy many privileges while non-white people remain on the periphery but at the centre of poverty, economic and social exclusion. Due to this racial contract, that we all function under, it seems inescapable, as such meditated acts of hatred keep happening and honestly, go (mostly) unpunished.

When I think of racism and how to remind myself not to give it the power it requires of me, I always remember the words of Toni Morrison, "The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn't shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing."

So all we can do is to do the work.