When asked what I do, I'm often met with, "there aren't many black women in this field, are there?" And my response has always been, "there are a lot more black women in aviation than one would think, and the number is rapidly growing." Or so I thought. I mean, I know about a handful of black women who fly, which sounds very little, but surely there are hundreds of black female pilots all over the country that I don't know about. Surely. Surely. Right? *BEEP* Wrong.
A while ago I read an article titled, "Where are the Black Pilots?" And in it, Poppy Khoza, CEO of the Civil Aviation Authority said that of the 17000 pilots in South Africa only 4% are black. If my math literacy knowledge serves me correctly, that's 680 black pilots. Of those 680 pilots, 241 are female. 241. Seeing that number gave me more feels than my ex ever did. People are always talking about equality, transformation, correcting injustices, etc, but how are we still here? So many have gone before us to try and change this narrative, men and women such as Bessie Coleman, James Banning, and Thomas Allen. Locally and more recently there has been, Refilwe Ledwaba, Asnath Mahapa, Fatima Jakoet, yet here we are, two decades into our non-racial democracy and the numbers stand at a paltry 680 and 241. How are we still here?
After reading these statistics I felt like a bit of a fraud. I go to schools and I tell kids that they should all become pilots and the aviation field is a magical one which will welcome them with open arms. Why is flying seen as such an unobtainable luxury that's limited to the elite? I struggle with the reality that it is inaccessible to so many. I struggle with the reality that because flight school fees are as expensive as they are, so many have to give up the dream of ever being a pilot.
A few weeks ago, a school I visited had a career expo. Of the approximately 400 intermediate phase learners who were taking part in the career expo, not one chose to be a pilot. Not a single one.
It breaks my heart that after being told "you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up", realizing the dream of being a pilot is just too expensive for so many children.
Imagine being told you can be whatever you want to be, then being told that what you want to be is just too expensive for you to be.
A few weeks ago, a school I visited had a career expo. Of the approximately 400 intermediate phase learners who were taking part in the career expo, not one chose to be a pilot. Not a single one. Why would they if it's such a sequestered profession. Why would they if there are no visible role models? Where are the black pilots?
We are all in a situation where we must do the best we can with what we've got. WE have to change things so that the next generations' dreams don't go unrealized because of accident of their birth and grim economic realities that stop those with talent and ambition from triumphing over adversity. Young people, you can take yourself out of any adverse situation to a triumphant one. YOU have the power.
The Abovementioned School had a group of girls who want to be musicians, they had a little showcase and sang Nina Simone's 'To be Young Gifted and Black.' She sings,
'Young, gifted and black
We must begin to tell our young
There's a world waiting for you
This is a quest that's just begun.'
Black child if you are reading this, you are an altar of stars. Your dreams - they are attainable. They are valid. We will change this narrative. Flying isn't this supernatural pleasure that can only be enjoyed by a select few. The sky knows no prejudices. As a beautiful poem shared by Nayyirah Waheed so eloquently states, 'your skin is not a burden. There is no mark against you. Your being is a holy being. You. Are a holy being.' Soar.
'til next time.