There is a topic that South Africans love
to discuss – constantly, heatedly – and it comes in various guises:
Nation-building, reconciliation, transformation.
In the end, it simply centres on the relationship between the country’s different cultures and races.
We see this in the race-related incidents that flare up on the regular, from white men attacking black workers on the streets of Cape Town to blackface costumes to the racist utterings of certain popular singers to the distress over the renaming of a street after a former apartheid president.
For the most part, older adults are involved, and we can say, well, they’re a dying breed. When it’s students, we can say that they’re young and stupid and weren’t thinking. But when very young children are drawn into grownup racial prejudices, it hurts like a physical wound.
This is what we saw last week, when parents
of the Curro Foundation School in Roodeplaat accused the school of segregating
their children according to race.
The school denied allegations of racism, saying that "in some grades they have a very small number of white pupils who they try and keep together in one group".
According to Curro Holdings’ André Pollard, "It’s not because we would like to segregate the whites, it’s just because of friends. Children are able to make friends with children of their culture."
At this point, allow me to say that this is
complete bollocks. If there is any segment of the population that can be
considered race- and culture-blind, it would be small children.
They really are able to make friends with anyone. It is only when they are repeatedly exposed to adults’ prejudices that they begin to think of differences as important.
A follow-up story, after a meeting held with parents, was even more disheartening, saying that the reasoning was because of the "white flight" from the school: "Pollard said the school had been segregating the pupils according to race because white parents were withdrawing their children. He said he was surprised that parents were offended by the segregation because a number of schools across the country had the same policy."
That, right there, is the problem.
Accommodating a group of parents who are being racist is unacceptable. By the way, to those parents: shame on you. Your child is growing up in a country where he or she will be interacting with a diverse range of people on a daily basis. Do not harm them by presenting this interaction to them as an unnatural thing.
And if it is indeed true that other schools hold the same policy, we are in deep trouble. Separating children according to race only enforces arbitrary differences and cultural stereotypes, and strengthens division – the absolute last thing we need. It actively hurts our country and our attempts to get this nation built already. It sounds remarkably and distressingly like the “separate but equal” argument behind apartheid.
It is disingenuous to pretend that you "don’t see race" or that you live in a magical fairy unicorn world where race does not matter, because it does. It is the ideal, yes, to come to a point where we all live peacefully and sing “Kumbaya” around a campfire, but we are not there yet. There is simply too much hurt and inequality and misunderstandings remaining, and a great deal of healing that needs to happen.
South Africans are not always verygood at having conversations – we get angry and defensive too quickly – and this has to change. We need to talk honestly to one another, but it is even more important that we learn to listen.