Racist Bullies at Racially Integrated Schools

A Subject that Needs More Research

By Mandisi Majavu · 15 Jun 2015

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Picture: Pixabay
Picture: Pixabay

With Youth Day upon us again this week commemorating the contribution made by the school-going children of Soweto during the apartheid struggle in 1976, it’s hard to gloss over the enormous sacrifices they made. How tragic it is then that 21 years into our democracy, their massive impact has merely led to a fragile pact between black and white South Africans, where blacks have yet to be unconditionally welcomed in historically white neighbourhoods and institutions, and where white superiority lurks close beneath the surface of routine interactions.

One of the least theorised and under researched topics in post-apartheid South Africa is the way in which black parents and their children are often bullied at racially integrated schools. A brief survey of the media on this issue reveals, for example, that this year alone the Department of Education in Mpumalanga suspended a principal and two teachers from Hoërskool Reynopark in Witbank after a teacher subjected a black student and his mother to racist bullying. In another widely publicised incident earlier this year, the Gauteng Education Department found that the Curro Foundation School in Roodeplaat has been racially segregating students.

The so-called ‘good’ schools in post-apartheid South Africa generally cater to white middle class parents. Hence, white middle class parents are on average more effective and successful in getting what they want for their children in these schools relative to black middle class parents. For example, the Curro Foundation School admitted it had racially segregated students because white parents were threatening to take their children out of the school.

Black parents, on the other hand, have to involve either the department of education or the police to get some racially integrated schools to take them seriously. For instance, according to newspaper reports, two months ago the black father of a matriculant who had been enduring racist bullying at an East Rand school had to open a case of common assault against his racist bullies. In 2012, a black student from Hibberdene Academy attempted suicide after being subjected to racist bullying. The Hibberdene Academy principal was quoted in the media at the time, as saying that the incident was nowhere near bullying, rather it was a matter of “girls not liking each other”.

Research shows that it is rare that non-black school officials will acknowledge the existence of racist bullying in their schools. As a result, black students’ complaints about racist bullying are often not taken seriously by schools. When schools are compelled to admit that there is a problem---like in the Hibberdene Academy case, school officials will often talk about the problem in such a way that the racist dimension of the situation is overlooked. 

I must point out that some black middle class parents are naïve in that they think that most white teachers are unraced professionals who view all students under their care in the same way. International research shows that white teachers often view black boys especially as bad, rough and keen to fight at a drop of a hat. Moreover, white professionals often socially identify with racists rather than with victims of racism. Blacks who complain about racism are dismissed as being overly sensitive, paranoid or engaging in hyperbole.

Even some anti-racist whites take offense when it is pointed out that their actions have racist implications. This is because, generally speaking, white performativity is anchored around what some scholars call “sincere fictions” of the white self. These include positive images of whites as being more intelligent than blacks and a general portrayal of whites as good liberals who do not subscribe to racist values.

Meanwhile, social reality shows that some racially integrated schools in post-apartheid South Africa provide a captive audience for racist bullying. Furthermore, historically white schools and racially integrated private schools tend to cultivate a sense of entitlement in white students, whilst they simultaneously foster a sense of constraint in black students. Additionally, because of their attitude, it can be argued that some South African schools like the Curro Foundation and Hoërskool Reynopark provide to black students what some scholars refer to as extra “lessons in frustration and powerlessness”.

The social climate at these schools often reflects white middle class values. Consequently, as far as these schools are concerned, good parents are white middle class parents. It then follows that black parents will likely be ignored when they try to intervene on their children’s behalf at these schools.

Black middle class parents who think that they can question the social climate at these schools because of their class position are typically put in their place. The Hoërskool Reynopark incident is instructive. A black mother called the school to complain about a teacher who called her son a baboon and who used the K-word to refer to her son during class. Instead of being treated with dignity and respect, the media reports that “when the mother called the teacher, he swore at her, said she was stupid and also called her a baboon.”

Black scholarship refers to social situations in which a member of the black middle class is reminded by racist whites that race trumps class, as the “nigger moment”. Essentially, these moments communicate to members of the black middle class that social institutions are not set-up to accommodate their individual needs. Blacks are expected to find a way to thrive in social institutions that embody whiteness. This in itself shows how social institutions give whites an advantage over blacks.

However, some have argued that the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa has a transformation and diversity committee, which assists schools with diversity issues. Although diversity has become a buzzword, diversity initiatives are fundamentally flawed. Granted diversity initiatives have the potential to change individual behaviour. But, diversity-training programmes do not change social institutions.

Ideologically, diversity initiatives are rooted in liberalism that views society as consisting of culturally different individuals who are unaffected by institutions and history. Hence, diversity-training programmes often encourage people to grapple with social questions about social groups and institutions by focusing on individuals. This approach ignores the root of the problem, which includes social relations and social roles that institutions expect people to fit into.

At this point in time in South African history, prestigious educational institutions embody whiteness. No amount of diversity training can fundamentally change that.

Majavu is the Book Reviews Editor of Interface: A Journal For and About Social Movements. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

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Comments

Sharon
16 Jun

Racist Bullying in Schools

The Research quoted is inconclusive and skewed. If you are going to base an article on "Research" then do the research properly to ensure accurate statements. I am not denying that there are problems and that there is bullying, however in most of the previous Model C schools the bullying is in the reverse with White children in the minority and African children in the majority. In a class of 40 there will be perhaps two or three white children. Peoples mentality is to exclude and marginalise the minority. It is sad but true.

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ErikaB
19 Jun

All Kinds of Discrimination at Schools

Discrimination and bullying of all sorts of minorities happens at schools: against minority speakers of the other language at 'dual-medium' schools, of the minority culture(s) in mulicultural schools, of minority races, of less intelligent or less sportily-inclined scholars, of female scholars in co-ed schools, of religious minorities in most schools. We need to look deeper than racism and look at discrimination and intolerance in our society as a whole. Racism is merely one facet of a generally discriminatory culture in SA, but also in other countries around the world. Given the ubiquity of discriminatory behaviour around the world, one has to wonder whether it doesn't have its roots in some biological survival mechanism for which society has outgrown the need, much as most people no longer need the biological survival mechanisms of their bodies to store fat for times of famine.

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