[imagesource: Parklands College]
The #BlackLivesMatter protests in the US have sent ripples out across the world, as people in myriad countries call for an end to institutionalised racism.
A few years ago in South Africa, the Rhodes Must Fall protests highlighted the racial inequality in higher education, while demonstrations at high schools used policies around ‘appropriate hairstyles’ to call attention to the different standards that black students were held to in secondary and primary education.
Since then, it appears as if little has changed for students of colour, and once again, young people are taking to social media to decry the subtle and, at times, overt racism that they’ve experienced while completing their schooling.
Let’s break down a few of the stories that have emerged over the past two weeks.
It started with an Instagram account, yousilenceweamplify, where students past and present are posting their experiences of racism at some of the most elite schools in South Africa, including Herschel Girls’ High School, which was dragged for ‘performance activism’ after it posted a black square on ##BlackoutTuesday.
It didn’t stop there.
Durban Girls’ College is under investigation after a number of old girls complained about racial prejudice at the private school, while more than 40 current and former pupils at St Anne’s Diocesan College in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands have brought forth their accounts of discriminatory conduct from teachers and fellow pupils.
Individual teachers are also under investigation, including Sonya de Vynck, a life orientation and art teacher at Pinnacle College in Kyalami, who threatened to kneel on her students’ necks “like George Floyd” if they didn’t behave.
Which brings us to Parklands College in Cape Town, where a grade 7 teacher thought it would be a good idea to creatively tackle the slave trade in the worst way possible.
The Citizen reports that the teacher in question set an assignment requiring students to “create their own ad” to be placed in a “fictional newspaper” announcing an upcoming slave auction. The best advert would be rewarded with a slab of chocolate.
Screenshots of the assignment were shared on Facebook by a concerned parent, Sindisiwe Lulamile:
Apart from the assignment, which in general has no place in a curriculum, the description of it as a “fun activity” encouraging to students to be “creative” and, again, “have some fun”, is beyond disturbing.
Like all of the schools mentioned in this article, Parklands College scrambled to publish an apology, and outline the steps that would be taken to rectify the situation.
The apology was published in two parts on their Instagram and Twitter accounts:
When the above was criticised for defending the assignment, the school principal, Sylvia Steyn, posted the following:
The school has launched an ‘internal investigation’ while pointing out that the teacher who put the assignment together is “young and inexperienced” and has been sent for sensitivity training.
I find it hard to believe that he hadn’t heard anything about how devastating and not “fun” slavery was.
I encourage you to visit yousilenceweamplify on Instagram and read through the countless incidents of discrimination and racial prejudice that have taken place over the years.
It looks like the PR departments at a number of private schools are going to be working overtime for the foreseeable future.
It’s time to educate the educators.
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