In the last few months, I was called ‘uneducated’ on Twitter and following that conversation I received an e-mail calling me an ‘uneducated k****r’. I was also subsequently called a ‘dom d**s’ and my education was thereafter questioned on Facebook. A lot more was said in between and I received a lot of racial based abuse focused on my lack of education following a post which the author subsequently removed (after it served its purpose, I assume). All who have pointed out my lack of education are interestingly white, white folk who disagreed with some or other opinion I had.
I have had many black people disagree with me; none have ever questioned my educational background. So it really baffled me why anyone would need a qualification to have an opinion, as we all have a story to tell irrespective of our educational backgrounds. Education is seemingly an innocent excuse to keep people off the opinion scene. After all, at first glance it suggests that one only wants well-informed commentary. But dig a little deeper and you will find that higher education is not exempt from the influences of white privilege, after all:
- A white youth is more likely to attend an institution of higher learning than a black one, since white privilege ensures that less white youth are under pressure to immediately earn (or at least attempt to earn) an income;
- Admission policies at higher institutions of learning are easier for a white youth to attain, merely by virtue of the majority of black youth coming from an obviously failing education system and
- A white youth is likelier to complete their higher learning studies than a black one, by virtue of their differing experiences at that level. Black children often lack the educational and financial support required as compared to their white peers.
What this means though is that the use of education as an excuse to silence an opinion ‘coincidentally’ makes it easier to keep opinion spaces white, which to me smacks too much of an effort to relive ‘the good old days’ when opinion was only fit for some to have. Some may see my connection between the ‘being educated’ dictates and race as rather sketchy, but consider this, merely by virtue of being black and disagreeing with white opinion- I was assumed to be uneducated by white people who do not know me.
The Twitter ‘spat’ in which I was first told of the need to educate myself revolved around my use of language. There is no doubt that language has over the years been used as a tool of power by oppressors, but in the same way that happens, language can also become a tool of empowerment for the oppressed. By that, I am not referring to changing one’s manner of speaking to suit anyone. I am referring to the use of language to share one’s story and make oneself heard expressing one’s truth. My truth may be invalid in the academic world, but that should not mean that I should not speak it. As Dr. Nomalanga Mkhize said in an interview with the Mail and Guardian earlier this year, “We don’t have the luxury of being tourists, because we lead ‘black lives’”. In the same way, I do not study my truth- I live it. The study of black struggles cannot and should not make one’s opinion or view of it more ‘valid’ than that of those who actually live it.
We recently saw One in Nine campaigners physically assaulted and verbally abused at the Jo’burg Gay Parade, following their disruption of the march to request one minute of silence for those slain in hate crimes. As has happened with many other movements in the past, the event was depoliticised and redefined in terms of whiteness. Gillian Schutte describes events at the Jo’burg Gay Parade as “…just another form of black-bashing, another manner in which to show just how little most white people empathise with black issues, black bodies and black emotionality. The inherent mantra of ‘white is right’ was written all over this event…”
What happened to the One in Nine campaigners, though more obvious, is increasingly happening to a lot of good movements and even in much needed processes. The insidious manner in which it is happening allows it to go by unchecked, further perpetuating white supremacy and privilege.
Educated or not, the black story must be told by us in our own words- irrespective of how anyone feels about it. Instead of dictating to others how to tell their stories, those who want to read academic writing should just read Dr. Dan Roodt’s work instead…