The Transformation Office of Stellenbosch University (SU) and the SU Museum recently hosted Tiffany Caesar, a doctoral candidate from Michigan State University in the United States, as part of the Ubuntu Dialogues series and Women’s Month. Tiffany shared her insights and experiences derived from the Black Lives Matter movement in the States and her academic research on related topics.
Tiffany spoke broadly about eugenics and how it still influences the lives and social mobility of the black community and transcends continents. Focusing primarily on structural racism and how it pertains to education, she explained how segregated and poorly funded education and higher unemployment in black communities often lead to a vicious cycle that impacts people of colour throughout their lives. Add to this the way in which the police and the justice system treat people from the black community, the impact of all these issues on families and communities lasts for generations.
Everyday examples of structural racism highlighted by Tiffany that also still exist in South Africa include the Pretoria High School for Girls case, which made international headlines in 2016 when black pupils’ natural hair was found to be against school policy. Why are white hairstyles universally seen as neat and tidy; why are natural black hairstyles considered unruly and untidy?
Tiffany also interrogated the notion of meritocracy and the common narrative in the States that people from the black community simply have to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. Is this fair or even possible in a milieu where poor education, high unemployment and an overt focus on black people by the criminal justice system converge and accumulate?
After her address, Tiffany was in conversation with Nomzamo Ntombela, former Students’ Representative Council president, and then took questions from the floor ranging from topics linking to institutional responses to the renaming of symbols of white power on campuses worldwide and what she describes as a false ideology of colour blindness. Her experiences in the States with regard to the slow pace of change in the higher education sector is that “students have to cry first” before something is done to address the issues that they have about making these spaces more welcoming for students of all races.
*Before the event commenced, a moment of silence was held for the death of one of South Africa’s struggle icons Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe and for that of the queen of soul and icon Aretha Franklin.
By Charl Linde
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