Thabo*, a student I knew at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, had once applied to the Dean of Humanities to allow him to take a certain combination of subjects. His choice of subjects was quite complicated and his request was rarely agreed to. Thabo though was a high-performing student who had achieved top marks throughout his university career and so it seemed obvious that he would be granted permission.
He had heard of this combination from a classmate of his, (Kate*), who was recently allowed to pick up these subjects. To our surprise, the Dean declined his request, citing marks that did not quite meet the requirements for such a combination. Both Thabo and his classmate were doing the same degree with the same subjects for the first two years at Rhodes, but Kate’s marks were much lower than that of Thabo’s. Naturally, questions of race surfaced and specifically why it was that a white student with lower marks was allowed to take this combination of subjects while a black student couldn’t. The incident revealed to me the issue of white mediocrity in this country.
How much longer will we continue to celebrate white mediocrity? How much longer should black people, women and other minority groups have to work twice as hard to receive half of the recognition and reward offered to whites and men that are clearly not worth it?
How much longer will our lecturers, mentors, tutors, and academic institutions repress the black child? The very same people who are meant to be moulding a new cohort of intellectually, socially, financially and personally “woke” young graduates, are the very same people using their power to ostracize them and belittle their work. I am tired of watching my peers treated as though they can never amount to anything simply because their lecturers do not like them. Academic spaces are supposed to be a hub of intellectual, mature individuals who concern themselves only with the expansion of knowledge and yet this is not the case.
How much longer will it take for the LGBTIQA+ community to be free in their own home? To have the social – not just legal – right to embrace their love, their personhood and their right to belong? It is inconceivable to me that in 2016, people are being killed, raped, heckled and kept out of certain spaces purely because of who or what they are.
How much longer?
How much longer will black knowledge and history be regarded as second grade to western thought? Ours is a rich history shaped by intellectuals and leaders who have transformed what it means to be black and to be African. These are the stories that have to be told in universities, schools, churches and social spaces. For it is in celebrating the fact that we can produce knowledge of a sound and intellectually superior standard, that we are able to move forward as black people.
How much longer until minority groups can rise up and create for themselves a system that embraces them, a system that not only nurtures them but allows them to flourish and realise their truest potentials? In the wake of collective student movements, we must become the leaders we so desperately need, leaders who can recognize their faults, admit that they have failed and yield power others when it is necessary.
How much longer?