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The poverty porn of matric results

The release of matric results every year usually ushers in a slew of reports of young people who’ve succeeded despite great odds. SIAN FERGUSON says it’s time we said no to this poverty porn. 

Every year, when the National Senior Certificate (NSC) matric results are released, they’re accompanied by a great deal of poverty porn.

“Look at this poor student who got 9 distinctions! How inspiring!”

“This student overcame their circumstances and got a 98% aggregate.”

“Her 8 distinctions prove thay anything is possible if you try hard enough!”

The problem with this sort of message is that it’s used to perpetuate the idea that anyone can be successful if they just work hard enough. An extension of this idea is that poor people are poor just because we don’t work hard – a form of victim blaming that ignores structural inequality.

RELATED: Matric results: thinking has nothing to do with it

It exists also to quell white and/or rich guilt. By confirming that the poor are able to succeed despite their difficulties, we can easily believe that we are in the positions we are due to hard work and not due to privilege.

We celebrate the kids who overcome difficult circumstances despite the fact that they never, ever, ever should have had to endure those circumstances in the first place.

In our analyses of the ‘circumstances’ students overcome, we usually gloss over issues of gender, trauma and mental illness, despite the fact that those issues can all negatively affect one’s academic performance. There isn’t enough conversation about how the education system is incredibly Westernised and Eurocentric and therefore skewed to favour white students.

We need to celebrate the achievements of marginalised kids who do well. That’s really really important. But we shouldn’t appropriate their achievements in order to victim-blame their less successful counterparts.

This was first published on Sian Ferguson’s Facebook page

2 Comments
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  2. […] have written, instead of applauding poor [and in this case, black] people who overcome poverty, we need to look at ourselves and how we contribute to those conditions. Poor [black] people aren’t poor because they don’t work hard. They’re poor […]

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