M&G column on white privilege hits a nerve in SA

Mail & Guardian columnist Verashni Pillay has caused a stir with her article, “Six things white people have that black people don’t”.

She lists these as:

  • Generational wealth in the form of cash or assets handed down from elders, such as school fees, birthday money, an old car or a family home;
  • Social capital, that is benefiting from your family’s social networks, speaking, dressing and shaking hands the same way as your boss, and getting his or her jokes and pop-culture references;
  • Early childhood development, that is having had nutritious meals as a child, books at home and opportunities to learn and play even before formal schooling;
  • The benefit of the doubt that you are not a criminal, that you have good intentions and that you are a capable worker;
  • A financial head start in the form of a parent or family member helping you put a down payment on a house or car, or standing surety for you when you try to take out a loan; and
  • Self-sufficient parents, so you don’t have to start sending your paychecks to mum and dad to pay the bills back home immediately after landing your first job.

Pillay says in her article that she is speaking in broad brush strokes and that these points aren’t true of all white people – just as the converse is not true of all black people – but still, she’s managed to stir up a hornet’s nest.

Ernie Fourie said on Twitter that the article was misguided and promoted misperceptions, and claimed that: “Most of the Black men of my age, have degrees, while I had to go and fight a war that I didn’t believe in”.

The 2011 census meanwhile shows that, at the time of the count, only 35.2% of black people under the age of 20 had matric while 76% of white people under 20 had matric.

Lynne Correia argued that: “It was extremely rare for any of my classmates to be handed a car. At best, it was the family skedonk. I received neither. No money for university? … Go to college, get a bank loan or get a job.”

Because of course, you can go to college without having someone pay for it, get a bank loan without any surety, and find a job with no higher education.

Others argued that the uproar about the article was grounded in guilt.

“You don’t need to feel guilty or try and be defensive for the system that you didn’t create or help sustain. You just have to understand how ‘we’ are still suffering from its unjust structural, financial and social oppression … and how it still and will still affect future generations,” wrote Thabiso Sthabi Raseobi.

Pillay’s article, however, is not without its faults. Some have argued that it is polarising and not as nuanced as it could have been, and that what Pillay is really talking about here is inequality and class differences.

“The article is shallow, it is trite, it is based on thumb-suck opinions,” commented Michael GeeBee.

Still her argument has certainly hit a nerve with South Africans across the board. Three days after it was published, the story had been shared more than 16,000 times on Facebook and 625 times on Twitter.

Read the full article on the M&G.

– Featured image by Ra’eesa Pather