The research paper put out by Stellenbosch University is still causing heated debate on social media, two weeks after it was first released.
The paper lit firecrackers of anger by saying that due to prevailing socio-economic realities, coloured women have lower cognitive ability.
According to Dr Google, cognitive abilities “are brain-based skills we need to carry out any task from the simplest to the most complex. They have more to do with the mechanisms of how we learn, remember, problem-solve, and pay attention, rather than with any actual knowledge”.
The irony, of course, is that most of the reactions are purely emotional, completely devoid of carefully-considered intellectual argument, which almost plays into the point the research is trying to make.
I have tons of respect for my sisters of colour who have achieved academic excellence, but mentioning the fact that you have a Masters’ Degree doesn’t qualify in-and-of itself as a counter-argument to the report.
It may just mean that you are part of the exception to the group that was sampled.
Anyway, there are now calls for SU to recall the paper and distance itself from the findings. But I worry that many of the critics may not have read the actual study, and that we may be ignoring a potential social problem, simply because it offends our sensibilities.
I tried to get through it as best I could and, for the most part, I found an academic and (dare I say) benevolent intent behind the paper: an anthropological peek into something many of us may have noticed anecdotally, but wouldn’t dare verbalise, because it just feels wrong and disrespectful to say it out loud.
I suspect that is why some find the report so offensive; not because it’s prejudiced, but rather because we fear some of it might be true.
And because we would feel a swift backhand from our mothers and aunties if we even dared to ever say something like that to them.
Unlike most of the critics of the report, I actually think it’s a very important paper that sheds light on an extremely grey area.
It doesn’t strike me as racist or narrow, but rather to the contrary attempting to deconstruct a complex consequence of apartheid, and something that may lie buried beneath all the other social issues that plague the Cape Flats and enjoy media attention.
Gang wars and drug busts make better headlines than the need for targeted education, that could mean the end to those very gang wars and the drug busts in the long term.
The biggest oversight I can find with the study is the wording of the subject which is merely unfortunate, especially for a report written by white academics at an establishment still grappling with a racism legacy.
Add to that the complexity of the issue and the fact that it touches a very raw nerve, and I can almost understand the reactions.
But it doesn’t take away from the importance of the study and the fact that its findings need communal introspection and serious attention from social programs and academic planners.
And it would help if we separated the social Cape Flats from the geographic one; and if we didn’t confuse cognitive functioning with intelligence.
Because we all know that it doesn’t get any more intelligent and street smart than a coloured woman.
Maybe future studies on this subject and possible solutions can come from educated coloured women themselves.
After all, if we pay attention to the mental, psychological and emotional wellbeing of the traumatised mothers, sisters and daughters of the Cape Flats, we could solve all those other social problems in the process.