EDUCATION: Privileged whites learn about township hardship

I’ve had so many interesting responses to the piece I wrote last week about white privilege.

A lot of it were messages of support with some wanting me to delve even further into the topic.

Of course there was a lot of angry criticism from readers who accused me of inciting hatred, which to me proved the point I was trying to make: that this topic seems to be taboo for some or other reason.

Speaking about the privileges some people enjoy today as a direct result of our social and political past, make many people so blind with anger that they are no longer able to see reason.

This is true even if one talks about it in a nice, non-threatening way. And I wasn't suggesting retribution or compensation for past injustices.

All I was asking for was understanding and a little compassion for those having to deal with the consequences today.

One of the emails I got was from Mohammad Parker, who took his time to make some very insightful, yet common comparisons.

I am extracting two of them so you can get an idea what he was trying to say:

“Miss Dirk wakes at 5.30am and hits the gym at 6am. After a quick workout, she joins friends at their favourite coffee shop in the CBD. She is at the office at 9am sharp. On Wednesdays and Fridays, her PA doesn’t take appointments after 1pm.

“David lives in a shack and gets up at 4am to bathe himself in cold water by candlelight, as he doesn’t have electricity. He risks his safety by walking 5km to the station to catch a train. But sometimes the trains are cancelled, making his monthly ticket useless. 

"Today David works the whole day without food, because he spent his lunch money on a taxi to get to work. Besides that, he receives a written warning for arriving late for the fourth time this month, through no fault of his own.”

These scenarios are more common than you may think. I wasn’t saying that Miss Dirk should feel guilty, or give David anything for free.

And I was also not trying to incite David to attack Miss Dirk or hate her privileged situation.

What I was asking is for Miss Dirk to understand David’s trying circumstances better. And to appreciate the fact that our country’s history contributed hugely to where they both find themselves today.

The fact is, many privileged people do in fact spare a thought for those who are struggling.

My point was that a mere thought is no longer enough. The occasional charitable donation is not enough. People are living lives of quiet desperation, while others are conspicuously showing off their wealth.

And it’s that conspicuous consumption courtesy of the privilege that was born out of apartheid, while grinding poverty caused by the very same apartheid, lives in the very next suburb that’s causing the anger.

Not understanding that, means we could be adding to the desperation and anxiety by giving someone a final written warning for being late, when it was apartheid that caused him to live so far away from work to begin with.

Appreciating, understanding and accepting that as fact, instead of a cause for friction or antagonism, will go a long way towards healing our nation.

Is that really too much to ask?