Looking back at the trauma Adam Habib put Wits students through before and during the Fees Must Fall Movement, I wanted to reflect on how black and brown people are treated in this country.

There seems to be a perception that black and brown people from South Africa are “tougher,” than our African brothers and sisters, both in this continent and abroad.

I have noticed that it took endless protests, violence at the hands of security guards and police officers and dismissals and vilifying of students leaders at Wits University for black students to bring attention to Adam Habib’s treatment of them. Despite the trauma, violence, subsequent arrests and expulsions of the students, Adam Habib remained.

Instead, students were slammed for protesting, for the destruction of property, and called thugs, lazy, entitled e.t.c by people who were watching it through the lens of discursive and structural racism. Many were injured physically, mentally and psychologically. There was little sympathy because those students are “tough,” and rude and want everything for free, isn’t that the general belief?

But never once did people, our le think of how the students may need counselling! How can black students need counselling? They are used to that type of treatment, isn’t that so? Lots of these were utterances by black and brown people, who consciously and unconsciously adhered to the racist system we live in.

It took one black student from the United Kingdom to object to Adam Habib’s internalized racism, to make black and brown people sit up and immediately sympathize with the student. In other words, the message here is that in this country, you can treat black and brown people “harsher.” 

If we were to use lashes as an example, our local black students would have been given 100 lashes to the overseas black students 20, for the same transgression. Yet, we don’t realize that our trauma from the violent past gives us “licence” to come down extra hard on our children.

If you were one of those people who felt sorry for that black student who called Adam Habib out, but was silent on his treatment of the local students, then sit this one out; sit this one out, not because that student doesn’t deserve our support, but because our students need it too.

It’s not ok to treat black and brown students like the proverbial “stepchild” (excuse the example) and pamper, sympathize and support others.

It’s abusive behaviour when we think our students are “tough” and can take whatever is being “dished out” to them.

It’s abusive when we think our students have no problems and that they’re simply lazy.

It’s abusive when, after racist’s attacks and harm, our students must bear it because we, being their elders, had it worse.

Sit this one out when you expect our students to go through what we went through during Apartheid. Wasn’t the whole point to make our children’s lives easier because of how we suffered?

Sit this one out if you expect our students to, even in the face of racism and violence always show gratitude.

Expecting our children to go through the trauma we did, is toxic! Why would you knowingly want them to suffer like that?

Sit this one out when a black child is crying out for education, and all you see is them “wanting things for free,” yet you never acknowledge that things aren’t free and fair and never have been.  

Sit this one out when the best advice you can give them is to “get a job” without asking about their dreams and aspirations.

Mental illness exists in our communities, as does drug abuse etc. This should give you an indication as to how much our youth are suffering! But you look past the anger, the trauma, the poverty, the hurt and instead of walking a path to heal them and break generational trauma, you choose the path of harm.

If you feel that because black and brown people are used to suffering and poverty, that you may as well treat them badly too, rather, take several steps back and sit this one out.