The idea of black children being excluded in formerly white-owned schools should seem ludicrous at this point in our democracy.
Though Brackenfell High is in the current news, the exclusion other than the physical is nothing new. To confirm this, all you need to do is ask any black or brown child that attends or has attended these schools. The racism isn’t overt, the microaggressions maybe, but it is the silent exclusion from events at school that black and brown children feel. The snubbing in the class by teachers tasked to educate them, the social distances during lunch break, the lack of invitations for any extracurricular activity and the ignoring of them as simply students. It matters not that one or two black or brown children are chosen as head girl or boy or a prefect but rather what happens to them as a collective.
The circle of whiteness that is maintained and upheld by white students, their parents and the staff at school sometimes opens enough to include one or two black children, but in a country that has a black majority, does this make any sense?
Many white people do not understand they are privileged because they do not feel privileged. They do not see any outward signs of this privilege, no visible “whites only” signs, such as South Africa had during Apartheid or The States during segregation.
White people are offended by any reference to white privilege because they think it means they are racist and didn’t work hard for what they have. These types of beliefs are significant obstacles to racial justice.
Whiteness informs every aspect of daily life, from the personal to the political, and especially, the educational.
As such Professor Cheryl Harris, who wrote about whiteness as property argued that whiteness provided individuals’ unique property rights which are unavailable to black and brown communities and subsequently render whiteness valuable.
Harris in (1993) suggested, “Just as whiteness as property embraced the right to exclude, whiteness as a theoretical construct evolved for the very purpose of racial exclusion.
This tenet highlights how white superiority so ingrained in political, legal, and educational structures that it is perceived as “ordinary.”
This “ordinariness” means that “racism is difficult to address or cure because it is not acknowledged,” and leads to “colour evasiveness,” as per one of the founding fathers of CRT, Richard Delgado states.
Historical implications also shed light on the ways that “whiteness as property” determines the right of possession (including space such as schools) and the right to use. Read above about the school situation I mentioned.
Essentially, the way that race has been categorized in history holds implications for how institutional and systemic racism still function today and how white privilege is maintained.
This may be attributed in part to contemporary analyses of race neutrality or “colourblindness” as masking-rather than counteracting-injustice.
As the legal scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw argued in 1988: “Racial hierarchy cannot be cured by the move to facial race-neutrality in the laws that structure the economic, political, and social lives of black and brown people.”
Being white allows you the privilege of earning more, being protected, moving about in spaces with no thought as to whether you will be welcomed or not.
The law has treated and protected being white as a right.
The law once stated that black and brown people were inferior. Since 1994, the law now states that we are all equal, and as such, we have entered a type of colourblindness and rainbowism that is very problematic because socially, our laws are still in place. You can’t go to a hungry child on the Cape Flats and tell them how his colour doesn’t matter, and you don’t see it, because the reality is that the child is living there because they are black or brown.
So let me give you examples of why whiteness as property has social value. In as much as police are brutal to people in general, they are infinitely more brutal to black and brown people. We need only look at the number of black deaths during this lockdown in South Africa to understand that white people have a value placed on them that is much higher than those of black and brown people. It is almost assumed that you can reason with a white person but not with black and brown people. The hashtag black lives matter is indicative of the problem we face in society.
Whiteness as property goes beyond the white person earning more than the black person or receiving more favourable rates or better offers from financial institutions, it is in the value, the social value of being white and how valuable that is. So, in conclusion, the value of whiteness is almost invisible, but it makes a difference because their worth in society is more.
Everything was constructed to make white lives easier. This is why whiteness as property is valuable.
Some quotes from: Richard Delgado, Kimberle Crenshaw and Professor Cheryl Harris.