O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms! – Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene I
Most politically aware South Africans will be familiar with the ideological hypocrisy of the governing elites. The constitution advocates for non-racialism while government enforces more stringent BBBEE quotas based on apartheid racial classifications. The constitution values freedom of opinion and speech while pushing for harsher limitations on speech that might merely be hurtful. The preamble to the constitution calls for social justice while government cadres stuff their pockets with dirty money.
We have become so used to the duplicitous and hypocritical nature of government bureaucrats that pointing out examples of it often elicits a shoulder shrug and an eye-roll as if to say ‘Well, what do you expect?’
That is not to say that civil society has given up. Numerous liberal organisations work tirelessly to hold the ruling elites accountable when they kick aside the values they claim to uphold. These organisations are a bulwark against waves of illiberalism and race nationalism. Without them, the common sense of swathes of South Africans, and I am sure a good many decent and dedicated civil servants, the country would probably have descended into a Marxist dystopia years ago.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that many elite schools around the country have fallen afoul of the same ideological duplicity. But unlike the constant attempts to hold government to account, nobody is holding schools to account.
Up until quite recently, school policies reflected the values enshrined in the constitution and upheld them in practice. However, following the woke moral panic of the last few years, they appear to be utterly lost with respect to social justice, what it means, and how to achieve it.
Many well-to-do schools are now tending towards authoritarianism where values are decided by woke bureaucrats and force fed to the deplorables who apparently do not know better. The deplorables are people of all hues who just want to get on with trying to build a life for themselves and their families, understanding that we should be mindful and respectful of differences in culture, character, and belief. The deplorables are the majority of parents and teachers who wish to see children become anti-fragile members of a just society, and who treat others with compassion and dignity by virtue of having been collectively, as Sartre would put it, ‘thrown into the world’, condemned to be free.
The concern is that without organised pushback, schools are going to end up reflecting the worst aspects of South African society – superficially advocating for liberal values but mocking them in practice, all the while singing a ditty of social justice. They will be in the thrall of a vocal group who, despite their belief in a radical form of moral relativism, preach their doctrine with astounding levels of moral steadfastness.
I applaud the intention that fuels their fervour, but their beliefs worry me. If left unchecked, more and more decent parents, teachers and children will be hung out to dry by those who thrive on the duplicitous actions of these few who are ‘neither perverted nor sadistic’ to borrow from Hannah Arendt, but are ‘terribly and terrifyingly normal’.
For the remainder of this somewhat obloquious plea, I would like to give you an idea of the ideological hypocrisy I am talking about. The following examples are based on transformation policies from one private school in Cape Town, but really, I could have used any number of examples.
For the sake of linguistic frugality, I will not quote the policies at length, instead I will provide a brief summary of the more salient examples of duplicity.
In its Anti-discrimination Policy and Anti-racism Statement, the school commits itself to the values found in the constitution. It articulates a belief that the individual is the site of meaning, that individuals differ regarding race, opinion, belief, and class, and that an individual should be empowered, regardless of these differences, to pursue excellence without fear of harassment or vilification.
The Anti-discrimination Policy lists specific examples of what constitutes racist behaviour, most of which involve transgressions of the above core values.
However, judging by the school’s various Diversity and Transformation Reports, it continually commits the very same acts it says are racist. For example, no less than five racist acts listed involve prohibitions on racial segregation in various forms. The policy goes as far as to condemn ‘Exclusion of persons of a particular race group under any rule or practice’ (my emphasis). But, at the same time, the school justifies and celebrates the formation of ‘affinity groups’ and ‘safe spaces’ reserved exclusively for ‘POC’ (people of colour).
These safe spaces are deemed necessary because people of colour need to ‘connect and discuss their experiences’ and express ‘outrage when injustices occur’.
Not only is this condescending of black people, who I would wager are not as fragile as the adults in the room consider them to be, but it vilifies white people. To say that black people require a space where they can be safe, implies that they are unsafe around white people.
Social justice resources
The school considers the promotion of publications that are opposed to, or insult, others based on race to be anathema. Yet, it provides a list of social justice resources, two of which are White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. The former is self-help book for white people with instructions on how to not be racist (although, according to DiAngelo, this is, in fact, impossible because white people can never truly be non-racist), and the latter is a racist diatribe that, among other things, says of the ‘vast majority’ of white people that ‘… they’ve never known what it means to embrace a person of colour as a true equal, with thoughts and feelings that are as valid as their own’, and ponders about how strange it must be to be white, ‘… always having permission to speak and feeling indignant when you’re finally asked to listen.’ The ‘indignance’, according to the author, ‘stems from white people’s never questioned entitlement, I suppose’.
The transformation reports, informed by a diversity trainer who claims that ‘now is not the time for non-racialism’, make it quite clear that white people are full of ‘internalised superiority’ and must do all that they can to exorcise the unfortunate trait.
Finally, at the foundation of liberalism is the idea that individuals should be free to express opinions unless they are subject to constitutional limitations. The school has banned expressions of racial colour-blindness. Whatever you think of colour-blindness as an ideal, it is a valid opinion that should be allowed to be expressed and defended. By banning the idea, the school is spitting on constitutional freedoms that they profess to uphold and this should be of concern to everybody.
As should the general ideological hypocrisy evident in a worrying number of our schools.
I hope that in the years to come, society will be able to look back on a time when schools tended toward authoritarianism while pretending to be liberal and say, as my colleague Terence Corrigan so eloquently puts it: ‘It was all too often ordinary people who stepped into the breach, as is so often the case in this beautiful but tormented country.’
For that to be the case, teachers and parents need to start fighting back. In an ideal world, highlighting contradiction and hypocrisy would compel an organisation to make changes to their policies and actions. We do not live in an ideal world; however, pressuring schools for clarity on their values might, at the very least, force them to introspect.
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