The White Standard and why collaboration is essential

Posted by Janice Scheckter on 14 September 2016 6:25 PM CAT

I am a white South African who grew up in a middle-class home, but when compared to the average South African, a highly privileged home, where private education, followed by university and a paid-for apartment were all part of expectation. I have never wondered where my next meal would come from. I have never had an illness, which I had to ignore due to no medical access.

I grew up encased within my white privilege aware of the oppression and hardships of my fellow citizens. I recall at a very young age, being in the Johannesburg city centre with my mother, being newly able to read and asking on seeing a ‘whites only’ bathroom sign, where black people ‘went’ and I recall this being the first bit of consciousness of inequality, that bothered me. Possibly a combination of my slight OCD-leaning, but also a yearning for fairness, that, as a young child, bothered me.

What bothered me evolved to all the real inequalities that really affected the lives of millions in South Africa and when in 1994, I was appointed as part of the team to work on the ANC manifesto launch I felt an enormous sense of honour.

But now over 20 years into our democracy, where naively many of us had hoped for a country that would effortlessly slide into easy integration, the grumbling of racism in the gut of our country once again bothers me.

The recent reports over black hair really shook my consciousness and I realised that even I am guilty of applying “the white standard”. Little things like how men do or don’t allow women through a door ahead of them, how personal space either physically or vocally is confined, raise some form of judgement.

How much do we judge each day based on our standard? Believe me, there is no gold in this White Standard. We live in a country of uneasy juxtaposition, where a myriad of language and cultures paint a colourful portrait of a nation, where a wonderfully penned constitution promises respect for all, but every day, we squeeze a diversity of peoples and social mores into a European-boxed business world and we judge accordingly.

As the hangover of the White Standard lingers, I believe in many cases collaboration provides a route to find compromises. No; not just communication! Communication may inform us of The White Standard that black hair requires more maintenance and may be difficult to squeeze into the standard (smile, there it is again) swimming cap, but collaboration will provide ways to find solutions.  White principals collaborating with their black students could have avoided what proved not only embarrassing but also tainted with unpleasantries of the past.

Listen, people around the world are collaborating to solve hunger that ravages millions, disease, and other global crises that, on the face of it, appear mammoth. Surely collaborating around cultural difference and understanding can’t be out of reach?

Janice Scheckter is a collaboration activist, discarder of The White Standard and enormously proud, patriotic South African.   

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