Lees jou gunsteling-tydskrifte en -koerante nou alles op een plek teen slegs R99 p.m. Word 'n intekenaar
Die Student
We don't know how to talk to each other
Kathryn van den Berg
Kathryn van den Berg

At the beginning of my second year at Stellenbosch, I was made dramatically aware of the slippery slope that is freedom of speech.

I will never forget sitting in an English lecture which was on a novel set in Cape Town.Studying a South African novel, the students in the lecture hall could expect topics common to South Africa: themes of racism, of segregation and of inequality are found in almost all novels studied concerning our country.

On these themes we should not be sensitive: studying a humanities course in a country whose past (and present) is scarred by the trauma of apartheid is a choice that all of us in the lecture hall made freely. We decided to make the term “apartheid”, and all its connotations, part of our daily academic vocabulary.

This particular novel was no exception. With a hall full of the so-called “born free” students, the lecturer presenting this novel was faced with the challenge of attempting to speak about difficult topics which are more sensitive to some students than others, but with which all races in the lecture hall could identify.

READ MORE: Expropriation: We have to be careful

Surprisingly, no student challenged the lecturer when provoked with the trigger words like “apartheid”, “racist ideology” and “political exclusion”.

Being a white female with an Afrikaans surname, the practice of walking on the metaphorical eggshells of “white privilege” is a common one for me.

This practice also seems ordinary for my white peers who also refuse to raise their hands in lectures of this kind for fear of appearing ignorant, or of trying to appease our apparent inherent insecurity that is “white guilt”.

Difficult subjects

Nevertheless, the lecture appeared to be going smoothly, with no student of any race raising their hands in protest when difficult topics were brushed over by the lecturer.

However, the predicted outburst from some sensitive student did in fact occur when the passionate lecturer (who, by the way, is a lady identifying as coloured) used an incorrect phrase to explain an instance in the novel.

Although she had been teaching this class for years, and although the sentiments expressed were not her own, the lecturer of this English class made the mistake of forgetting the mandate of political correctness.

In explaining the plot of the novel, she said something along the lines of rape, or the patriarchy, or some other such word said bluntly and uncensored.

Being a white female with an Afrikaans surname, the practice of walking on the metaphorical eggshells of “white privilege” is a common one for me.

Her unassuming oversight was an electric wave which ran over the hall, and which resulted in one female student zapping up her hand as if her arm had been physically shocked by the lecturer’s words.

“I would just like to know how you, as a lecturer in post-colonial anti-racist South Africa, can stand there and endorse rape culture and sexual abuse.”

Silence.

Turning heads.

Wide eyes focused on the lecturer’s reaction.

Caught out, confused by this accusation, and no doubt concerned by this threat, the lecturer responded with an air of grace and respectability which, perhaps, is a testament to her character as opposed to a rehearsed response: such an instance in her class had obviously not occurred before.

After having explained her reason for using such a blunt term, the lecturer attempted to continue with her discussion and do her job unhindered by this unsettling disruption.

The electrically charged student, though, would not accept an explanation or see that the sentiments in the novel were not the lecturer’s own but rather a testament to the free speech employed by this novel’s author.

“I would just like to know how you, as a lecturer in post-colonial anti-racist South Africa, can stand there and endorse rape culture and sexual abuse.

Following the lecturer’s explanation, an argument ensued between student and lecturer which ended in the former shouting at the latter: “The dean of this faculty will hear about this and about you.”

Silence.

Turning heads.

Wide eyes focused on the lecturer’s reaction.

It is no surprise to note that the class ended early. Walking out of the hall, the students of colour could be seen whispering passionately about their peer’s bravery in the face of what they viewed as colonialism at work, while the white students held their tongue and dared not speak as bluntly as the coloured female lecturer had done.

How should we react?

This occurrence, although drastic, is not uncommon on campus. Students hold back their words for fear of being slandered with the accusation of being “unable to see past their privilege” and “attempting to speak in a language that is not African”.

Students at university who actively chose to study a course like the humanities are confronted daily with situations we are not taught how to deal with.

READ MORE: The sins of SARS

We don’t know what words to use to describe the “white colonist” in our history essays.

We don’t know how to express the anger we feel when we see the phrase “one settler one bullet” on placards trending on Twitter and on Facebook.

We don’t know how to express sympathy for the beggar on campus without being called out for “white guilt”. Perhaps we share our parents’ mindset, perhaps we have made up our own.

Perhaps we are playing the victim and have no right to complain, but perhaps as “born free” young adults we really did nothing wrong all those decades ago.

Perhaps we are all too sensitive and should respect political correctness, or perhaps we are entitled to freedom of speech.

Perhaps we are all too sensitive and should respect political correctness, or perhaps we are entitled to freedom of speech.

We don’t know how to talk to each other.

We don’t know.

Are you a student and you want to win R5000? Click here.

Beste Cyril

Meer oor:  Die Student  |  Studente  |  Mening
MyStem: Het jy meer op die hart?

Stuur jou mening van 300 woorde of minder na MyStem@netwerk24.com en ons sal dit vir publikasie oorweeg. Onthou om jou naam en van, ‘n kop-en-skouers foto en jou dorp of stad in te sluit.

Ons kommentaarbeleid

Netwerk24 ondersteun ’n intelligente, oop gesprek en waardeer sinvolle bydraes deur ons lesers. Lewer hier kommentaar wat relevant is tot die onderwerp van die artikel. Jou mening is vir ons belangrik en kan verdere menings of ondersoeke stimuleer. Geldige kritiek en meningsverskille is aanvaarbaar, maar dit is nie 'n platform vir haatspraak of persoonlike aanvalle nie. Kommentaar wat irrelevant, onnodig aggressief of beledigend is, sal verwyder word. Lees ons volledige kommentaarbeleid hier.

Stemme

Hallo, jy moet ingeteken wees of registreer om artikels te lees.