A replacement to affirmitive action should address the effects of Apartheid

In the past weeks there have been two big news stories surrounding affirmative action and racism. First was the story that South African Airways was rejecting applications from Whites for their cadet pilot programme which was followed by news that Woolworths was excluding Whites from it’s recruitment process. SAA later ammended the programme to allow White applicants while Woolworths has denied the accusations of racist employment practices as they are in line with employment equity policies. SAA for example claims that 85% of it’s pilots are White compared to 9,2% of the general population so it was just trying to address the imbalance. While there may be an imbalance I believe that this is entirely the wrong way to go about fixing it.

The standard line seems to be that Apartheid greatly skewed the country’s wealth in favour of Whites and even in post-Apartheid South Africa Whites have a huge advantage. In order to return the balance, for example to bring the racial profile of SAA pilots from where it is now to better reflect national demographics, it’s necessary to provide advantages to Black (or “previously disadvantaged” to include the other races that were discriminated against during Apartheid), sometimes at the expense of White South Africans. Some might call this “justified racial discrimination” and those that oppose it to be racist or “the unfairly privileged.” While proponents of those arguments have many good points, I’m certainly not trying to deny reality here, I do not believe that their solution to the problem is helpful at all. In fact I think affirmative action and the focus on the previously disadvantaged (even if renamed currently disadvantaged) is actually hurting the country more than it is helping.

I think the biggest problem here is basing employment equity on race. We can’t go from a racist system (Whites being advantaged over Blacks during Apartheid) to a race-neutral country through another racist intermediate (where Blacks are advantaged over Whites currently). All we’re doing there is continuing the Apartheid system and building resentment and racial tension. We moved away from Apartheid because it was wrong to treat races differently and because we wanted a society with equality. We should’ve learned from the past, not repeated it’s mistakes, even under the guise of fixing what had gone wrong. People will immediately counter that we can’t just go straight to equality because there is such inequality that something needs to be done specifically to address it.

For example Pierre de Vos says:

Of course, there might be some White people who find it difficult to face up to the fact that we have all benefited from the Apartheid system and that we continue to benefit from the education and wealth acquired during the Apartheid years, and from the informal networks that still dispense opportunities to well-connected Whites and protect and promote our interests informally. Some of the children and grandchildren of Apartheid beneficiaries might also find it uncomfortable to have to admit that they are continuing to benefit from their parents’ ill-gotten wealth, the educational and other opportunities it might have provided them with, and from their White skins, which give them access to these informal networks of members of the economically powerful White minority.

And Jacques Rousseau echoes the sentiment:

It is of course wrong to ‘blame’ White people (except for some, of course – I’m happy to blame PW Botha, FW de Klerk, etc.) for continuing inequality premised on race. It’s wrong to set out to make White folk, in general, ashamed of being White. But those are very different to recognising that there are still significant inherent privileges to being White, and (as a White person) not getting defensive when those are pointed out. In other words, it’s not as simple as option A) everything is equal and hunky-dory or B) we have reverse-racism. We do have racial discrimination, yes, any many people (including many Whites, like me) think it entirely justified.

While I can’t deny that as a White person I do enjoy certain benefits I do consider affirmative action to be racist purely on the basis that it discriminates according to race. Furthermore I think it fails to address two things.

Firstly, race is too broad a category to use to repair the past. Yes, the inequalities were based on race but to think that almost 20 years later the country has stood still is ridiculous. Basing a policy on race to help the “previously disadvantaged” ignores all the following complexities (and probably more). Whites who are currently (or even were previously) disadvantaged, whether through bad luck, opposing Apartheid or whatever cause. Those Blacks that have now made it in society and are as, and at times more, privileged that Whites. Blacks that left the country, made a good life, and subsequently returned. Blacks and Whites who have immigrated to South Africa from other countries who did not live under Apartheid. Those people do not fit the broad category of race as they were either not previously disadvantaged or didn’t even have any ties to Apartheid South Africa.

Secondly, I hadn’t even started school by the time we had the first democratic elections. I reject any claim that I should hold blame for what was done those that came before me or the idea that I should share guilt purely because of the colour of my skin and the country in which I happened to be born. Our entire lives are based on historical contingency and it is futile to try and erase that history in one move and unfair to do so at the expense of those that were not involved in it. While I enjoy a certain amount of privilege there are sources of privilege that people are born into regardless of how equal society is. Being born in Europe to a family with equal standing might’ve left more privileged. Being born Black in Somalia might’ve left me worse off than in Apartheid South Africa. Even in an equal society there will be rich or poor and some members will experience greater privilege than others. Being born in Cape Town I was able to attend UCT, something that would’ve been impossible if I were born in another city. The situation is far more complicated than just Black and White.

That’s not say that nothing should be done to try correct the injustices of the past but just that race is the wrong way to go about it. It’s actually weakening South Africa. If we accept that the privileged Whites are generally better educated then those are the people we need to help the country achieve it’s goals. Affirmative action has driven a lot of skilled Whites out of the country. According to Wikipedia:

In mid 1998, the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) undertook a study to examine and assess the range of factors that contribute to skilled South Africans’ desire to leave the country: over two-thirds of the sample said that they had given the idea of emigration some thought while 38% said they had given it a “great deal of thought”. Among the reasons cited for wishing to leave the country was the declining quality of life and high levels of crime. Furthermore, the government’s affirmative action policy was identified as another factor influencing the emigration of skilled White South Africans. The results of the survey indicate that skilled Whites are strongly opposed to this policy and the arguments advanced in support of it.

In addition it says that between 1 million and 1.6 million skilled people have emigrated since 1994 and that for every emigrant, 10 unskilled people lose their jobs. That’s up to 16 million job losses and the reference for that is from 2004! That does not help the country achieve equality or economic progress. We need to actively decide to move to a non-racial South Africa and to focus on fixing the problems left over from Apartheid. I’ve explained how I think this can best be done before and I’ll do it again.

This preoccupation with race is one of the problems that Apartheid left us and we need to toss it out. Some of the other problems are a lack of skills, education, opportunities, services and amenities for certain members of our population. I’m not framing those members by race because that’s an unnecessary distraction. The only important thing is that part of the population has suffered discrimination and is now disadvantaged. With race out of the picture we can see what needs to be done. We need to improve services, we need to provide job opportunities and we need to provide education. This shouldn’t be done with outdated labels but purely in order to address the flaws in society. We need to lift people up into society, not exclude those that can help us. So when we structure employment policies we don’t say, “He shouldn’t apply.” We should, “Here’s how we will help you apply.”

With the majority of our population Black and the majority of our poor, unemployed and uneducated also being Black any attempt to solve those problems will automatically achieve the goals desired by the current employment equity programme. In addition, by looking at the circumstances of individuals it will no longer care about race, only about who needs help. If someone is White and living on the streets they need just as much assistance as if they were Black. And if a Black family is making a good upper middle class living they no longer need that help, they are the success story. We will have a programme that can be continued indefinitely, always helping those members of our society that need it but not at the expense of others. If SAA’s programme or Woolworths advert did not exclude Whites but provided extra support for those from a disadvantaged background would it not achieve the goals that we want to see? And it would it also not contain none of the discrimination that has divided the country? Shouldn’t it be what we are aiming for?


18 thoughts on “A replacement to affirmitive action should address the effects of Apartheid

  1. There are several assumptions here that need to be looked at carefully: (1) Is it correct that affirmative action advantages blacks over white? Considering the advantages white folk have had and still have, making it harder for us to gain employment as compared to black persons or limiting the pool of available employment opportunities for whites as compared to blacks may simply level matters. The reality is that even with affirmative action unemployment amongst white folk is (I think) substantially lower than in the other population groups.

    (2) We’re continuing the apartheid system. This is just wrong. Affirmative action can in no way be compared to the system of apartheid which was a monstrous evil and which went well beyond placing obstacles in the path of gaining employment.

    (3) Affirmative action causes racial tension and resentment. I see no reason why the policy would cause black people to resent white people. What the statement actually means is that white folk may resent black folk. This is one way racial tension / resentment by a minority.

    (4) Discriminating on the basis of race is racism. Racism is defined as believing that one race is superior to another. That is not the belief underpinning affirmative action. Excluding poor white people from the social support system to which poor black people are entitled would be unfair discrimination and, perhaps, racism, but that is not the case. They enjoy exactly the same level of government support. The Constitution, in addition, expressly permits affirmative action notwithstanding the equality clause.

    (5) Race is too broad a category to repair the past. The policy underpinning affirmative action is not to disadvantage those who are presently (or were previously advantaged) but rather to afford opportunities to those who were previously disadvantaged. So the fact that recent immigrant whites who have no connection to apartheid are excluded is in keeping with the policy. To say that whites who were “disadvantaged” under apartheid or blacks who have today “made it” should be excluded or included in affirmative action, as the case may be, is to define “disadvantage” too narrowly – namely as poverty/wealth or education / lack of education or employment / unemployment. That a narrow view of “advantage” is being adopted is reinforced by the Somalian example. It misses the true dehumanising impact of apartheid – a disadvantage which attached to all black persons, wealthy or poor, present in South Africa or absent. Apartheid was not about poverty and wealth but the wholesale deployment of a system of justice to rob people of their dignity and humanity solely on the basis of their race. If the purpose of affirmative action was solely to redistribute wealth and even out income inequality this argument would have greater force.

    (6) I’m too young to hold blame or share guilt. See (5) above – the point is to assist those who were previously disadvantaged not to punish the new young whites or make you atone for anything. The point De Vos and Rosseau make is not that you should carry guilt or blame, but that even if you were a post-apartheid baby, you have many advantages over most of your black colleagues of the same age and you should recognise this.

    (7) Affirmative action causes emigration. The data doesn’t support this. It is simply a factor amongst many and I don’t know of a study that has assessed whether crime, conditions of living, higher wages overseas, lack of opportunities domestically, the desire to travel or any other of many possible factors is the predominant driver of emigration.

    We should be doing all the things you advocate and affirmative action does not (and should not) preclude us from doing so. Indeed those things are essential for success!

  2. @Kevin

    1 – I hear what you’re saying but I disagree with grouping people according to their race or, even with good intentions, lowering one person’s chances of employment. Overall I can see the imbalance but I’m saying if a White person and a Black person apply to a job and everything else is equal, the person who gets it should not be decided by race. When it does there is a disadvantage.

    2 – I’m not saying it’s anything near the same scale but it does continue classing people by race and treating them differently because of their race.

    3 – I was meaning causing White people to resent Blacks. I’ve seen first hand some of my acquaintances, friends and family that have considered, if not emigrating then going overseas to work. Affirmative action is not the only reason but it is a large source of resentment, particularly among the youth.

    4 – I know it does but I’m not a fan of saying something is acceptable purely because it’s legal. I’m only interested in whether that position can be well supported, which I don’t think it can. Many terrible things have been, and still are, legal and protected by political bodies or even the majority of a population. That doesn’t make them right.

    5+6 – I really don’t agree with that. It’s dragging people into something that they had nothing to do with. I’d say the point must be to correct the mistakes of the past and the measure of that should be measured through people’s economic circumstances. A Black family doing well may have been disadvantaged before but that disadvantage is now gone and they may even have advantages greater than the average White person. In that case I think it’s safe to say that they no longer need special help. Otherwise we’re going to have the problem of when it stops. If we’re looking at people’s circumstances we have a clear end goal. And removing race from what we address we also make it about uplifting all society, not just a portion, however large, of it.

    7 – I agree it’s one of just many factors but it’s an unnecessary factor that we can easily do something about. It’s also a factor that directly affects opportunities. For example scholarships that are not available for White students. That affects when, or perhaps even if, that student can study further.

    Slightly off-topic but I’m a bit curious about your background. You’ve posted here a few times with really interesting and detailed comments but no link for me to follow you back. It’s fine if you don’t want to answer for some reason but it does make me curious where you’re coming from.

  3. Hi Jason.

    Good post. And I agree with everything you said.

    But also please remember that the struggle for human rights and for a nonracial society, as defined and envisaged in the ANCs Freedom Charter is not over yet. It will probably never be over, it is also up to the young generation to understand what is wrong and what is right and to continue that struggle.

    However, do not be fooled by this new politically correct fascism (it is called Critical Race Theory I assume you know that) that seems to be a favourite pass time amongst the White elite that are privileged enough to study at UCT. You know who they are and I don’t need to mention any names.

  4. “(4) Discriminating on the basis of race is racism. Racism is defined as believing that one race is superior to another. That is not the belief underpinning affirmative action. Excluding poor white people from the social support system to which poor black people are entitled would be unfair discrimination and, perhaps, racism, but that is not the case. They enjoy exactly the same level of government support. The Constitution, in addition, expressly permits affirmative action notwithstanding the equality clause.”

    With all respect Kevin. Why should “Coloureds” and “Indians” be excluded at the expense of “African blacks”, as is also the case in the Woolworths example. Where does the Constitution mandate that our population should continue to be defined in terms of Verwoerdian racial classifications?

  5. @Ozone: I wasn’t aware that “coloureds” and “indians” were excluded. The point I was making in (4) is simply that racial discrimination does not automatically equal racism. Racism is believing a race is superior to another (according to the dictionary definition). So if blacks were preferred over other races because they are believed to be superior this would be racism. Preferring them for other reasons (seeking to remedy past disadvantages in the present instance) might be open to criticism or ill-conceived or any one of a number of other things, but this does not make the policy racist. That was the only assumption I sought to challenge with my point 4.

  6. @jason: I’m glad you find my contribution interesting. I find your blog interesting to read. Rational debate on hard topics is difficult to find, sometimes. I started reading you because I am also a UCT alum, strangely enough also in molecular biology. I have however gone over to the “dark side” and now practice law. I write nothing on-line which is vaguely on the topic of your work, hence no link. My only blog is one on poetry analysis and is updated very infrequently. Keep up the interesting debate.

  7. Kelvin. First of all I differ with you on what constitutes racism. It is generally accepted that racism is “prejudice plus power”, i.e. it has often been said in the past that black people “cannot be racist” because they lack economic power. So given that definition, whether a particular affirmative action preference is indeed racist would depend on the socio-economic status of the individuals involved. In particular I am of the opinion that if a specific candidate is given preference simply based on the colour of his skin with disregard to his socio-economic background, it may very well amount to racism when such an individual is in fact from a very privileged background yet he is unfairly advanced above another individual that comes from a less privileged background despite the fact that the latter may be better qualified.

  8. @Ozone: On a side note, there is an interesting article on this debate at the Daily Maverick here http://dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2012-09-12-affirmative-action-equity-does-not-come-with-voting-rights-alone

    On what you said, the word racism has a fixed meaning and that is its dictionary definition. Words cannot mean whatever we want them to mean or we wouldn’t be able to communicate. People who say black folk can’t be racist are just wrong, given the definition of the word. Even on your definition of racism, I think defining advantage on the basis of socio-economic status is too narrow a definition of advantage and fails to take account of all of the various categories of disadvantage which apartheid caused, some of which were poverty, poor education, lack of employment opportunities, the destruction of the family unit, forced relocation, dehumanisation, restriction of resources and facilities to whites etc. This was the point I was seeking to make in (5) of my initial comments.

  9. Hi Kevin.

    “Even on your definition of racism, I think defining advantage on the basis of socio-economic status is too narrow a definition of advantage and fails to take account of all of the various categories of disadvantage which apartheid caused, some of which were poverty, poor education, lack of employment opportunities, the destruction of the family unit, forced relocation, dehumanisation, restriction of resources and facilities to whites”

    I simply do not understand that statement because all of those factors i.e. “poverty, poor education, lack of employment opportunities, the destruction of the family unit, forced relocation, dehumanisation, restriction of resources and facilities to whites” can be measured as indicator “socio-economic status”.

    So, by extreme example, what you want me to believe is that Cyril Ramaphosa, BEE multibillionare, and his family are more “disadvantaged” because they are “African blacks” than some “Coloured” bloke from Mitchell’s Plain or some “White kid” form Danville and should therefore continue to benefit from race-based AA. Surely you must see the moral bankruptcy in such a pov.

  10. I don’t know enough about the disparate impact of apartheid on blacks v coloureds v indians to make any comment on that so I’ll limit myself to black v white and use your Ramaphosa / Danville example as a useful one. I’ll also assume, to make my case harder, that Ramaphosa and the Danville kid are both post-apartheid babies.

    What disadvantages does Danville have? Poverty and therefore poor/no schooling and perhaps poor health and therefore extremely limited employment opportunities. A black child in Danville has all of those disadvantages. But now send both of them to apply for the same job (assuming there is no affirmative action and that their parents were of the apartheid generation). White Danville holds advantages over the black candidate: his parents are connected to and in tune with the social and economic reality of the population group that presently still controls the economy, notwithstanding their poverty, because they were not excluded from South African society under apartheid. Danville knows how to address his elders, his parents will have watched some of the same movies, read the same books or magazines,listened to the same radios and probably have held some of the same opinions as the prospective employer. They will know people who have employment and who can give them opportunities or insights into gaining employment and into being employed. Danville will have English or Afrikaans as his first language, like his employer. He will know how to dress, what to say and what not to say. He can talk rugby. He understands how to conduct himself. He can catch the employer’s jokes and laugh at them. He doesn’t think of himself as being inferior to or subservient to whites and so has no hang-ups interacting with them. He has role-models to emulate. He is not viewed with suspicion or mistrust by his prospective employer. No-one thinks he is lazy, or a criminal.

    Ramaphosa, being of a wealthy family, will not suffer to the same extent as Danville. If he were to compete for the same job as Danville (there being no affirmative action), Ramaphosa would get employed simply because he is the better educated and qualified. However, Ramaphosa couldn’t talk rugby, interact as smoothly and easily, relate culturally with the same facility and ease etc.

    And even if Ramaphosa could do all that Danville could and more – one inefficiency or aberration in the system doesn’t mean that the entire system should be thrown out.

    I agree that inefficiencies exist and don’t seek to argue to the contrary. I agree that a racially neutral system would be preferable. But I don’t know of any other measure which has yet been thought of which could be used in place of race. At the moment race seems to be the best proxy we have for disadvantage in the broader sense I have described it.

  11. @Kevin
    I did type quite a bit criticising some points in your comparison between our Danville residents but then I decided to pass over that. We can probably agree that that’s not the situation most of the time and it’s only there to point out where there are inequalities in the current system. Those aberrations don’t necessarily mean that the whole system should be thrown out but that it’s too wide and needs to be focussed. That’s why I said it needs to move away from race, or at the very least exclude those aberrations that are already.

    I also realised was that there was something far more interesting in your reply and that’s how you’re broadly construing disadvantage.
    “Ramaphosa would get employed simply because he is the better educated and qualified. However, Ramaphosa couldn’t talk rugby, interact as smoothly and easily, relate culturally with the same facility and ease etc.”
    You’re saying that my focus on economic disadvantage is missing the cultural differences that cause a less measurable disadvantage. I understand where you’re coming from with that angle now but then let’s consider this hypothetical. Employment equity works and we go from 90% Whites in position of power to 10% Whites in power (just simplified figures from SAA and SA’s demographics) and everyone is economically as well off as everyone else (simplifying again and fulfilling my goal of economic equality).
    In this situation as a minority wouldn’t a White person, with all things being equal, be just as disadvantaged as Ramaphosa in your example? Even if he were to get a job he would now be moving to where he couldn’t relate culturally and was unable to talk about Soccer? Using your definition of disadvantage isn’t the minority always going to be disadvantaged? Would the solution be for employment equity till Blacks are the majority and then switch it to benefit Whites? Or would it perhaps then be best to have companies that do not reflect demographics, e.g. 100% White businesses to try and leave no one culturally disadvantaged? I’m interested to see how you’re seeing the future there.

  12. An interesting question. My approach rests on two assumptions, both of which are open to criticism.

    The first is a moral assumption: The disadvantage which black persons presently experience relative to white persons was brought about by apartheid. Recognising the evil of apartheid, I assume a moral duty to remedy the past injustices. If one accepts the moral assumption, it means any affirmative action policy must necessarily have an end-date: a point in time where one can say I have now discharged my duty and have eradicated or compensated for the past injustice. If that policy results in further unintended inequalities, as your scenario imagines, that will just be an unfortunate consequence but it won’t carry the same moral imperative to be corrected as apartheid does. If this looks like saddling post-apartheid babies with guilt or blame I refer again to my initial point (6) – the point is to ameliorate past wrongs, not punish anyone present.

    The second assumption is an integration assumption. I assume that but for apartheid, society would have been far more heterogenous than it presently is without the socio-cultural divides that presently exist along racial lines. In other words, if we transfer 90% of economic power to black persons (and get all the other things like healthcare and education right), the result should be greater integration such that white persons, although a significant minority, stand on an equal footing, affirmative action can end and no further advancement policies for any racial groups should be necessary. If this assumption is wrong, you may be correct that the result of the policy would be to forever place white persons at a disadvantage.

  13. Kevin on September 12, 2012 at 14:49 said:

    You obviously have a very naive concept of how class-context cultural differences within race groups are less pronounced than culture differences between same class race groups. And I can only assume that is because you have never really tried to mix socially – inter class. For example, I know for a fact that Waterkloof kids of all races mix much more interracial than any of them mix across the class lines into either Danville or Soshanguve.

    I have also noted in your example that the employer always happens to be white. Why is that? Would the latter assumption have any impact on the assumed race sensitive dynamics you have just mentioned?

  14. @Ozone: The example I set out relies on more than just cultural and class differences. It included views about self and about one’s racial group; about role models, about connection to racial groups; about home languages and other such.

    It also does no good to compare a Waterkloof kid and a Danville kid – comparing like to like is necessary, hence my example.

    Undoubtedly if the employer was not white the dynamics would change. I chose to use a white employer for the example simply because at present about 90% of economic power is concentrated in white hands.

    Your comment about class-context cultural differences is directed at attacking my integration assumption. It would be far more interesting to have you expand on that and explain why the assumption is flawed, rather than engage in pointless (and incorrect) assumptions about me and what I am like which don’t serve to advance the debate.

  15. Kevin on September 14, 2012 at 06:53 said:

    “@Ozone: The example I set out relies on more than just cultural and class differences. It included views about self and about one’s racial group; about role models, about connection to racial groups; about home languages and other such.

    It also does no good to compare a Waterkloof kid and a Danville kid – comparing like to like is necessary, hence my example.

    Undoubtedly if the employer was not white the dynamics would change. I chose to use a white employer for the example simply because at present about 90% of economic power is concentrated in white hands.”

    Truth is Kelvin that you have introduced so many assumptions and qualifiers now, none of which are compensated for in our existing AA legislation that I believe is therefore not only draconian but in many cases racist. Then, for some reason, you do not seem to understand or want to acknowledge what real “socio-economic disadvantage” means – excluding the example of the Waterkloof kid and the Danville kid (Sonshanguve kid?) as if this scenario cannot exist and if it does exist it to be ignored? Further you prefer to limit our discussion to pure “black” versus “white” ignoring the fact that the Woolworths example speaks of “African black” – another feature of our AA/BEE semantics that also discriminate between “black people” and usually favours “Africans” over “Indians” and “Coloureds”.

    There are just so many racial stereotypes build into most of your examples that it is hard to even conduct a rational conversation unless you are prepared to indulge in a myriad of racist assumptions on how the middles class of all races are different from each other. Let me just enumerate a couple i.e. employers are white, employees are black, blacks don’t grow up with English but whites do (what about Afrikaners, Portugese or Greeks then), blacks don’t know how to dress but white folks do, blacks don’t know what to say and what not to say, blacks don’t know rugby and whites don’t no soccer, blacks don’t know white manners and can’t catch the [white] employer’s jokes and laugh at them.

    Basically all whites laugh at the same jokes, as if Leon Schuster humour appeals to all of us whites.

  16. It appears, regrettably, that we are not going to be able to continue what I thought was an interesting and helpful debate. You tell me I have introduced many assumptions and qualifiers, which is undoubtedly true, without telling me what they are or why you have difficulty with them.

    You say that these assumptions and qualifiers are not compensated for in our existing AA legislation. Without knowing what assumptions and qualifiers you are referring to, I can’t comment.

    You believe the legislation is draconian and racist but you don’t say why, bearing in mind the meaning of the words “racist” and “draconian”.

    You haven’t told me what you consider real “socio-economic disadvantage” to mean. The debate between you and I began because I was complaining that a construction of disadvantage which limited itself to socio-economics was too narrow. I was asked to explain and gave some examples of the kinds of non-socio-economic disadvantage I had in mind. You attacked the class-based or cultural-based disadvantages I advanced (but without explaining what your argument was on that point – simply by saying they were wrong). If you are right, and you might be, that only removes the class- and cultural-disadvantages I posited. The other non-socio-economic disadvantages I referred to remain. If I’m right that there are other non-socio-economic disadvantages, then the Waterkloof kid is not excluded from my example and you can compare white Waterkloof kids to black ones and see that black Waterkloof kids remain disadvantaged relative to white Waterkloof kids. I thought that was clear but I obviously didn’t explain myself properly.

    I’m limiting the discussion to black and white because, as I said above, I simply don’t know enough about the effects of apartheid to wade in on black v indian v coloured. If you do, please comment away. I’d be happy to learn.

    I accept that there are stereotypes in the examples and that the stereotypes may be wrong. But you can’t debate the policy without relying on stereotypes. The policy itself rests on a stereotype – namely that black persons are disadvantaged relative to white. To engage with the policy you have to assess whether the stereotype it draws is warranted. I was arguing that black persons generally share certain characteristics and features which justify the stereotype the legislation has drawn. I acknowledged that there would be exceptions but argued that you can’t dismiss the policy on the basis of a few exceptions if the stereotype generally holds true. So to say I’m stereotyping isn’t really an answer in my view. You must show which stereotypes are invalid and you can’t do so by pointing to a small sub-set of exceptional cases. You must address black persons generally, as the legislation does. I said above that a racially neutral system would be preferable and this is one of the reasons why: Race is an imperfect proxy for disadvantage. There will be exceptional cases. But you haven’t yet advanced any other satisfactory measure which could be used in place of race. One could conceivably set a wealth / poverty measure but my response would be that this fails to take account of the broader disadvantages (even if those broader disadvantages do not include the cultural and class disadvantages to which you object).

    I’m not trying to convince you to my point of view. Debate never wins over an opponent. I’m merely tucking into the rationality or irrationality of the policy.

  17. Hi Kevin.

    I don’t know why it is that we cannot come to a common understanding on the meaning of basic concepts such as “socio-economic disadvantage” which is a very simple thing to measure, because it is determined by where you grow up, which school you go to and income brackets. Instead you chose to minimize the principle and glaringly obvious indicator of disadvantage, i.e. socio-economic disadvantage, instead replacing it with a myriad of other assumed and almost intangible and imo insignificant race-based “disadvantages” to relies on an array of racist stereotypes of what “whites” and “blacks” [in general] are like. Some of them are quite frankly laughable, for example the “language disadvantage” based on a bizarre assumption that black kids that goes to the middle-upper class schools and watch the same DSTV channels are impeded by a lack of knowledge of the English language. And then to compound the irrationality in there, you then choose to ignore that there can indeed be whites who also do not necessarily have English as a first language.

    Anyhow – that is the deeply irrational philosophical foundation of Critical Race Theory for you. It continues to serve as a moral justification to race-based AA at UCT who almost exclusively pulls student from the top elite schools. It is not a surprise therefore that they simply do not understand and continue to ignore real measurable disadvantage.

    And then you ask again, as if the answer is not glaringly obvious, what better “proxy “is there to “disadvantage” than race, when you don’t need a “proxy” but when the major contributor to relative disadvantage in South Africa and elsewhere is not race but class, and class indicators are directly measurable through a range of variables.

    So if the above is not sufficient o answer your question then – “But you haven’t yet advanced any other satisfactory measure which could be used in place of race.” I advance the race + class measures as implemented in many states in Brazil.

    “Brazilian affirmative action is not solely racial; it is class-based as well, and implemented in intelligent ways. In most states, quota candidates’ families must meet a salary limit, and an equal number of slots are set aside for children who have attended Brazil’s challenged public school system as for black students. Since most families poor enough to meet the income ceiling will have sent their kids to public schools, this means most students who meet the income requirement can apply, regardless of color.”


  18. Now I understand your position a lot better. Thanks. I don’t think we disagree on what “socio-economic disadvantage” means. Where we differ is that, as I understand you, you are saying that socio-economic levels should determine who gets a boost or an advancement (or whatever you want to term it) in any AA legislation. My position is that such legislation, which uses only socio-economic disadvantage as its measure, would not serve to fully remedy the disadvantages caused by apartheid and I argue that apartheid caused a range of disadvantages beyond merely socio-economic disadvantages. If I understand you correctly, you reject the contention that apartheid caused anything other than socio-economic disadvantage or, I”m not sure which position you adopt, you argue that if it caused more than socio-economic disadvantage there is no need at present to compensate for or remedy anything other than socio-economic disadvantage. You argue for socio-economic levels being sufficient, I argue for socio-economics plus more.

    I’m not persuaded that the stereotypes on which I rely can’t be sustained. Black children in upper-middle class schools must be a massive minority of South African blacks (I’m assuming) and must proportionally be lower than the number of white children attending upper-middle class schools (again, I’m assuming). The number of non-first language English or Afrikaans speaking white children must again be a small number of the total white population (I’m assuming. And although I did not make it clear I was stereotyping on the basis of white kids speaking either or both English and Afrikaans.) If the general propositions hold true then I’m still safe. I guess the only way to solve that question is to analyse whatever the latest census data is. Even “intangibles” such as the ease one feels in a business environment or the facility with which one knows how to behave in that environment could probably be measured by social scientists armed with appropriate questionnaires. So I’m not convinced that “socio-economics plus more” is incapable of measurement. And if disadvantage of the kind I argue for exists and was caused by apartheid the position isn’t irrational. I know nothing about Critical Race Theory so don’t know whether I am a critical race theorist or not.

    If I’m right that one can and should take into account “socio-economics plus more” it would explain why our policy differs from Brazil’s. They didn’t systematically and for an extended period of time dehumanise and marginalise a racial group of people using the levers of power and law.

    I have no desire to drag this debate into new territory, but it would be very interesting to know how many of the black children in upper-middle class schools who you rely on to reject the policy of AA are in those schools because their parents benefitted from AA.

    I can’t really advance my views on the matter any further and between you and I we have hijacked Jason’s post and comments column, so I’ll call it quits at this point.

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