More than enough has been written about the student protests, and I have probably read too much, said too much, and gone around the Mulberry bush with this one. However, a couple of chance conversations and the overhearing of another one have led me to understand the utter reality of the divide between white and black, with such crystal clarity, that I thought it bares repeating.
The first conversation I had was with a white someone who works as an academic, a teacher, a lecturer. It was a brief, rushed conversation and I need to make sure I don’t read too much into it, but one of the last things that was said by them was, “what about me?” All the bells started ringing as I walked away, thinking, “uh, no, it’s not about you.” This is so often a white response, and it is genuine one, a confused and hurt one, a response that innocently puts that person’s needs at the forefront of the thing. And it remained with me. That is the exact opposite of what the black students are saying. It isn’t about them. It is for, and towards a better system. It is against the status quo, it is in spite of terrible personal loss, it is so things eventually get better for all.
The second conversation was with a white mother whose child will be studying overseas next year. Personally, I think this is a brilliant option for white children who can afford it, although the ironic misconception is that so many children believe that they have to get a university education to live and be. Legacy. My feelings (and I have the ability to have steely clarity on this without the burden of ‘what about my children?’) are that if you are in a situation that needs a really personal response, then that response needs to be made so that it isn’t at the expense of anyone else. I acknowledge that for these parents there is a terrible agony (and I wonder if there is also guilt?) but the country and the majority are not playing with right now, because the rules have changed. It has been so slow, and subtle, and so tiny, the changes, but they are changed. So, white people can’t just do what they have always been doing, and white parents don’t get to make the rules of engagement around university education in this country anymore. Scary for them, but true. At the core of it is the truth that white kids’ parents have spent and are spending oodles on their kids’ university studies (kids who can’t get bursaries or funding) and they are pouring their cash down the drain. It must feel so horrible, but different choices need to be made, and once again, the irony is that every white parent, and white child is still better off in the ‘making choices’ department.
The final conversation that I was a fly on the wall to was one between three white female students who were drinking milkshakes at a restaurant because uni was shut down. They were complaining about how doing their stuff online was boring and slow, and how there was nobody to support them, and how, because they had missed other lectures during the year there was no way to catch up properly, and they were bitching about the inconvenience of it all, and complaining that they were probably all going to fail, and they didn’t once look at the waitress, their age and working, who listened to their whole conversation and shook her head, and watched them throw cash on their table without even making eye contact, as they left to go shopping. I have no idea what these three were supposed to be studying, but they were so completely unconscious about their privilege, their position, their moronic responses, and who and how they are in the world, I felt a physical reaction to them.
These are just three things that happened to me. I know that there are shades of everything in this story of education. I know that at its core there is total frustration and it has nowhere to go and nothing to meet it. I am with the students and opposed to them in equal measure. I am proud and disgusted, I am involved and separated out. I am trying to understand. I cannot take any of it personally. I want it to change and be better for all.