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“Speaking Up Is Easy—You Just Have to Do It”

A year and a half ago I returned to live in Johannesburg, South Africa, after many years of living in foreign countries. Despite the twenty years since the dawn of democracy in my country, and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, I found that the economy is still largely in the hands of white men (with white women benefitting accordingly).

I also found that good white people generally believe that black South Africans should just “get over it” and stop making a fuss about the three hundred years of colonial rule that kept ninety percent of the people in poverty and as servants and continues to do so.

On the basis of the work we’ve been doing in RC, I decided to build a movement to end white privilege, like that which has emerged in the United States over the last fifteen or so years. I now lead a small group of white women RCers on noticing our goodness and owning up to1 our privilege. I also lead a small group of non-RC white women on the same subject.

I wanted to be heard more widely, so last week I rang into2 a South African radio station in response to the question “What is the responsibility of the middle class?” I must explain that this is not the middle class that exists in developed countries. It is the relatively small group of black people in South Africa who have jobs at which they earn more than the minimum wage. These people are one salary packet 3 away from bankruptcy. (And the official unemployment rate is twenty-six percent, the unofficial rate is much higher than that, and an estimated forty-six percent of South Africans go to bed hungry most nights.)

In response to the question, I said that the black middle class has no responsibility beyond what they are already doing—which is supporting large extended families whose members are either not working or in low-paying jobs.

I said that it’s those of us in the ruling class, the owning class, from white families with generational wealth and privilege, who have the responsibility to share what we have. I said that we don’t know how to do that and we’d like to learn from the collective way that African culture flourishes. I said that reparations need to be paid and that white people have to figure out how we are going to do this—and do it generously.

The talk-show host let me speak for a few minutes without interruption and then kept me on the program for a while after my contribution, referring to my perspective as though I was one of the panelists.

Speaking up is easy—you just have to do it.

Roslyn Cassidy

Johannesburg, South Africa

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of wide world change

1 "Owning up to" means admitting to taking responsibility for.
2 "Rang into" means called on the telephone.
3 "Salary packet" means paycheck.


Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00