Are there black South African

Are there black South African role models, or are they just rolling in it?

I was reading an article today on how certain elements of the American media had snubbed the Obamas in favour of the Kardashians, despite the fact that, well, it’s a bit rude to a) snub the first family and b) favour the Kardashians in any reasonable forum whatsoever (unless you’re talking about entrepreneurs, in which case, go right ahead).

Are there black South African

The focus of the article was that the media favoured a “whiter form of blackness”, rather than traditionally “black” families, included in which is the first family (shall we call them FFOTUS). Given the current political climate in America regarding race, and black people especially, it does beg the question – what kind of role models are available for the black youth in the USA and what picture of idealism is being painted for them?

The Kardashians are not black, but are considered “ethnic”(whatever that means) but the issue stands – if you’re looking to cover a functional family that can act as an example for the youth, and especially the black youth, why not consider the Obamas? This brought me to thinking about South Africa. Who are the role models for our youth, and, given that the majority of our country is black, the black youth in particular?

Well, let’s cross some people off the list: our president is a non-starter, and most politicians are as well, unless we’re talking about Mmusi Maimane, who is so politically correct, I don’t know that he is eligible for “best candidate”. Though, he does have a possibly brilliant political career ahead of him, despite being associated with a “white” party…so that’s a bit of a “wait and see”. The reality is that most of our political elite have benefitted from their positions and have made a habit of lining their own pockets before giving a damn about the rest of the starving people in our country. Not much of an example there.

There are people like Madiba and Desmond Tutu, however, with Madiba’s legacy being trawled through the dirt by his own family and Tutu’s health failing, the example they leave as struggle heroes is both a limited and unlimited one. The sacrifices they have had to make as struggle heroes and the idealism that surrounds them is difficult to cultivate, motivate for and must seem a distant reality for many of the young men and women aspiring to be someone in our democratic country. The struggles we face today are more complex, more weighted and more confrontational – it’s not as clear who is right and wrong in many cases and where allegiances lie.

So how about entrepreneurs? There are a number of upcoming black entrepreneurs, but how much exposure are they given in our media? Also, like any other entrepreneurs, it’s a time game – how long will it take before they reach a stage of national acknowledgement? How accessible are they as figureheads and how comparable are they in terms of life stories and the availability of choices for children currently going through our schools?

Given the low standard of education our country offers, never mind the poor conditions many black children in particular face, is the message of “maximising your potential” even being delivered? Are we, as a society, expecting these young minds to just take the initiative and run with it? Do we expect them to be able to do so without the external support that they need to believe that a different life is possible?

So how about sports and media? To many young black boys, soccer players are demi-gods, however, the competition to reach the top is fierce and once there, you get back down to a money game. Players are traded and paid exorbitant amounts, rightly or wrongly, but the chances of any young boy getting to that level is 1 in a million.

For little black girls, who do we look towards? Models? Well that has its own pitfalls, faced similarly by black and white parents. Again, it comes down to how much you can get paid for selling your skills or body. Is it any different for white children? Maybe not, but there is a much wider pool of white talent that white parents can parade in front of their children when motivating for goal-setting.

There is a strong culture of NGOs and similar charities, run by black people, especially in townships, which are making a difference and are accessible to black children. However, many of the children that have access to these sorts of role models are generally in receipt of the help being offered, so where’s  the example there? Make a small difference and maybe, just maybe, in the long run, you could, if you work really hard, make a big one?

The people that these charities service are generally in the most desperate of situations, and many of these organisations are in dire need of finance and aid to support the initiatives in the long term. They are less entrepreneurial and more about just delivering some sort of basic standard of care. So there are some examples out there, but from where I sit, it seems that we fall back, time and again, on one basic premise – chase the money and enrich yourself, because once you’re out, you sure as hell don’t want to fall back in.

At the same time, and while chasing wealth is a legitimate goal in any racial group, I cannot help but lament the state of affairs we find ourselves in. Must it all be about money? How long do we have to wait before it becomes about more than cash? Black culture is so varied, so diverse, that what it can offer our country extends beyond simply building a large bank account. Where is the space for this and how do we start to invigorate these elements within the up-and-coming black middle and upper classes? I am so tired of seeing memes about African proverbs – why the hell aren’t we all living them?

So what about musicians and actors? Well, most of our youth’s inspiration comes from across the pond, and at the moment, the USA isn’t exactly the pinnacle of race relations, which FFOTUS can attest to. This aside, the “street culture” of rap and the smooth sounds of RnB aren’t exactly pushing our youth to go to school and make a change in the societies in which they live – sure, the core of rap music is all about struggle but how many youths see past the N-word?

In South Africa, we are blessed to have a variety of talented musicians, but at most, art is an escape from a world that otherwise sends a bleak message to anyone clambering out of a difficult situation. A stronger message is that of black struggle, and rightly so – systematic disempowerment is the norm. As many black performers have recently stated, black talent has to fight harder for equal acknowledgement due to the cultural norms that pervade most of our lives. Why be black when you can aspire to be white? Being white is obviously better. Where did being black ever get anyone in Hollywood other than playing a badass?

I’m sure that there is a lot going on that we all miss – talented black people in all forums that deserve to be acknowledged for what they are doing that CAN and SHOULD act as inspiration to the generations to come. There is also a fine line to walk between race and achievement – do you acknowledge black people for achieving incredible things and not acknowledge their race, somehow trying to strive for racial equality by NOT prioritising it or do you acknowledge race and achievement because there is value in doing so, further perpetuating the differences in our society?

It’s a tough one…the message that needs to be sent it simultaneously that it SHOULDN’T be incredible for black people to achieve amazing things because there is simply no reason that they should not do so, but at the same time, their doing so, considering the history of South Africa, is exceptional.

I think we need to start to think about race, potential and achievement differently. The key to solving this tight-rope situation is greater dialogue but also a degree of honesty about the country we intend to build.

Until we can get to a space in which black and white children can look up to multi-racial role models and not see the colour of their skin, I think it is incumbent upon all of us to try to walk this tight-rope with respect, dignity and a fair acknowledgement of where we have come from and where we are going. Getting to the other side will surely benefit us all.

Cover Image: Getty