Whitesplaining apartheid

I’m hesitant to write this post because I grew up on the privileged side of apartheid. As an English speaking white South African child, my white skin gave me a huge advantage in a society where segregation of racial groups was enforced through legislation.

I have seen memes and posts that equate the way that disabled people are treated with apartheid. People need to stop doing that. It is not the same thing at all.

The way that we, as disabled people, are treated is awful. We experience discrimination, segregation, abuse, and (horrific but all too common) murder. So, it might seem logical to equate this with apartheid – except it’s not the same thing.

I went to a segregated primary school, and a desegregated high school. At high school, I listened to the stories told by my fellow students about disappeared relatives. I heard about the awful standards of living in the townships which were set up by the South African government, and how families had been broken up due to the pass laws and forced relocation. Those are not my specific stories to tell because they belong to others.

The stories that I can tell relate to my experience as someone who grew up on the privileged side of apartheid. Many countries do fire drills at school. We did bomb drills. There mostly wasn’t a legitimate reason for this, aside from a few times when bomb threats were really phoned in. It was mainly to instill fear in white people, and remind us that our lives were supposedly more valuable than black lives. Our news was censored. The perspective we were presented with was to reinforce the notion of white superiority, and show Black people¹ as dangerous and ungrateful for all the “help” they were being given.

I lived through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings where for two years, we heard the stories of horrific abuses of power. We heard stories from people who were desperate to find out what had happened to their relatives and why. Sometimes, they received the answers to those questions, but I doubt that the answers gave them much peace. Sometimes, they didn’t. There are people who are still searching for those answers.

As disabled people, we are treated badly by abled people. As Autistic people, we are treated badly by non-Autistic people, but our oppression is not the same as the oppression experienced by Black people under apartheid.

I’m not trying to create any sort of hierarchy of oppression with this post. I am simply reminding people that there are differences in the types of oppression that marginalised people face. Equating our experience of oppression with apartheid is massive appropriation and it needs to stop.


¹I have used the term ‘Black people’ because that is the term in South Africa.