n South African Journal of Higher Education - White teenage girls and affirmative action in higher education in South Africa

Volume 24, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



This is an initial and exploratory comment on the pilot phase of a study into adolescent female white identity and socio-sexual desire in post-apartheid South Africa. In the course of this pilot it became apparent that historical issues of race and racism are openly discussed in these girls' classrooms. Yet, despite these everyday interactions the sensitive current day politics of race, specifically related to Affirmative Action in Higher Education, are not spoken about in a personal way in public spaces such as the classroom. Findings from this phase in the study revealed an inability, and lack of opportunity, to openly discuss race politics that are pertinent to these learners' presents and futures. In this brief commentary I argue that the nonracial ideology, espoused by the post-apartheid government cannot become naturalized if these learners are unable to work through some of the contradictions of their present. One of these contradictions is the continued salience of race in their lives and futures as they enter the university, while having intimate social relations, which seem to belie this reality. I argue for an exploration of participatory mechanisms - ways for the youth to find a vocabulary of their own in articulating the challenge of race. Part of the struggle in establishing this vocabulary is what Nuttall (2001) has identified as a duplicity in white identity, which is in part a complicity in maintaining the hegemony of whiteness.

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