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PRIVATE SCHOOLS, EX-MODEL C SCHOOLS & WORKPLACES: Where to from here? — Mandatemolefi

June 14, 2020by Nene Molefi0
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What should be done after all the commitment letters and statements?
In the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in the USA, South Africa has joined the world in condemning this horrifying recurrence of systemic racism in the USA. It is no secret that many countries continue to have their share of such incidents. However, not all result in death. But in all these cases the violence of racism leaves deep scars that are not readily visible but can remain with the victims for decades.
The George Floyd incident became a catalyst for widespread global protest action and in South Africa it led to,an unprecedented number of written statements from company CEOs, School Principals or Governing bodies, expressing shock at the incident and explaining their stance on racism. At the same time, many private and ex-model C schools have been inundated with social media posts, letters of demand, comments on radio shows and other interventions which tell the story of current students and alumni’s experiences of racism.

Schools are a microcosm of broader society and the racial dynamics present in our communities are often magnified there. All these letters and statements are a good response to this situation. But they should only be the first of a series of responses because statements and letters on their own do not change schools or organisational culture.

Having done work on Anti- Racism, Creating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion over many years, I would like to offer the following Tips & Insights :
  1. Familiarise yourself with the concept of Head, Heart & Hands.
  2. HEAD: There is a real danger that the letters and statements can stop at the HEAD level . There can be intellectual buy- in to a concept – where many think (or hope) that writing a letter or crafting a statement is enough- NO IT IS NOT!
  3. HEART: Once statements have been written, the emotional buy- in has to be visible. This means that the entire leadership of schools and companies (including learners and employees who have been perpetrators-consciously or unconsciously ) should commit to doing their ‘inner work’ on the topic of racism. Given the racialised history of South Africa, no person who occupies any leadership position should feel that they have NO WORK to do on this topic. Research shows that when emotional buy-in isn’t there among the leadership, then meaningful change does not happen. And there are certain signs that tell you when emotional buy – in is missing. There are specific steps to take if you want to start this journey of personal and organisational change & societal( Part 2 next week will address these steps)
  4. HANDS: It is time for ACTION. Here in South Africa, just like in the USA, many are looking to see what leaders will DO about racism, not what they will just SAY. When I read the stories from past and current learners from these schools and the many grievances submitted to Human Resources departments or through Employee Surveys in many organisations, I wonder what the leadership of institutions were waiting for all this time?. Some stories are so shocking that they need immediate and uncompromising action. When this action does not occur, students and employees question the commitment of that institution no matter how well formulated the letters and statements have been. What should this ACTION look and feel like?The first step should be to practically plan for much deeper work on systemic racism because the problem is not only Attitudinal but Systemic too.The latter can be embedded in the very DNA o fInstitutions ( Lets continue engaging here and other forums that address the same issues and commit to Fairness, social Justice, Equity& Inclusion)

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