September 22, 2018 | ° F

PETRUCCI: Let those who experience struggle tell their own stories


Opinions Column: The Annoying Vegan Milliennial


It was after one Hispanic and one Indian colleague left me to stand in the flight boarding queue in Durban International Airport that a man approached me. I am what most would consider white but let us use the term loosely as I was more of a light hue of salmon, as my sunburn entered the “peeling” phase. As I finished one last peel of skin, the man asked where I was from and what brought me to "the motherland." I explained that I was a member of a Rutgers delegation which traveled to South Africa to learn more about Nelson Mandela and perform social and economic justice research post-apartheid in partnership with South African students.

 He responded in a defensive tone similar to a kid when he gets in trouble at lunch and needs to justify why it was appropriate to put milk in his enchiladas, "well there is nothing really more to learn about Mandela, what could you possibly be researching?" I again explained that although Mandela had passed and apartheid ended, racial tension and identity still poses a challenge among South Africans, these challenges were the focal point of our visit. Apartheid was the systematic separation of races induced by Dutch Afrikaners to maintain white minority control over Black people who comprised the majority of South Africa. Systematic legislation forced non-white people from their lands, diminished their access to quality education and restricted their travel to designated public and private spaces. 

“I got a quote for you about race, take out your phone and write this down.” It is always fun to decline an opportunity to be put in my place by a man, but I sacrificed the feminist in me to let this Pulitzer Prize winner drop a line. "There was no racism until apartheid ended," he said. He believed that apartheid did not work because no one adhered to its policies. He shared an anecdote about his time in the technology sector where he worked alongside “Black colleagues." Sounds a little similar to the “I have Black friends” logic. But hold your hats, there is more. He and his colleagues frequented whites-only restaurants, and when the restaurant attempted to deny his Black colleagues entrance, he simply demanded they allow them access or they would all leave. It is here where we can get out of our seats and thank his courageous actions which dismembered apartheid.

But what is freedom? "Freedom is the ability to have opportunity and to make decisions," said Sifiso Ntuli, a prominent South African anti-apartheid activist and narrator of "Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony."

Freedom is not freedom if it is on loan from the white hero’s library. 

The man in the airport continued to share that he believes race is only now a problem as people segregate themselves on the basis of race. It must be a difference of design tastes also. According to his logic, this must mean that Black South Africans choose to live in the smallest tin and wooden shacks while whites grapple with which 5-bedroom, 2-bath mansion they want to buy on HGTV’s "House Hunters International." While there are many poor whites, 10 percent of all South Africans — the majority white — own more than 90 percent of national wealth, according to a 2016 study.

While his logic ignores the history of land removals and separation of townships along racial lines which led to the present separation, his narrative points to an interesting point in how we understand and learn history. Told from different races, classes, genders or sexualities, narratives are different. The newest challenge in South Africa which echoes the challenge of every other historically oppressed group, is what will the future look like and by whom and for whom will its history be told? A new push for South Africa would be to alter its name, as it is the only country in the world to be named by its continental location. 

Think about our very notion of modernity, a principle grounded in the idea of infrastructure, technology and income. The very measures and definitions of modernity were created through a Eurocentric-masculine lens to the benefit of only a select few. In Africa and beyond, there is something crazy emerging where those who experienced the thing get to research and define the thing!

Francesca Petrucci is a School of Arts and Sciences junior double majoring in Journalism and Media Studies and Political Science and minoring in Spanish. Her column, "The Annoying Vegan Millennial," runs on alternate Tuesdays. 

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Francesca Petrucci

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