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White Privilege 101: An Excerpt from Ferial Haffajee’s What If There Were No Whites In South Africa?

What If There Were No Whites In South Africa?Women24 has shared an excerpt from Ferial Haffajee’s new book, What If There Were No Whites In South Africa?

In the excerpt Haffajee, who is now the editor-in-chief of City Press, describes her experience of working at the Financial Mail in the late 1990s, explains what “white privilege” is, and examines the statistics from the Reconciliation Barometer of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation that reveals South Africans to be mixing less.

“‘White privilege’ refers to a set of behaviours that underlie conduct that inflames South Africa’s sometimes awful race relations – it is often unconscious, the mark of a former ruling class,” she says.

Read the excerpt:

Why are we like this? Why are we unable to see meaningful transformation or unwilling to see it? For most of my writing life, I have tracked the changes. They started years ago.

I arrive at the Financial Mail in 1999. It is an august and elegant newsroom and I am very excited to be there. I get an office with my name on the door.

The FM allows me autonomy and space and I get invitations to lunch. For a girl from Bosmont who grew up on chip rolls on pavements as lunch, I love it.

And I hate it.

The FM is also stuffily traditional and deeply unreconstructed.

The FM, as it was at the time, was rich and sure of its place in the world. Its pages were the authoritative guide to corporate South Africa. And the picture was odd. It was as if political power had changed but not corporate power, and neither had the magazine caught up with what change means.

Although this was 1999, all the columnists were white and most of them were white men.

There was a Tuesday conference where, I observe for months, nobody says anything about what increasingly feels like a media injustice to me.

So, one day, I pipe up: ‘When will we have some black columnists? I count seven written by white men. One by a white woman.’

You can hear the pin drop. The shift of discomfort is palpable.

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