Debate: Black middle class privilege and responsibility to the poor

According to Che Guevara solidarity is joining “the victim in victory or death.”

Some scholars read this to mean that true solidarity cannot exist without giving something up. Therefore, the revolutionary intellectual, usually from the middle class, must give up his or her class privilege in order to join in solidarity the class struggle of the working class.

What does this mean for the black middle class in South Africa and what would this look like?

Eusebius McKaiser sat down with historian Vashna Jagernath as well as Mzwanele Manyi of the Progressive Professionals Forum.

The two explain the complexities in middle class definitions.

Some of the confusion is that people use middle class with middle income interchangeably. That is incorrect, middle class as the name suggests is a class issue more than an income and asset based issue.... You do not have to be super rich, you just have to be a particular person that is a bit higher in terms of class because you are a teacher, a priest...

Mzwanele Manyi, Progressive Professionals Forum

Jagerneth explains the kinds of opportunities afforded to a particular black middle class group.

A middle class culture develops certain things.....regardless of whether you see yourself in that position or not, people do. As a middle class person working at university, I was particularity privileged. I had an education, I had food to eat, I was able to get my child to a school that functioned. I still experienced a whole lot of things like racism but that does not mean I don't have certain privileges.....

Vashni Jagernath , Senior lecturer in the Department of History at Rhodes University

She says assimilating to 'whiteness' does not inform these attainments.

Yes, there is this issue that through assimilation to whiteness we make it easier for white people to like us, read us, understand us and it does pay. But that is not a privilege because you have to work for that. People have to contort themselves in a variety of ways to perform whiteness.

Vashni Jagernath , Senior lecturer in the Department of History at Rhodes University

What should you do as a black person to help level the playing field?

Individualising a matter does not work she says.

It is not about how you feel, it is what can we do collectively to shift structures of society, to change things.... I think we have to actively join things and put whatever advantages we have at the use of struggles that need it.

Vashni Jagernath , Senior lecturer in the Department of History at Rhodes University

Not everyone in this country is able to write, so use your privilege as a writer and write in the cause of the less advantaged, those who have no voice, she suggests.

Those people must understand that they got there not only through their hard work but also because of societal pressure and certain policies...It is important for black people that when they have climbed the ladder to understand that they did not pull themselves up with their boot straps.... that should immediately place a responsibility on all of us to plough back.

Mzwanele Manyi, Progressive Professionals Forum

Click on the link below to listen to the full discussion...


This article first appeared on 702 : Debate: Black middle class privilege and responsibility to the poor


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