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Laerskool Schweizer Reneke – a lesson must be learned

According to EWN the teacher accused of racism at Laerskool Schweizer Reneke has vowed to clear her name, following her suspension.

Elana Barkhuizen was suspended after a picture she took of a group of children at the school went viral for all the wrong reasons.

The picture appeared to show one large group of white pupils, with four black pupils sat at a separate table in the corner.

The narrative that was quickly spun around this was that she had segregated the black pupils out – except it turns out that this wasn’t her class, but a class being taught by one of her colleagues.

Not only that but the four pupils who were sat separately were late entrants to the school, and seating arrangements had been made in advance.

Barkhuizen, with the help of trade union Solidarity, is taking the issue to court. According to Times Select The North West education department has elected to maintain Barkhuizen’s suspension despite the fact that all she did was take a picture.

Lehari’s spokesperson, Freddy Sepang said, “It’s not like the MEC [Sello Lehari] had a crystal ball when he went to the school.”

My Take

We’re looking at Sepang’s words and thinking, “That’s why you investigate before naming and suspending people” – but bear in mind, how much investigation did the media do before reporting the story?

Racism is one of those topics I tend to be a little bit shy of covering, despite the fact that I think it is very important.

It is the central distraction used by our crooked politicians, we’ve got far right groups stirring panic over “white genocide” in the hopes of getting some foreign backing, and our economic woes are expressed along racial lines.

Consequently when you get a “racist incident” it generally sows division within our country because of our history, and also because of our politics.

Battle lines are drawn and those who dare say that the incident isn’t racist are seen as being on the side of racists, so you end up with a situation where the facts are buried by the emotions.

Of course, for the other side of the equation, whenever a case comes up where the “racist” incident turned out not to be racist, it further entrenches them in the idea that the charge is simply a means of silencing criticism.

And what is worse a lot of the reporting on issues like this is hasty, the facts aren’t in before they’re reported.

This is because incidents which appear racist on the surface immediately gain traction and traffic.

The Clifton saga wasn’t racist, it was a security company that had instituted a curfew on the beach in a bid to curb a crime problem that had arisen there. The company overstepped its bounds, but it wasn’t targeting any specific race by having a curfew.

Yet it was still reported as if it was a racist incident – because you gotta get those clicks.

And the same thing happened to Barkhuizen here. The worst thing about this is that those who were convinced that she was a racist won’t change their minds about that no matter how thoroughly she clears her name, because that’s one of our major cognitive weaknesses as a species.

We tend, upon hearing a report we believe, to disbelieve the corrections.

Which means that these incidents end up fueling hate in our country – based on things which just aren’t true.

If we report before knowing what is going on, rather than identifying and fighting racism, we make a it worse.

We have enough problems in this country without adding to them through this kind of thing.

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