Changing youth identity at two formerly all-white South African High schools
development studies university of amsterdam leiden, netherlands
This paper compares changing conceptions of white youth identity at two formerly all-white South African high schools. One elite school has seen limited change since the abolishment of apartheid in 1994, while the other middle-class school has in the last few years rapidly diversified. Given these different circumstances, white Afrikaans speaking youth have responded very differently to the challenge of their white-Afrikaner identity brings in the new post-apartheid political order.
Contrary to most studies on former-white schools in South Africa, this study does not take a discourse approach or focuses on racism or processes of exclusion. It also does not take an institutional perspective. Instead, it looks at the interaction of institutional change with experiences of ethnic identity from the inside out. It does so through an cultural/emotional lens on identity change: how does the white youth negotiate the loss of meaning in a changing school context? How do they respond to the new social norm of non-racism? Do they feel guilt and shame for the apartheid past?
The paper concludes that (institutional) exposure to change, but also to other races, is fundamental to the experience of ones own identity. But also class and gender have important intermediary influence. At the elite school the youth has adapted a liberal stance to ethnic difference and the new multicultural South Africa which is not based on daily experience. The experience for white youth in the changing middle-class school is very different. There, the difference between boys and girls is striking. The emotional dynamic of change for boys plays out very differently with different consequences for their white-Afrikaner identity. Their loss of status at the school leads to a new assertion of their ethnic identity, solidified by strong moral boundaries and unacknowledged shame for the past of their ethnic group.