Exploring the motivations of White racial justice activist involved in education.
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‘Whiteness’ studies in the United States of America and South Africa have explored both the concepts of ‘white’ privilege, as well as ‘white’ racial identity. In post-apartheid South Africa, the literature reveals that in many instances, ‘white’ South Africans are constructing identities around victimhood and colour-blind narratives that can support their privilege. However, there are few studies which seek to understand ‘white’ South Africans who are attempting to embrace more positive alternative narrative identities. This study aims to understand what narratives ‘white’ people who are actively seeking racial justice in South Africa are embracing. Using critical race theory and theories of narrative identity and social action, as well as drawing on previous studies of ‘white’ identity in South Africa and the USA, this qualitative study explores the narratives of ‘white’ racial justice activists in education from a South African perspective. All participants were English speaking and involved in the field of education, ranging from those who primarily see themselves as educators to those who primarily see themselves as activists. The analysis showed that the majority of participants were constructing their identities around narratives of “educator,” “Christian,” and “caring individual,” which were rooted in larger narratives. These larger narratives provided the underlying framework for the creation of narrative identities and moral action. In terms of their racial identity, it appeared that the majority of participants in this study were constructing their identities along the lines of Steyn’s (2001) Whiter Shade of White narrative, which highlights national, transcendent, or individual identities and avoids or denies the present implications of ‘whiteness’ in the post-apartheid context. This narrative shows a definite move away from overt prejudice and is a sincere attempt to positively engage with the “new South Africa” by finding common ground through aspects of shared identities; however, by not engaging with race at all, it is a way to avoid the guilt of continued racial privilege.