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An exploration of Black African students’ experiences of whiteness on their Black African racial identity in a South African university.

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Racial identity issues have gained significant attention globally, posing ongoing challenges for individuals across different racial backgrounds in different settings, and higher education has not been an exception. Although prior research has addressed race and identity, there is a need to expand the existing literature by examining the specific dimensions of race and identity that impact students in South African higher education. This study aims to address this gap by exploring the experiences of Black African students in a South African university and their encounters with Whiteness, a key aspect of their racial identity. By focusing on the unique context of South African higher education, this research seeks to contribute to a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding race and identity within this specific setting. The study examined the experiences of Black African students with Whiteness and its impact on their Black African racial identity within a South African university. The research aimed to explore their encounters with Whiteness, their experiences of African racial identity, and their coping mechanisms and recommendations related to issues of Whiteness and Black African racial identity challenges. Using a qualitative design and interpretive research paradigm, 15 social work students were interviewed. Interviewees included undergraduate, postgraduate Masters, and Ph.D students. To analyze the interviews thematic data analysis was employed. The findings highlighted that Black African students’ experiences with Whiteness encompass multiple dimensions and pose challenges to their adaptation, mentally, economically, socially, emotionally, and academically, within the university context. These experiences often lead to the normalization of Eurocentric standards and the suppression of their Black African racial identity. The study also underscored the interconnection between Whiteness and other social categories, such as race, class, and gender. Hence the study recognizes a need for additional research to explore the impact of the intersectional interplay between the experiences of racial issues and other social categories on Black African students within the university environment.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.