Photo via The Daily Herald.
How history teachers talk about the past influences students’ understanding of its connection to the present. Photo via The Daily Herald.

The “Black Lives Matter” movement has reinstated racial relations as a leading topic of national conversation. Yet the U.S. is not alone in its struggles to account for a long history of racial oppression nor in employing seemingly race-neutral discourses to deny the ongoing existence of racism. To explore how individuals are socialized into accepting these views in post-apartheid South Africa, Chana Teeger takes an in-depth look at what goes on in 9th grade history classes.

Teeger observed classrooms daily for five months, analyzed notes distributed by teachers, and interviewed 170 teachers and students about how and why children are taught to disregard the lasting effects of apartheid. She found that teachers told “both sides of the story” to prevent race-based conflict in the classroom. In these “color-blind” lessons, teachers downplayed the racialized coding of victims and perpetrators by emphasizing that not all whites were perpetrators and not all blacks were victims. As one teacher explained, when race denotes neither culpability nor victimhood, students are less likely to make claims about racial inequality which could lead to classroom hostility.

Teeger argues that teachers’ avoidance of class discussions about who benefited from the de jure segregation of apartheid discourages students from seeing the continuity between the past and present. Further, it delegitimizes black students’ claims about racism in school and assuages white students’ feelings of guilt and shame. The use of these lessons helps to reproduce ideologies that contribute to racial privilege for dominant groups.

You can read the full article here:

Teeger, Chana. 2015. “Both Sides of the Story”: History Education in Post-Apartheid South Africa. American Sociological Review, 80(6), 1175-1200.