Talk about the medium overshadowing the message: White protestors in South Africa wore blackface on Monday to protest what they derided as “racial targets” in education here.
The protest took place in front of the country’s Department of Education to protest the affirmative action policies at the Veterinary Science Faculty of the University of Pretoria, which they say are responsible for barring 30 qualified white South Africans from entering the school.
In the United States, opponents of affirmative action say that the policy punishes students who had nothing to do with racist policies from decades ago. The group protesting in South Africa, known as AfriForum Youth, has a similar message: anyone born after 1993, when Apartheid collapsed, should not suffer for past sins.
Universities, for their part, tend to argue say the policy is not simply punitive, but that diversity has educational benefits as well.
It’s a controversial debate, and one that’s clouded by the use of blackface, which is explicitly tied to racist culture in America and elsewhere. An editorial in South Africa’s Daily Maverick points out that “Given the position that AfriForum has taken with regards to affirmative action, the use of black paint in a protest about exactly that will make it extremely hard for AfriForum Youth to keep on-message.”