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About a month ago a pair of white South Africans ignited an international discussion about race and responsibility when they printed 10 t-shirts with the words “I benefited from apartheid” written boldly across the chest.

Those 10 were distributed at an art installation and were spoken for so quickly that another 30 were quickly produced. The gesture, a response to reactionary criticism of a supermarket’s hiring policy, elicited all manner of responses. Some suggested the t-shirt designers were motivated by a misplaced guilt; others felt they were unnecessarily digging up old history better forgotten; still others felt they were appropriating a struggle that whites had little place in.

One thing was undeniable: those 40 t-shirts prompted a debate about race and apartheid, guilt and responsibility. Uncharacteristically, the debate centered on the place of whites within post-apartheid South Africa, asking uncomfortable questions that seldom get asked. To what extent do whites today remain beneficiaries of the apartheid system? To what extent are whites responsible for its ongoing effects? (more…)

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