The ‘Africanness’ of White South Africans?

  • Sharli Paphitis
  • Lindsay-Ann Kelland


Over the past decade, South African philosophers have begun to pay particular attention to whiteness, ‘whiteliness’ and the role of white South Africans in political processes and transformation in South Africa. This work has sparked much debate within the South African philosophical community and in public discourse more broadly, but often leaves white South Africans confused about how they should experience their white South African identity. Confusion about one’s identity, however, is not particular to white South Africans. In a recent conversation, a young black South African remarked that he often looks in the mirror and questions whether he is black enough. In order to clarify his statement, he explained that he grew up in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal and during this time never doubted his racial identity, but that his education and experiences of studying at a former ‘white’ university have left an imprint on his racial identity in such a fundamental way that on returning home he began to question his previously taken for granted ‘blackness’ and his sense of belonging where he previously felt truly at home. Further, he remarked that he doubts that white South Africans have ever had this same experience. While this observation might initially strike us as true, insofar as we do not question whether we are white enough, we, as two young white South Africans, have however experienced a similar kind of doubt—questioning not whether we are white enough but whether we are African enough, questioning, that is, our previously taken for granted ‘Africanness’, our sense of belonging to this African place.


Identity Formation Racial Identity Moral Emotion White People White Skin 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sharli Paphitis
    • 1
  • Lindsay-Ann Kelland
    • 1
  1. 1.Rhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

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