Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Thou shall not infantilize

Written by: on December 7, 2022

Diversity is beautiful. Yet with diversity comes the potential for bias. Indeed, bias is so widespread today and in history that even philosophers like Aristotle and Philo have been credited with “starting” gender polarization[1]. Thanks to the civil rights, anti-apartheid and other movements, explicit bias or discrimination is generally recognized and condemned. What is not so easy to identify is subtle discrimination, which is sometimes done unconsciously, yet is still damaging in its effect. This can be done across races, ethnic groups, professions, political parties, social classes and a variety of groups. For example, high school pass rates in South Africa are lower than before. They currently stand at a minimum of 50% in four subjects, at least 40% in the candidate’s home language, and at least 30% in two other languages including the language of instruction at the university the candidate hopes to study at[2].  One of several South Africans questioning this government decision sees it as “failing to equip our young people to compete … in the global economy[3].” I sympathize with the government as they wrestle with unacceptable levels of failing students. However, given the significant potential in the country in terms of current and retired teachers willing to assist, it seems clear that a better approach is to strengthen the learning process. Indeed, lowering passing standards borders on infantilizing the electorate, particularly the poor, and could greatly compromise the future of high school students.

Woke Racism: How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America argues that by infantilizing minorities, antiracists (mainly white, but also elite blacks) may be working hard to fight racism, but are going about it the wrong way. McWhorter insists that this antiracist ideology, pursued religiously by adherents, is detrimental to the self-esteem of Black Americans and hinders their ability to maximize their potential. The author condemns the belief that “if black people lag behind whites in some way, the only reason must be racism, even if it’s hard to perceive its role[4].” Like McWhorter, I believe that racism is evil, but it is not the root of all evils. Indeed, if we blame racism for all problems confronting minorities, we risk leaning on this as a “convenient excuse to avoid self-examination,” as Kishore Mahbubani warns[5]. Agreeing with McWhorter, Steele highlights the impact of racism on black success but argues that it is family breakdown, manifesting as female-headed homes, that is at the root of “gangsterism, drug abuse, low academic achievement, high dropout and unemployment rates, high crime and incarceration”[6].

But McWhorter does not just highlight the problems of Third Wave Antiracism. He also suggests several solutions to challenges confronting black people, including “vocational training for poor people and battle the idea that real people go to college[7].” I support this position because some situations attributed to racism could easily be addressed with appropriate literacy interventions. In 2001 I was invited to be part of the management team of a multi-racial mission agency run mainly by white followers of Jesus. Although this group was composed of godly men and women, I was the least educated, youngest and least experienced member. I was honoured to be part of this group but also felt out of place. During most of the meetings I listened to the conversations with very little contribution because they were speaking “over my head.” Today I reflect on that part of my history with the feeling that given that opportunity now, I would be in a much better place to make meaningful contributions. Although I was the only black person in a group of about ten individuals with several white people and one Asian, when we had awkward situations, I would argue that it was more out of limited life experience/education than racism. This is not to deny the reality of racism in our world because even the Hellenistic Jews were discriminated against by the Hebraic speaking Jews in Acts 6. However, my experience and that of many minorities living within a dominant culture shows that education is an important factor in many so-called racial situations.

In conclusion, McWhorter, like Martin Luther King, Mandela, Tutu, Shelby Steele, Pragya Agarwal, and many others warn us of the dangers of racism in its explicit and subtle forms. Given the widespread and volatile nature of the subject, taking heed seems like a wise choice.

[1] Agarwal, Pragya. Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias. (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020), 190.

[2] News 24. https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/no-the-required-matric-pass-mark-is-not-30-angie-motshekga-20220111

[3] Ibid

[4] McWhorter, John. Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. (New York: Penguin Random house LLC, 2021), 120.

[5] Mahbubani, Kishore. Can Asians Think. (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 209.

[6] Steele, Shelby. Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country. (Basic Books, 2015), 33.

[7] McWhorter, Woke Racism, 149.

About the Author


Henry Gwani

Follower of Jesus, husband, father, community development practitioner and student of leadership working among marginalized communities in South Africa

9 responses to “Thou shall not infantilize”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Henry, thanks for this insightful post. Thanks also for sharing aspects of the issue from South Africa. It is always helpful to hear input from cultures other than our own. What of your main takeaways from Capte Town do you believe would be the most helpful to the ongoing issues of racism in America based on what you read in this book?

    • mm Henry Gwani says:

      Thanks Roy. Based on my Cape Town experience and what I’ve just read from McWhorter, I would say regardless of one’s racial background, every follower of Jesus must develop the courage to speak up against racism. I think courage is where we often fail. But first we must speak against racism within one’s own racial group. I believe if we do this, it gives us great credibility when we speak against racism from other racial groups

  2. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Henry, thank you for your contributions in this post. I agree that education is the key to further breakthroughs in overcoming racial divides, not lowering of standards. In my opinion, lowering standards just make those who struggle the most feel more out of place and less likely to engage in behaviors to overcome. In what ways have you or do you hope to, use the retired teaching force to create an educational atmosphere of success? I am also curious about how the family structure, values, etc. contribute to educational success or failure in South Africa?

  3. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Much thanks Denise. I don’t have any brilliant ideas on how to mobilize retired teachers to save the next generation but think just starting that conversation in my small corner could be a catalyst in this regard. I was inspired by the example of two retired teachers, my father-in-law and one of my ministry board members. Both are passionate about school kids and teaching. Today they’ve returned back to teaching, one in a public high school and the other serving a marginalized community through a local non-profit that helps kids with understanding lessons they didn’t understand well in class. Owing to the efforts of the non-profit, some kids are attaining straight As in all subjects. Of course this is a very isolated incidence but I think there are other “hidden” similar stories across the country and that simply sharing the stories I’m aware of can help inspire other retired teachers to make a difference.

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Henry: I also thought the solutions McWhorter puts forth at the end of the book were thoughtful and worthwhile. It was an insightful book and I’m glad Jason included it in the semester’s reading. I was not informed as well with the woke movement before, but now I feel like I understand it’s motives and goals.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Thanks Henri. That is very interesting to me what you are saying about the role of education. Can you tell me more about how/why that is important in race relations? It is a sense of credibility? I am sure there is more behind the layers, especially in that situation where you are the sole black man in that group. I would love to better understand your thoughts and emotions as you reflect on that time.

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Henry, thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking post! As always, I value so much your reflection on the dynamics in South Africa and next steps you are discerning there. I also really appreciated hearing more about your 2001 ministry experience. You mentioned Shelby Steele’s insights regarding what most impacts Black success in the USA. I find his position in tension with McWhorter’s about root causes. Shelby Steele sees the root being family breakdown. McWhorter names the war on drugs (along with reading pedagogy). The tension leaves me wondering about the impact of racism in how the war on drugs and 3 strikes was framed and implemented in a US context in the 1980s and 1990s. When black men are disproportionately incarcerated, along with the barriers that exist for re-entering life after incarceration, one of the results is the breakdown of the family. I remember you sharing about the impact of incarceration in South Africa. What impact is this having on families there? On race conversations in South Africa?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      So Henry and Elmarie, since I did not have an opportunity to read this book, I wonder, can it be both instead of or? It seems that break down of family and the complete jim crow approach to war on drugs can inform each other.

      Henery how would you differentiate the biases then of Steele and McWhorter?

  7. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Henry: Thanks for another wonderful post and sharing another piece of your story. When you state “I would argue that it was more out of limited life experience/education than racism” – have you found mechanisms to help discern ignorance from racism?

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