Life as a newly “middle class”/ “Lower middle class”/ “I was really poor but now I’m okay” black South African is awkward in all kinds of ways. I specifically say “black South African” because I can only speak for myself and — to some extent — a few people that fit this profile.
I grew up in the outskirts of Nelspruit, about 30 minutes away from the city in a notoriously dangerous township called “Pienaar”. My financial situation was a little interesting because my dad was a taxi owner — who owned 5 taxis and pulled in over R40k in profits (per month) back in 2006/2007 — but he abandoned me and my 4 siblings after his relationship with my mom fell apart. Consequently in spite of our dad being well off we grew up poor.
After my parents got separated my mom went job hunting for the first time ever in her life and, through some connections, got a job at an Orange farm. She left for work at 5AM and got back around 7PM. I can go into the details of the life of a low level farm employee in South African essentially the picture I’m painting is I grew up poor and my mom worked incredibly hard to raise me and my siblings.
Fast forward a couple years, a few UCT years as a Computer Science major, financial exclusion, an appeal, a drop out case, an internship, a job, over R200k a year, and I’m in a really interesting position, which I imagine a few other young people are in as well.
Not so long ago I used to point fingers at the “privileged” kids and kept poking them and forcing them to acknowledge their privilege, dismissed everything they said about the work their parents put in or the work they put it themselves, yet now I find myself feeling, I imagine, exactly the way they did when I get called privileged.
When I get called privileged — and in my case people just assume I come from a rich family, some even assume I was adopted by some rich white family, I know this because people have asked me if I was adopted by some white family — I feel the need to defend my position, tell everyone my rags to…well, doing okay, story and inspire them through the process. Or at least that used to be the case.
Overtime I’ve learnt to accept this beast called privilege, and acknowledge that not everyone was afforded the opportunities I was despite my empoverished background.
For my conclusion I’ve selected to put together a list of all the things I find really awkward, sometimes even cringe.
- Making more money than my mom will ever make
- Making more money than my older siblings
- Making more money than my friends who come from significantly better backgrounds and effectively being the one with more money in the relationship
- Making more money than so many people older than me, wow, cringe cringe
- Writing this article