Michael McWilliams: The secrets of white privilege

Racism has reared its ugly head in South Africa, and while it’s a massive issue to overcome, the only way to begin the solution is through controlled, sensible discussion. And while there is always going to be disagreement, one needs to create a sense of rebuilding from all corners of the country. Michael McWilliams has written for Biznews before and he has put pen to paper once again. This time he unpacks the secrets to white privilege, it’s the first of a series of submissions. It’s an interesting read and while it doesn’t pen a solution, it does start an extremely sensitive discussion. – Stuart Lowman

By Michael McWilliams*

Some interesting and inspiring news has just come out of Britain, the new melting-pot of nations. Fortunately, the British government, despite a history of never having formal Apartheid, has for many years, gathered all sorts of information about the various racial groups that make up their very diverse population.

Michael McWilliams
Michael McWilliams

For instance, although Caribbean people were the first great wave of black immigration to break on British shores, they have not fared nearly as well, educationally speaking, as have the second tsunami of blacks emanating from the old African colonies.

In fact, the latest statistics show that black people of African origin are doing better even than native British whites in the assimilation of education opportunities available to them in the UK.

Caribbean blacks have had a head start on African blacks as they flooded in mainly from 1940 until 1960. Most African blacks came to Britain in the 1980’s. The African stream comprised two classes. Wealthy Nigerians and Ghanaians on the one hand and poor rural refugees from Somalia and Zimbabwe on the other. Africans now outnumber Caribbean’s by almost half a million souls.

The really surprising news is that both groups, Caribbean and African are actually far exceeding British Whites as a percentage of pupils who go on to university educations.

In turn, the African group far exceeds the Caribbean group in reaching university.

In Britain, Black Africans are twice as likely as White British are to attend university

The influential Economist magazine puts the numbers of Black Africans reaching university at nearly 60%, Black Caribbean’s nearly 40% and White British at 30%.

These figures must force the most Afro-Pessimistic, both here in Africa and abroad, to re-look their expectations.

It should be instructive to find out how this happened and if possible, replicate these circumstances here in Africa.

Naturally, the difference in the quality of schooling of Blacks vs. that of Whites here in SA is huge, but we must allow that fixing that would not be likely to fix the disparities between Black and White scholastic achievements on its own.

What is it that happens to Black African immigrants in Britain that makes such a gigantic difference in achievement between they and well entrenched British learners with all their traditional White privilege?

Common sense tells us that great pressure must be put upon African immigrants to conform to British values.

To enable them to fit in and excel, old habits, mores and traditions must be ditched, or the ruthless British Class system will ensure social exclusion which will in turn dampen any chances of beating the British learners at their own game.

Lets look at some of the White habits and customs that must be adopted in Britain that seem to make such a difference to immigrants success and see if copying them in South Africa could give Black people here the same, or perhaps even better success than their White countrymen.

Read also: James Myburgh: SA intelligentsia descended into ‘racial madness’

Are these the secrets of White Privilege?

Changing the habits and customs that follow are no guarantee that doing this will magically impart the same sort of privilege that many people imagine whites enjoy. However, imitating all, or at least most of them, will certainly allow whole families to put themselves in a better place to be able to win economically and materially over the longer term.

A more likely guarantee is that to ignore these secrets and going contrary to their aims will ensure that the status quo will not change and poverty and ignorance will feature strongly in your future.

So, lets start from the beginning.


Our education is in a shambles. By any standards this is a shameful waste of human capital and money.

How is it that we spend one of the highest percentages of GDP on educating our young and yet we score the lowest in the world in all the important measures of effective education?

Of course, the fraud and corruption built into a system aided and abetted by an almost totally corrupt government, in turn strongly influenced by totally corrupt teachers unions are greatly to blame.

This though is not the end, or even the beginning of the story.

What follows, is about ways of allowing children to grow up and flourish in a Western Capitalist-type society.

If you don’t want this to apply to your own children, read no further.

Western style capitalism often doesn’t produce the nicest of people and it is understandable if you would like to bypass this fate and remain in the pastoral, hunter-gatherer mode more natural to living on this continent.

Otherwise, if you want your children to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the civilized world.

Read on.

Our Customs and Lifestyle contribute greatly to our failure.

To avoid upsetting the easily offended, I will try mightily to avoid the further mention of race in this article.

I ask the reader to make up their own mind as to whether the shoe fits, and if so, wear it with pride. If the shoe doesn’t fit, toss it back in the closet, your turn will come.

Read also: The economics of race – Zuma believes economy is still racially structured

In order to be able to mold the best possible person from the clay provided, we need to go back and examine how that clay was made.


If you want the best chance of finally producing an exemplary child, a Traditional Marriage is not the best way to go about it. We don’t need go into any religious, ethical or moral arguments here. Plain arithmetic will suffice.

In Western European society, a marriage (of a man and a single wife) will produce, on average 1,5 children. Lets round it out to two full children to avoid complexity.

This means that the combined income of husband and wife can support two adults and educate two children.

In a Traditional Marriage, (lets say a man with three wives) will produce two children from each wife. (We need to compare apple with apples here, even though the production rate is often much higher than this.)

This means that the combined income of husband and three wives must support six children.

So, we have a typical marriage in Europe supporting two adults and two children, four in total.

A typical Traditional Marriage in Africa supports Four adults and six children, ten in total.

A traditional Marriage is therefore two and a half times more money and time hungry than a Western style family.

There are very few people in traditional marriages who can ask their boss for two and a half times more money than anyone else gets, just because his family is that much bigger. He would have to be President to get away with something like that. Even the President can’t demand more time from anyone, so that he and his wives can give their kids more quality time in their developmental years.

Read also: Anthea Jeffery: Jobs, not racism, SA’s most serious unresolved problem

Simple arithmetic thus tells us that no-one can compete effectively with the huge handicap of 10:4

So, if you want your kids to get a fair bite of the apple, and you aren’t the President, traditional marriages have to go.

You may ask, what about the more common, one man-one wife union?

There is still a lot wrong with the way this kind of union is practiced in SA, compared to the way it is generally practiced in Europe.

Firstly, in SA, it is more like, One Man-One Wife-One Child followed by The Same Man-Another Woman- Another Child ad infinitum.

This system is in fact arithmetically worse than the Traditional Marriage because the Man keeps moving on, leaving behind multiple Single-Mother families. Often these Single Mother families have multiple children from many different men. The arithmetic is even worse in these cases and the Absentee Fathers leave Children with no Male Role Models and often no male income, which doesn’t help in producing kids who will compete with other kids that come from families with both Mother and Father role models.

I hope I have made the case for the simple family unit of Mother , Father and Two Kids, maximum.

Privilege Secret Number 1: Don’t Breed more than you can Feed.

Land and Property

Before we look at how we will breed privileged little champions, we must look at where best to breed them.

Africans, both Black and White have always had an irrational love affair with land. Most Afrikaners see owning a farm as their ultimate dream. It is often what even the most successful professionals aim for.

Most Black people also hanker for their own piece of land filled with cattle and goats far from the bustle of the city. Even President Zuma scooted off to the hills of Kwa-Zulu Natal as soon as he got his hands on the cheque-book.

Populist politicians often promise land to the poor but never tell them of the disadvantages of having land without the means to make it profitable.

Read also: Trevor Jennings: SA – a light for the world. Let’s start the conversation.

Let me make it plain, farms are one of the worst creators or stores of wealth available.

Anyone planning to build a warehouse of privilege for himself and his family should be looking at their dwelling to be a main branch of the tree of plenty.

Your property stores your wealth, a bit at a time while you pay it off. Once you have built up a reasonable amount of equity or ownership in your property, you can use it as collateral for loans from banks.

This will help you later on when you may, in a privileged manner, wish to start your own business or invest elsewhere.

Houses and properties in towns and cities have a ready market and can be accurately valued at any time and sold or rented easily.

Farms on the other hand are only worth what can be produced on them. Farm owners are hostages to the weather and animal diseases, not to mention crop price fluctuations that can hammer the owner even in the best of years. The great problem with owning farmland is, when you want or need to sell, everyone else is in the same boat. Drought or disease turns a terrific farm into a worthless asset that can’t even pay for itself, never mind store and grow your wealth.

Of course there are rich farmers but these are fairly few and far between. They are usually nowadays people who have inherited farms that have long ago been paid for and the family has been farming for decades. They are big enough to be able to diversify crops to spread risk and family members have studied agriculture. Unless you share these benefits, farming probably isn’t for you.

If someone offers you a few hundred acres, don’t take it unless the machinery, fertiliser, seed and lots of know-how are included. Otherwise, it’s a quick route to bankruptcy.

Put not your trust in politicians, you will die in poverty waiting for them to deliver on their promises.

Politicians are like everyone else. Their own wellbeing is their first concern. Even our beloved Madiba moved into his Houghton mansion before he started looking after the housing interests of anyone else.

Privilege Secret Number 1.5:  Look after Number One, don’t wait for Number One to look after you.

Your town property gets its value from the size and quality of its accommodation as well as from its location in that town or city. This doesn’t change much, even in a drought. The value should keep pace with inflation or even exceed it. You need a place to stay anyway, so you may as well own your own house.

It follows that living on Tribal Land is useless in any way at building wealth , apart from the wealth of your tribal chief. It works quite well for him.

Privilege Secret Number 2: Begin building wealth with your own property as soon as possible.

Children: The real beginning of building Privilege.

Lets face it. It is highly likely that your path to privilege has been strewn with the potholes of your upbringing. This has meant that you are doing the best you can with poor tools. That means true and well-rounded privilege may only be enjoyed by your children, and then only if you follow all the Secret Rules. Even that is no guarantee of success. Misfortune can overtake anyone at any time. The Privilege Secrets are only guidelines as to how best to give yourself a chance. After all, they don’t work for everyone all the time. They are just your best shot at attaining privilege.

  1. Your only wife is pregnant with your first of only two children. Naturally, the good wife has given up smoking forever. Smoking during pregnancy is harmful to your offspring and any smoking afterwards is just as bad for the little one. Naturally, there won’t be drinking of alcohol during the pregnancy either. These no-smoking and no-drinking rules are not just there to make the labels on booze and cigarettes look busy, they are there because lots of people don’t give their young ones the best shot at living well.

Privilege Secret Number 3: Don’t poison your child before it is born

The first eighteen months of a child’s life determines how it will develop mentally. If a baby’s brain is not stimulated in all areas, the brain will prune development in those unused areas and allocate the energy saved to those areas that are being used.

Sight, sound, touch, taste and cognitive thinking should all be constantly stimulated so that all areas of the brain are used.  Playing music to your baby will stimulate the brain and allow it to start understanding the concept of beat, melody and the mathematical basis of music. Mozart and Bach are a good start as their music contains it all. Hip-hop, House and Rap, not so much.

A hanging mobile toy above the cot or lying area will allow the child to stimulate the sense of touch and the co-ordination of hands and eyes that is essential to full development. Being strapped to a mothers back with a blanket with a view of the back of moms head just doesn’t cut it as a highly stimulating environment.

Allow you child to crawl all over the place. Crawling gives much more sensory input than walking and depth perception is helped by letting a child negotiate steps. Remember, a small baby has little weigh and hardly any momentum and can survive a small fall much easier than an adult. This is the time to let a child make mistakes, because the consequences are usually not serious.

Don’t rush a child to walk. You do it a disservice.

Privilege Secret Number 4: The first 18 months will provide the size jug into which education is eventually poured. Make it as big as possible.

To be continued.

  • Michael McWilliams, a member of the Biznews Community, has been married for 35 years and has three sons. Born in Johannesburg, schooled at Marist Brothers Inanda and St. Charles Pietermaritzburg he was a paratrooper in SADF and the captain of the SA Parachuting Team which won the Bronze Medal in the World Championships. Author of “The Battle for Cassinga” and the novel “Osama’s Angel”, his career has ranged from TV News cameraman to national marketing manager of Peugeot and running his own design consultancy. His hobbies are opera, hunting and classical music.
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