Troubled Transformation: Whites, Welfare, and ‘Reverse-Racism’ in Contemporary Newcastle

by Michelle Peens and Bernard Dubbeld (Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at
Stellenbosch University)

»read the full article

This paper is based on a study of four white families living in the town of Newcastle, South Africa, and focuses on the institutional apparatuses of welfare in the town almost two decades after apartheid. Beginning with a reading of the production of the category of the ‘poor white’ during the first half of the twentieth century, we then discuss the particular rise and fall of Newcastle as an industrial town. We focus on contemporary welfare in the town and the interaction between whites receiving welfare and welfare officials. In the midst of moral evaluations of character, it becomes clear to officials that models of individual reformation and transformation are inadequate to realise substantially improved lives. In these conditions, officials join white recipients in invoking ‘reverse racism’ to explain the continued reliance of these white families on welfare and their inability to improve their conditions, regardless of ‘improvements in character’. Such a claim, we argue, portrays whites as threatened and even attempts to re-claim the pathological figure of the poor white in a bid to remain exceptional, and thus to be recognised as being poor in a manner that would distinguish them from Africans.

Keywords: welfare, whites, racism, ‘reverse-racism’, post-apartheid, Newcastle, post-industrial towns, South Africa

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:
Peens, M., & Dubbeld, B. (2013). Troubled Transformation: Whites, Welfare, and ‘Reverse-Racism’ in Contemporary Newcastle. Diversities, 15(2), 7-22. Retrieved [todaysdate] from
16-01_CoverDiversities • Volume 15, No. 2, 2013
Diversity and Small Town Spaces: Twenty Years into Post-Apartheid South African Democracy
Guest Editors: Richard Ballard and Melissa Steyn
ISSN-Print 2199-8108
ISSN-Internet 2199-8116