Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, April 18, 2005

Time on SA's continued racial divisions
Time magazine carries an erudite feature article on South Africa's ongoing racial divisions which points out the serious work to be done after the rainbow period of Mandela's presidency.

I've always been a realist, and I am incessantly surprised by people's need to believe that the past 50 years of SA's history can be solved in a decade. For white and black alike, Apartheid has carved conscious and subconscious preferences and prejudices that cannot be shaken without internal dialogue and external reinforcement of opposing positions. (Anyone who disagrees, go and take the implicit association test on race here) What's not helping, is that according to an IJR poll mentioned in the article, South Africans are not mixing socially. Time quotes the study as stating "that 32% of South Africans still do not approve of their child sitting next to a kid from a different race in the classroom, and although just over half of those surveyed approve of living in a neighborhood in which half their neighbors are from a different racial group, 51% would not approve of a close relative marrying a person of another race. White people are particularly wary of interracial marriage; just 16% say they would approve of a close relative taking the plunge with a black, Indian or colored person."

Decades of oppression of our black population and decades of propaganda and psychological programming of whites is not something that can be wished away. Whilst it unfortunately has commonly been abused, I am a supporter of BEE and of affirmative action when relating to people of equal merit, and I am a supporter of affirmative action in some of our sport teams that have been slow in accepting transformation. The worst, and most prevalent, form of prejudice is nuance, and it is nuance that these policies look to redress. Second thoughts about drinking from a water cooler that a black person has just drank from, believing that a black person could not handle that tough project, or a thought that a black person is less intelligent because he or she speaks with a Xhosa lilt when speaking English.

Whites will continue to be affronted by these policies, but there are few realistic alternatives out there. As young people, us whites feel especially aggrieved, as we claim that we were too young to have benefited from Apartheid, and are paying for the "sins of the fathers". This is naivete. Our parents, even those liberals that joined Black Sash and marched on Parliament, still benefited from the Apartheid system, benefited from reserved jobs, benefited from an economy growing off the sweat of black workers, and thus we, as young whites, still acquire the springboard impossible for the majority of black youths our age. Even now, if one compares white education to black education, there are few parallels that can be drawn.

To disown racial division in South Africa requires conscious effort on the part of all its citizens. Racism (on both sides of the racial spectrum) will not just fade in to the night, we all have to take directed effort in challenging our assumptions, tolerating our differences, and carrying the burden of government policies to assist in transformation. Only through these efforts will we be able to create a platform for the second 'miracle', the emergence of a truly non-racial and free society in South Africa.