Thursday, July 2, 2009


My cousin Eka-Lisa, future doctor extraordinaire is studying at Warwick in the UK. She’s half Nigerian and half white English. And she cannot understand at ALL why I mention race so much. Growing up in England, one is faced with completely different racial dynamics than in many other countries, like South Africa, Israel, U.S., Brazil, India, Bosnia, Nigeria, etc. Though England participated in the slave trade including the transatlantic trade, for the most part they were not transporting slaves to work in England on the scale that was done in the Americas. The slaves mostly went to places like the current U.S., places in Central America and the Caribbean like Nicaragua and Haiti, and finally South America like Brazil and Guyana.

So England doesn’t have the same history lacking a considerable slave population that grew up disgruntled, fought for freedom, won it but then had to endure a different type of slavery—a legalized segregation without equality and lacking many basic civil human rights, fighting again for slavery and now again enduring more subtle issues of lack of opportunity, equal access to education (something shared by really all groups in the lowest socioeconomic classes), etc.

So she sometimes looks at these updates bewildered. Well, to be honest, race governs everything here. It is in the thoughts and minds of everyone all the time. White people tell me that they can’t get a job because they are the wrong color (due to Affirmative Action, but remember the AA is for a majority of the population since the percentages are reversed from the U.S.). Black people and coloureds still resent the past history. Some people are offended if you don’t bring it up in academic discussions. Some think sociologists bring it up too much and view everything through “the struggle.” Some want to forget and just embrace “the New South Africa” though most of the population still lives in the same socioeconomic conditions from the Old South Africa. Considerable amounts of white people left in the early 90’s because apartheid was ending. Life is still very segregated here. Most interracial relationships that I see here are between a South African and a foreigner. Some people disagree with Affirmative Action (people of all races). Many people say, openly, that Black South Africans are lazy (not black Africans, but specifically South Africans). They feel comfortable saying that. The list, comments, and thoughts go on. I can’t capture them all.

So to neglect to mention race and its impact is to fail to be comprehensive. It is hugely in the minds of the people here. Things are not yet equal. And we still struggle here. So it’s more reflective of society to mention it than to forget it. The same can be said in many countries. Remember, here, the amount of people adversely affected by issues of race is the majority so no one ever says “we talk about race too much.” Or let me say very few people say that. In some countries where the amount of people adversely affected by past racist policies and racism today is the minority (like the U.S.) you will hear many more people say “we talk about race too much” or “you’re living in the past.” So it’s interesting. This is not a comprehensive discussion and there are many differences between American and South African societies that break the analogy (more than just percentages). But it gives simple peek into this insight that race is still matters to people because they feel it still has an effect on the situation into which they are born and how they live.

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