Monday, August 30, 2010

Some thoughts on Cape Town and how it fits into my impressions of south africa

A few posts ago, I talked about how South Africa was super segregated, was a culture of the conquerors and the conquered. And I still stand by a lot of those views, but my visit to cape town definitely gave me a different perspective on South African race relations.

In Cape Town, you see biracial couples and children everywhere. Moreso than in the US. I was confused to see that in comparison to what I had seen on the other side of the country. They even have a name for people who are half black and half white: “coloured” (and it is not a derogatory term there). As I went to a few museums and learned more about the history of cape town, I was even more fascinated.
It seems that in cape town, back before apartheid came to play in the 50s or 60s, that white and black people lived together in relative harmony (not to overpaint it as all peachy keen, and I am sure people stuck to their own, more or less, but people interacted and lived in each other’s neighborhoods). Then, when the government passed the district acts, the whole city was torn up into districts which were labeled as “black” or “white” or “coloured.” In one famous district, district 6 (where there is now a museum), black people were forcibly removed from their homes, and the homes were bulldozed, because it was zoned as a “white” district. And the forcible separation of people definitely created more tension between them. As I was in the district 6 museum, looking at pictures of pre-apartheid era in district 6, I was shocked to see sports teams, social clubs, etc, with a mix of black and white people.

As I took all this in, I was thinking, “can I be interpreting this correctly? That people of different races and cultures were living in harmony, socializing together, intermarrying, until the government came and messed it up?” So foreign to me, as I felt like our experience in race relations is so different/opposite in the US. As I walked around and read more, it seemed that that was more or less the case (without sounding too extreme or making it that simple). I know that now in cape town, people mix, but there is still racial tension and inequality, and I am sure there was some pre-apartheid as well.

That said, I was trying to take in why it was so foreign to me that different races would so easily. IN the US, so much violent crime and hate has focused around racism. The government has had to intervene to DE-segregate. But here, African-Americans arrived as slaves, arrived captured, so from the start, there presence was brought with it a sense of inferiority and power balance. In Cape Town, whites invaded into black territory, I am sure there were years of turmoil and tension and power struggle, but somehow they worked it out…What makes that difference? What makes people learn to get along? Is it breeding? Cultural training? Or do we all secretly want peace around us, and as the historical conflicts and power struggles of government and society fade away, we are allowed the freedom to see that as a possibility? Big questions I really can’t answer… And I don’t think anywhere in the world has completely abolished racism. Sometimes, in the US, I wonder how much racism has changed. We are in an increasingly mixed society (and mixed world for that matter), but do we just push racism below the surface so we can be “PC” and appear “civilized?”

It is also interesting to me that the race issues and segregation seem so different in South Africa based on your province (as previously described my experiences in Gauteng and Mpumpalanga provinces). Maybe it isn’t that different than here? That race issues might be different if you lived in Alabama or California or Michigan? And I just wonder if no matter how you got to where you are, no matter how the government has been involved or not, is the end product the same?

If anyone has any answers, let me know (just kidding).

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