The Dark Continent: The Complicated Politics of Race
One of the most crucial political acts is to define what is political. The capacity to construct political reality is the ability to define the difference between democracy and dictatorship, slavery and abolitionism, legitimacy and dishonesty. Politics or the social affairs in the context of race have been contrary to what I thought as popular belief, or to what I once understood as normality. The explanations of my own paradigm shifts can be attributed to the historical accounts that inevitably haunt the present in which we live. This is turn is more of an articulation of my new understanding of race in this country, rather than the politics alone. However, in many aspects it becomes obvious that these two concepts (politics/race) are inseparable in the daily experience of the people who live here.
The racialization of South Africa is distinctly different because the actors in colonization were skilled and experienced at dividing various minority groups from one another. So in a legislative context there were more nuances in rules compared to law like black people simply being three-fifths of a person. In South Africa groups were broken up into four parts and each part was given certain rights. The four major sections of race are Asiatics, Coloureds, Blacks, and Whites. Black people were of course being on the bottom of the barrel and marginalized the most. At a club here this past weekend, I asked a women what she thought about being categorized as coloured. She expressed not only being proud for being coloured in her country, but also expressed a disgust if anyone would label her as “Black.” In the states, this lady would phenotypically be considered black. These categories of separation seem to be a different reality for people in the states. In the states, the rule for many years, defined persons as black if they had one drop of black blood. Thus, the question of which grouping one was put into certainly didn’t exist.
This is not to say there were no cases in America of people attempting to “pass” as white or lighter toned people trying to keep their lineage as light as possible via only having children with other lighter skin toned people. But ultimately many people of the black race in the states mixed with light, dark, and everything in between. This is why in my family alone I have members that are light skin with straight hair and dark skin with afros, and everything else in-between (you also have to take into account the sexual acts of white slave masters). This fluidity in not only race but in culture becomes much more rigid and rare when as I observe various families and social relationships here in South Africa. This is mainly true because during the apartheid era it was it was not only illegal for a black person to have children with white people, but it was also strictly enforced that coloureds could not have offspring with blacks either. All groups were required to stay within their racial outlines. And the law gave certain favorable rights to each group that was closest to being white. For example if you had three doctors with the same exact education and credentials, one white, one coloured, and one black, each individual would be paid according to their race. The white person would make the most; the coloured person would make less than the white person, but more than the black person. And the black person would make the least amount. These legal lines within race have an extreme impact on the social lines. Just think if W.E.B Dubois didn’t think of himself as a black man, but something different? What is the Souls of Black Folks was titled the Souls of only light skin black folks? It is hard for me to find an equal parallel of this system in the history and society of the United States. I thought it might be comparable to slaves and how dark skin toned slaves would be put in the fields, and light skin slaves would be put into the house, however, even these relationships never created two distinct and different cultures. Under apartheid families were literally split in half and could not interact with each other based on the skin tone and the straightness of hair.
The politics and structure of race in this country is something that I consistently struggle to understand. The simple use of the word “coloured” to define a whole group is breaking down my own perceptions of race and understanding that I am usually familiar with. It is hard to talk to someone here without the mentioning of the apartheid. The history of separation and objectification of so many seems to act as a stain that is hard to wash out of the lives of those who experienced these harsh realities.