Sunday, October 3, 2010

White door? Paint it black

Despite the 16 years having elapsed since the demise of racial segregation, South Africans cannot move away from distinguishing what is black and what is white. Recent examples include Absa’s recent complaint about the Currie Cup being too white; the black porn movie that is soon to be launched following the release of the first black Mills and Boon; Juju’s endless ranting and let’s not forget the millions spent on road name changes.

The majority of South African comedy revolves around distinctions between black and white regardless of the grey areas. Anything with more white people than black people is quickly criticized for being too white, even if it’s something that black people don’t like anyway. Schools, businesses, stores are all categorised as white, black, indian or coloured. Different brands are directed at different races, evident in advertisements and certain slang.

Different to the South Africanising of American and British television shows, the new South African type Mills and Boon, Kwela Books, has a four-page chapter-to -chapter manual on what to write. The novels have to be South African and in English that is “preferably set in a big city like Johannesburg” with “both hero and heroine [being] black South Africans”. That’s not South African, that’s white coated in dark brown. The South African style black porn is no different. It’s not black porn, its dark-skinned people in a porno that’s scripted like any other. Both hide under the context of South African but they exclude the biggest South African ideal: rainbow-nationism. Where are the mixed racial relationships attacked by the old cultural prejudices? The conflict between people from private schools and township ones? Why focus on South Africa’s ‘New York’ when you can focus on South Africa’s diverse shores?

The focus on up market black diamonds also excludes the reality of South African Africans. Up market culture is hybrid – predominantly westernised with sprinkles from South African, African, Asian and other cultures. Capitalism is an inherently Westernised concept. Westernisation is inherently white. The true black, however, are scattered in townships and rural areas, fraught with poverty and celebrating customised practises and thought that are only African. It is also western thought that considers such traditions as backward and requiring transformation; it is South Africanism that celebrates them.

I admit there is the transformed rainbow-nation, Simunye examples but the number of encounters that I have had with stereotypical assumptions about the way I act, eat or dress are too many to brush aside. I should know how to make samoosas because I am Indian. If I drive a nice car, it’s likely that my parents bought it for me, and it’s common knowledge that I come from a huge family that eats, prays and sings together.

Living in South Africa means constantly abiding to certain racist codes. It’s tiring and non-progressive. And, really, what is black and white any way? Are we just adding black paint to everything that was white? Has race become merely a determination of what colour skin you have? (If that were the case there would be no black or white at all, only different shades of brown).

When will South Africans move beyond their own racism and accept that the true South Africa is non-definitive. It is the mixture of it all that’s makes us South African. South Africa is the Christian indian and the African muslim who eat phutu and braaied wors while listening to a mixed tape of Jack Parrow, Maskandi and Slumdog Millionaire.

There is no black and white.