Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Food for thought.

My earlier post, when I referred to how race has hardly come up in social situations, was written too soon. I am now in my 6th week in South Africa and the initial “honeymoon phase” of this country is starting to fade. That’s not to say I am in love with it any less or that anything is less exciting than before; that’s certainly not true. All I mean is that I am becoming more comfortable here, more engaged in both the Lynedoch community, my classes in Stellenbosch, and making real friends with local students who are interested in more than just my American accent. I’m having real conversations with white, black, and colored South Africans, those who were raised under the apartheid regime and those my age (who were raised by the former). There is still so much tension between all of these groups, no matter where you go or who you talk to. A common rationale of white South Africans (of course I cannot generalize them all) is that apartheid is done, it’s over with, let’s move on. The colored (which, here, is the appropriate descriptor for mixed races) and black South Africans are still suffering, though. Sure, apartheid is now illegal. But the whites are still rich and the blacks are still poor; prejudices are still alive and present. My students at Lynedoch were not alive during the technical apartheid regime, but all they’ve been raised to know is that they are poor and black, and that their parents overwork and are underpaid by the white farmers.

I did not know that the city of Stellenbosch is 80% black until Grant told us in class. The University itself is one of the richest in the country, and the majority of students are white Afrikaaners. Now knowing the residential demographic of this city, I realized what a bubble I’ve been living in within the school. (This is why I am so grateful for the opportunity to be in Lynedoch twice a week.) I think it took me a little longer to notice this racial divide in Stellenbosch because it reminded me so much of Charleston at first. In the beginning, I justified it this way: “Sure, the students are white and the janitors are black, but that’s no big deal, that’s how it is at C of C.” This same observation now has me thinking how that is not a positive comparison. The Civil Rights Movement exploded in America in the 1950’s, 60 years ago. South Africa abolished apartheid just 15 years ago, and sometimes it seems as though their progress has already caught up to ours. 

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