So, why weren’t they staring at me? I mean, I was in Mokopane (my shopping town) on the ‘black’ side where I usually endure the normal calls in Afrikaans for money or for someone to help me hold my stuff (um, no thanks) as I walk through the gauntlet. But I also was staring at something else, trying to figure out what was in front of me.
A white woman was wearing a Sepedi dress and walking with a black man. The black man was holding a very adorable little girl who appeared to be coloured (mixed race).
- Side note to my Merican readers, saying coloured is not offensive or like saying it in the states. It is the racial class- what is said when referring to a person who is mixed race.
When I initially saw this woman my first thought was ‘she must be some foreign white lady here for a couple weeks volunteering or something. Then I realized these two people were probably a couple and maybe this is their child, and was shocked and thought ‘well probably not, since I have never seen an interracial couple in South Africa.”
Then I mentally slapped myself.
I realized that after being here a year I have grown very accustomed to the ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude that I have always tried so hard to fight. Some parts of South Africa are much more integrated and have a higher ‘coloured’ population or just more mixing of people than Mokopane, and Limpopo as a whole. When looking on the map to see how race is distributed it is obvious to see Limpopo is mostly black with some specs of white. In the towns, such as Mokopane, there are people who are not black but groups are not frequently mixed. When I asked someone at the organization why it is like that she simply explained “the Indians own the shops, and there are some china shops and the white people will go to checkers and pick n pay, but not to the black parts” ok, that sounds simple enough, but doesn’t really answer any question, especially since it is now 2012, nearly 18 years post-apartheid government.
So as I walked behind the couple and child I realized the first thoughts that came to my mind were drastically different than what I would have thought a year ago. I could see the people sitting on the sidewalks and passing by not only pointing but making loud comments. Some people cheered the man for ‘getting a white woman’, some laughed, and some just starred with a confusing look. I was happy to see them, it was in a way a relief. I know in bigger cities there is more integration, but there simply is not in Mokopane. Another plus that even though this was very weird to people, it wasn't a bad thing.
I have no idea if these people were in fact a couple or even if they were South African, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone around reacted as if they were, including myself, and the reactions say a lot. I was surprised and happy and what bothers me is a year ago I probably would not have noticed. Now a year ago I was in the states, and race relations there are much different. Growing up in Lansing I never really had to deal with race relations to the extend as here. After almost a year of getting beat over the head about Black, White, Coloured, Indian, American, African, Afrikaner, blah blah blah and how we are all different and seeing the separation I can no longer be naïve and think race doesn’t matter. It would actually be ignorant for me to try and think so. Does this mean I think people are pre determined to be a certain way or one is better than the other? Of course not, but it means that race is so ingrained into society that it will take several more generations before we see true integration. It is no doubt I get marriage proposals, told I am beautiful (even on particularly nasty days), or other forms of admiration because I am a white American. When I have conversations with people and they want me to find them a white person to marry, then I ask why, the answers always prove how far the country is away from race not mattering (keep in mind I have lived in a rural area-not a city which would be different).
Then, I see a couple (well, maybe a couple) that is not going with social norms, a white woman and a black man. I have to remind myself that the United States went through this period as well. However, I am sure we can all agree with the much different histories it is not the same, but comparable. So, just like the States, South Africa will undoubtedly take several decades to change the social norm, and some areas will be much more advanced than others. America is still fighting racism and working toward equality, I mean, Brown vs Board of ed was in 1954 and still today no one can deny (well, people try) that things are not equal. I very often get frustrated and upset when it comes to gender and race and despite small victories hope I will never get too used to the disparities, I fear too many people are ‘used to it’ therefore accept it.
And hopefully when I get back to America I won’t be shocked when I see people of different races together. That would be awkward.