Growing Pains: Can we get rid of our racial tags?

2013-08-19 10:00

Once, as a young boy, I was out playing with my friends in the thick shrubbery outside my granny’s home when I became the subject of an intervention.

We were shooting at each other with bottle caps aimed from atop long pieces of plywood, which we had fashioned into guns and shot off with extra strong elastic bands, when I unwittingly stepped into a no-go zone.

All it looked like to me was a veggie patch, which had surprisingly been curated in the middle of the thicket.

My friends knew better and, dropping their weapons, they all came out of hiding to coax me out of there and then admonish me.

The veggie patch belonged to an old lady, they told me, who may or may not have been a witch, but certainly anyone going into that area was deemed to be cursed. Each swore by this tale, even though none really knew who this lady was.

But they all knew someone who had not heeded a similar warning – that famous drunk that hung around the beerhalls, that once rich man who now lives in his car, and the beautiful but cheeky girl who disappeared and was now rumoured to have mothered a string of?ugly?babies.

I didn’t really believe them, but I stayed out of the patch. In fact, with each passing week, I played further and further from that patch until I found a new playground, which was quite a walk from our house. But safer.

In the end, I succumbed to the unwritten and mostly unspoken rule. I wondered about how enduring these sorts of rules are when I found myself discussing the politics of the “coloured race” on Twitter.

Without impugning on anyone’s right to shape their own identity, what strikes me is how hard and fast erstwhile official categorisations, which ?were?designed to be divisive, have stuck.

Why a race? Why not an ethnic group or a culture? I wondered. In fact, why are we sticking to the boundaries of the bogeyman’s racial imagination even 20 years after we’re meant to have banished him?

Can we not imagine our own constructs of identification – an “Afrikan” race, perhaps?

It’s thus been an exciting week for me as we shuttled towards the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day yesterday – as the powers that be sought to recraft the rules on how and when we have cross-cultural interactions.

Perhaps we will follow this up by highlighting some cultural norms that we could use to propel ourselves forward.

During a recent corporate talk, I mentioned my astonishment that even though nearly 12?million South Africans use stokvels, and that they are worth an estimated R45?billion, I hardly ever see any adverts of products aimed at them.

Why is so much money going unnoticed? Is it because stokvellers are largely black and their monetary worth is still being evaluated in a lab?

Perhaps the few blacks brought into product development teams aren’t great enough ambassadors of a “black way of life” because, well?.?.?.?they live it. Or they used to.

To get to the nub of it, it would be better for white South Africans to immerse themselves in the ways of their fellow countrymen and women.

You see shades of black living in a white world, but that’s not sustainable on a black continent.

If greater care and initiative were taken to cross the unseen boundaries that history has bequeathed on us – more especially the most privileged – then, maybe, we can finally let go of our racial tags?.?.?.?and truly unite.

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