Khaya Dlanga

South Africa’s obsession with race

2010-08-24 08:00

We are obsessed with race. It is as if we might lose our identity as a nation if we are not obsessed with it. There is a division between us and them; white this, black that. Of course there are still racial problems that need to be addressed, but it appears as though there is no real attempt by the government or those in authority to heal an obvious and gaping wound.

No right-thinking person should expect us to have solved the race situation in just 16 years after 40 years of institutionalised racism.

We have to look at ourselves and be honest. Ask questions that will make us uneasy so that we can find answers that will make living side by side easier – with no suspicion, but with the absolute conviction to make this nation the greatest nation on earth.

Black people should never use racism to hide incompetence. White people should stop blaming affirmative action for not getting jobs. Black people can also get jobs by purely being competent and exceptional. Pulling the race card has become too easy, even easier than the refs pulling red cards during the World Cup.

Race shouldn't matter

This is not to say that we shouldn’t see race. We should see it but it shouldn’t matter. It matters that it matters. The irony, though, in the South African context is that it would matter that it didn’t because it does. The question then is; how do you make race not matter where it actually does? I don’t have an answer, but I think that is one of the most important questions we have to ask and answer as a country.

The dangers of racial obsession have a very real and dangerous side to them.

There is a story of a young white boy who got hit by a car while he was playing on his bike in the 80s. Legend has it that a white policeman arrived on the scene and called an ambulance as the young boy lay on the side of the road. On the phone, he told those in hospital that a boy had been hit by a car and was bleeding and in need of some assistance. The ambulance arrived with the paramedics rushing to help the young boy. Unfortunately they were black, so the policeman stopped them, they were breaking the law he told them; they weren’t allowed to operate on white patients.

The parents of the boy would have none of it, all they wanted was that their boy be alive anyway, they didn’t mind what colour the paramedics were. The cop said no.

When the hospital fielded the call, the switchboard assumed that the victim was black because the policeman had said “a boy” had been hit. Back then grown black men were called boys. The black paramedics wanted to save the child’s life, but the policeman wouldn’t let them. When the white ambulance finally arrived to give white help to the white boy by order from the white officer, the boy was covered in a white sheet. It was too late.

Dangers of racial obsession

This story was told to my white class by my white teacher in the white school I went to in the 90s. It was the fourth year after Nelson Mandela’s release - before the Mandela presidency, during the time of black on black violence, when the colour red flowed on the streets.

This story goes to illustrate the dangers of racial obsession. If we continue the way we are about race we will be in danger of destroying this country we are all so proud of. Yes, we are a billion miles from the apartheid government.

There is no comparison in fact, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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