Can’t we all fit into the same box?

2009-11-06 11:14

Race is a highly charged, potentially explosive area, especially in South Africa with its multiple race groups and painfully tragic history.

We each take a different route when it comes to how to deal with it; some by trying to pretend it is no longer a factor, others become fixated on it and find racism in every little thing. Among us, there are those who believe we should merely acknowledge that the past has happened and move on, but there are wounds that need to be healed. Others continue to focus so narrowly on race issues that there is no room for discussion or reconciliation.

The world still has a long way to go in finding some level of peace and harmony. We spend too much time focusing on what is different and not what is common. And we judge, projecting our own inadequacies on to those around us. When it is just another person, one can just walk away but what happens when it is someone in a position of power?

As you know, I have a strong affinity for Twitter and, in a way, it has become the equivalent of a news bulletin, broadcasting headlines far and wide with links to a diverse range of stories from a cacophony of sources. One of the recent stories that caught my eye was that of a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana, America who refused to marry a couple and issue them with a marriage licence. His reason? The man is black and the woman is white and, while he has no problem with black people (he is white), he believes that the product of such marriages struggle to find acceptance with both race groups.

American film-maker Spike Lee has always been very forthright with his views on a range of issues, including race, and characters in his films tend to vocalise these thoughts directly to the audience. He wrote and directed the film Jungle Fever, which was released in 1991, in which a black architect (Wesley Snipes) has an affair with his white secretary. There is a very powerful scene where Snipes’ character argues against taking the relationship further because what kind of children would they have. Words like ‘mulatto’ and ‘half-cast’ are brutally thrown around.

An interesting side note is that, around that time, Spike Lee and his father had a falling out because, after Lee’s mother passed away, his father married a white woman.

We live in a world, especially in SA (and the US) where race is expected to fit into perfectly labelled boxes lined up on a shelf: black, white, coloured, indian, etc. Everything needs to fit into those; we can’t have anything come and mess with the colour co- ­ordination. While, in some countries, anyone who falls outside of these (mixed race or biracial) is automatically placed in the Black Box, in SA, we have Coloured. That works well in ­theory, but what happens when we start ­dealing with the real, the practical?

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