Agony of the racially rootless

2008-05-09 00:00

When you are born in South Africa you are assigned a racial classification and put into a figurative box that has certain distinct traits attached to it. As a person who likes to categorise difficult concepts I call this a “host race”, and as much as it is assigned to us by nature sometimes it is by nurture and is essentially a comfort zone. It is obviously similar in most parts of the world and despite the political incorrectness of the term in places like the Rainbow Nation where there is extreme polarisation of the races, the concept of a “host race” can have real benefits. This is despite its obvious limitations to freedom.

The concept can get deeper though and infiltrate the psyche of people from heterogeneous societies where they feel there is a race group that takes care of them whether or not it is their own. To make it clearer I will paint certain pictures for you.

The first is of a black person who is consumed by “self- hatred” or a racial inferiority complex and believes that only a white person can be trusted and prefers to have white doctors, white teachers and so on. They get along with this group socially and professionally. I have known of black parents who would only take their black children to schools that have mostly white pupils and teachers, based on a belief that when there are mostly black staff and pupils the standards are questionable. Low standards are obviously possible depending on the quality of the staff and pupils, but race would not be the cause regardless. The children of these parents, if their plans are successful, will have a white “host race”.

The second scenario involves a situation where you are born to parents of mixed origin and the one side prefers you more than the other side. For in-stance, a lot of bi-racial people do not have the luxury of a “coloured” race group and community like many South Africans do. An American friend of mine who was of mixed race spoke about how she and her siblings would alternate races when it was time to be classified in school and work situations because there aren’t “coloured” people in the United States; it’s either black or white. Of course, you will get those who eventually find the “host race” from one of the two races their parents belong to. So, in this case, they will call themselves black or white, or at least gravitate towards a stereotypically black or white particular way of life. They will subscribe to the chosen subcultures. Make sense? We all need to fit in.

Now, some people are not as lucky and can spend their life not having a host race. Strange people, these are. I saw one in the mirror one day but I think he found a race eventually.

Being born in a black, Zulu, township society to two parents of two ethnic backgrounds was his issue. See, mother was Xhosa and father was Zulu. The paternal ethnicity is usually dominant in a child’s life but in this instance a divorce changed that. Also, the society in which he lived would usually be the host, but this blessed boy went to school in other areas and got accustomed to the school’s host communities for periods of no more than five years. They all differed from each other but none of them fully accepted him. So, in many ways he became a chameleon, the rainbow child. He grew to be an adult with close ties to individuals from various demographics across the country and across the world.

In a multicultural nation like ours the rainbow child discovered that what really matters was finding a group of people with similar values, interests and ideas. He met a group of people who are just like him.

What he has most in common with them is that they are not so sure about what is right based on the fact that they are not sure what is wrong about others’ way of life. They are not concerned about insisting on racial groups as a comfort zone, but about a spirit and even ethics.

It is, unfortunately, a concept that is corny until one really experiences it and one that I would have loved to talk to

Reverend Martin Luther King about. Free at last.

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