Race is here to stay...

2013-04-05 15:21

University of Cape Town’s Varsity newspaper got a lot of criticism for publishing the controversial opinion poll piece “Is love colour blind?”  Qamran Tabo's article polled about sixty campus students on which race do they find the most attractive. The response to the article was divided with some calling it “blatantly racist and insensitive” while others thought “it was provocative, interesting and not a big deal.” Which ever side you on, it’s clear that racialism is still prevalent in 20 year old South Africa.

Black Consciousness founder and apartheid activist Steve Biko once said, “So as a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior." I could not help but think of this quote as I observed the reactions to the op-ed.

South Africa is a country which race has always been at the epicentre and has come a long way since the days when people couldn’t share a bus ride because of the colour of their skin. We now pride ourselves as the “rainbow” nation a diverse land where racial superiority has no place.  So if this the case why did an opinion piece that surveyed as little as sixty people (there’s 50million of us in SA) cause so much uproar. Was it really that distasteful or did it hit a nerve we’d rather not talk about?

The article went something like this, “It is 2013, the year the born-frees finally hit varsity after South Africa’s first democratic elections almost 20 years ago.  Many older people expect we 90s babies to be more open-minded about race, in particular interracial dating, than our parents are. But a recent small on-campus survey revealed students’ preferences for the peachier things in life. I spoke to people who had spent the majority of their lives living in SA, most of them born in the early 1990s, and asked them about their thoughts on interracial dating. In total I surveyed sixty people, ten from each of the following racial groups: white, coloured (culturally), Indian, East Asian, biracial and African

All respondents stated that they would date someone of a different race. However, the majority of students responded that they would be particular about which race they would date if they were to date someone of a different race, with less than a quarter stating that they would date someone from any race. Almost all of the respondents described themselves as not being racially bigoted at all or as being only slightly racially prejudiced.

Quite unsurprisingly, Caucasians were chosen as the most attractive by most non-whites. White respondents also expressed the highest percentage of intra-racial attraction, meaning that they considered their own race as one of the most attractive.  African and Indian respondents are the only groups that found members of their own racial groups unattractive.  They, and East Asians, were also ranked the lowest by other races.”

Social commentator and radio host Eusebius McKaiser tweeted in response to the article, “The cool thing about the UCT race row is that you and I can lash out. You and I can pretend to be colourblind. You and I are sooo over race.” He went on by posing hard questions “Looking back at your love life and fantasies how many of you have racially indiscriminate preferences?” and then concluded by tweeting, “Very few Yes responses to my least tweet. Now reconsider a more nuanced response to what happened at UCT. Truth: racialism pervades us all.”

To me what was interesting about the piece is that people of colour were intrigued by the idea of dating white people because they perceived them to have “higher standards and it’s the ultimate status symbol (still strying to understand that reasoning!” This kind of thinking is what Steve Biko tried to steer black people away from. Born frees whom are supposed to be free of racialism seem to factor it in deciding whom to spend their time with. Dating someone purely because they are racially different and to regard them to have higher standards than you smacks of oppressive thinking with racialist tendencies.

While people are free to date whom ever they want, one would think that in this day and age where young people are presumably open minded when it comes matters of race, personality would be top of the list on the scale of attractiveness and not race. And before people start demanding apologies from the institution or calling for the heads of those behind the article we each need to do introspection on our own prejudices and stereotypes before we embark a quest to be racially correct all of a sudden.

Everything is black and white (pun not intended) when one is not personally involved but we fail to realise than own thoughts translate what we do, whom we date how we treat and perceive those different from us. Unless we start talking about our various backgrounds, accepting our racial differences and stop thinking one race superior to another, the sacrifices of those who fought for the liberation of this country is all in vain...

And so in conclusion I quote from the Tabo’s piece, “Of course everyone has the right to choose who they want as a romantic partner, but it is interesting to observe how race, which is really just a collection of arbitrary physical features, acts as a barrier when it comes to who we choose to love.”

You can catch me on Twitter @BongaDlulane


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