“Are You African-American?” (3)

My racial analysis is clearly oversimplified; in real life it’s a lot more complicated and harder to differentiate. Oftentimes “black” is used as an all-inclusive term for everyone who isn’t white. Typically, however, you hear people refer to three racial categories: White, black, and then everything else is considered coloured. In my analysis, I pulled out Indians as a separate category even though most coloureds in South Africa are clearly of Indian descent and look almost identical to recent Indian immigrants. Sometimes coloured is broken down further into smaller groups according to descent, but because of frequent intermarriage among those classified as coloured, most have no idea who they’re descended from.

I’ll be the first to argue that race is biologically insignificant. But in a world where race has very real social, cultural and economic significance and meaning, simply dismissing it as being irrelevant or believing in this false notion of “colorblindness” doesn’t help move us forward. In South Africa, just like in the United States, there’s almost this imperceptible fear to openly discuss race across racial lines. On the rare occasion that there is a discussion, there’s often too much talking and not enough listening.

Nearly fifty-five years have passed since Brown v. Board, yet when I look at American neighborhoods and public schools or the U.S. achievement gap, it often seems as if nothing has really changed (it obviously has or else I wouldn’t be at William & Mary). We still have a long ways to go. It’s only been fourteen years since South Africa “desegregated.” Hopefully they’ll learn from the U.S.’s successes and mistakes and get social and economic integration right.

Categories: Community Engagement & Service, Student Blogs, Study Away

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