International Herald Tribune (The Global Edition of the New York Times)
Eusebius McKaiser, political Analyst
Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa
JOHANNESBURG – A few weeks ago, a British friend of mine served a sumptuous confession as a starter for dinner, “I only realized recently that you’re not actually black!” We had met several years back in the English midlands, where, judging by her remark, I had passed as black. But now that she has lived in South Africa for a few months, she is fluent in the local racial vocabulary: things are not quite black and white.
Let me explain. In South Africa I’m referred to as “colored,” a term that does not have the same derogatory denotation here as it does in the United States when it is hurled at black Americans. I am not black. I am of mixed racial heritage, as my parents are and their parents were.
When racist colonial settlers arrived at the southern tip of Africa during the 17th century, their racism did not preclude sexual relations with the locals. Several generations later, the colored community is ostensibly an ethnic group just like the Xhosas or the Zulus or any of the other myriad groupings within South Africa’s borders. It makes up 9 percent of the country’s population of 50.6 million.
…The lack of adequate economic opportunity for coloreds since the dawn of democracy here — combined with their lingering, paralyzing sense of victimhood — explains why the colored community is the most class-homogenous racial grouping in South Africa: an essentially poor, lower-working-class community. Very few of its members escape that stereotype.
In the Western Cape, the province with the largest concentration of colored people in the country, rates of fetal alcohol syndrome are some of the worst in the world. This community is like the drunken uncle of the South African family, the relative you tuck away when posh visitors come around. Paradoxically, many more colored people are worse off than black Africans now than were during apartheid…
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