I am continually confused, yet impressed, by relations among races in South Africa after a month spent in Pretoria.
White people comprise only 9 percent of the national population, so I am decidedly in the ethnic minority for effectively the first time in my life. At my university racial demographics are more balanced, but in the neighborhoods and churches, and during work in communities, I am one of few white faces.
Even socially, many college bars and restaurants are segregated. I have been to a bar where the white population is myself, and I have been to a bar where I could not find a black person.
Initially, I found all this uncomfortable. After a surprisingly short time, my immature awkwardness dissipated, due mainly to the way in which South Africans interact and perceive race.
Back home, I have heard people claim that they do not see race. To suggest this to a South African of any color would elicit either laughter or honest confusion. South Africans, like all of us, see race. They know the gravity of racial history, but remain unafraid of the subject and refuse to tiptoe around it.
Earlier this week, I saw the rising comedic star Trevor Noah perform in Johannesburg. The majority of his material was race-related: everything from mocking Afrikaner rugby players to parodically analyzing which race boasted “the most beautiful women in the world.”
Inescapably, racists and bigots occupy the South African citizenry. I have encountered several people who accept racism as wholly scientific and statistically sound.
On the whole, though, South Africans treat racial differences with a light-heartedness which many Americans would call callous. Racial jokes and jabs abound, and it takes the outsider time to adjust to a society that has at least partially avoided political correctness.
Problems, even some concerning race, plague this country. Color-blindness is not one of them.
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