Racial Sensitivities - 2004

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Aug 2nd, 2004, 10:43 AM
  #1
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Racial Sensitivities - 2004

Greetings everyone! Thank you very much for the wonderful thoughts and insight you provide in this forum. Due to the information gathered here, my husband and I are planning to celebrate our 1st anniversary in South Africa: Cape Town, Hermanus, Jo-Berg, then the greatly anticipated MalaMala! We'll be traveling the end of October through early Nov. However, before we solidify our plans, I'd like to ask a question that I have not seen addressed here--at least not that I could find. I'm wondering about any racial tension that black Americans may encounter while touring the area. Has the abolition of apartheid truly made white residents congenial to people of color? Are people of color in SA receptive to black Americans? Are there areas/establishments that we should avoid? Any thoughts or experiences shared would be greatly appreciated.
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Aug 2nd, 2004, 10:57 AM
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I don't have first hand experience, but I have sent African American clients to South Africa and Botswana. They did not experience anything other than a wonderful trip.

Also,I sat next to an African American couple on one of my flights back from Jo'burg and the wife even commented on how nice everyone was to her. South Africans are a very warm people, and while their is still plenty of racism around, you shouldn't have problems. Even bigotted morons will probably be very polite to your face. It really has become a much more integrated society, but still has a long way to go.
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Aug 2nd, 2004, 11:56 AM
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Dear Missing,

This is a very interesting post and an interesting question and I do agree with the last post that South Africans are very hospitable people.

I did research in Zimbabwe looking at racial identity and racial issues and one of the things that several visiting African American academics noted was that people of African descent coming from the Europe and the US are often treated as "honorary" whites.

In fact several people told me that local whites sometimes made racist remarks or commented stereotypically on how Africans "are", in their presence only to justify it by saying, " well of course you're not like our Africans".

I'm not in any way saying this is typical of everyone, or that you will encounter this. But it illustrates the ways in which others choose to see one or other of our identites when and how it suits then. The people who made these remarks probably were entirely unaware of the fact that they were being offensive...which is alsotrue of so many of our interactions here at home!

Having said this, there are many white South Africans and Zimbabweans who are relieved and proud to be living in the new South Africa and I don't think you'll encounter any difficulties. South Africa is a wonderful country and I hope you have a great time. Happy Anniversary!
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Aug 2nd, 2004, 05:43 PM
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An African American co-worker of mine happened to be in Cape Town just before we were there -- we compared notes when I got back. Her experience was fabulous, too and she had the really fun experience of having a bunch of Chinese tourists vie to get their pictures taken with her...they thought she was a local...it completely cracked her up. The cool postscript to her trip is that she's looking for a way to do an extended volunteer trip back.

We both thought SA is at a wide-open for opportunity, progressive spot in the country's history. How exciting to be a part of it.
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Aug 2nd, 2004, 05:55 PM
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My husband is black and I am white. We had a great time. No real problems. The older white men would call me horriable names. I just ignored them and had a great time.
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Aug 3rd, 2004, 06:50 AM
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I have been to Africa three times, but only North Africa and Ghana. But, my best female friend and three of her friends went 10 years ago and didn't report of any real hard racial problems. However, a close male friend went a few years ago, and although he had an absolutely wonderful overall time, he did face some racial hardships. What the hardships were, I don't know,he wouldn't speak of them in specifics,and just said that he'd leave it all in the past.But, don't let anything stop you from going. Just go and have fun. A book that I HIGHLY recommend you to read is...Go Girl...The Black Woman's Book of Travel and Adventure by Elaine Lee...ISBN #0-933377-42-8. Elaine is a lawyer, in private practice, in Oakland,Ca. She closed up her practice around 1992 and took off around the world for 7 months. She hit about 7 countries. When she returned, she decided to write a book and the book consists of travel stories by Black women who have traveled all around the world. Well-known authors, like Alice Walker, have contributed as well as less-known writers.Elaine came down here to L.A. to speak at the Black Women's Book club back in 1999 and to discuss her book and open up general discussion on the Black experience while traveling around the world. It was good to discuss these issues as travel books never do.I'm Black American, female and have been traveling the world, solo, since my teens...30-plus years... to every continent...and have experienced a lot of things while abroad, most being really wonderful positive things. However, one can't ignore being Black and out in the world because as one of the writers wrote in Elaine's book..."My color follows me everywhere". That said...go, have a great time, and PLEASE...when you plan your next vacation...consider a trip to Ghana...It's fabulous. I was just there some months ago and will be returning in the winter. I know a lot of folks who have gone and as far back as the 70s and they have all loved it.During my time there, it was the first time in my life that I didn't have to deal with racial problems on some level. Many Happy Travels!
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Aug 3rd, 2004, 09:33 AM
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Oh, I forgot to add...check out pilotguides.com. They have quite informative videos on Africa and other parts of the world. Their offices are in Los Angeles and London, but you can order over the internet. I own the Ghana/Ivory Coast video which is quite informative and entertaining and was done a few years ago. I have also seen the Benin one. They also have ones on South Africa. Happy Travels!
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Aug 3rd, 2004, 09:39 PM
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Wow! Thanks so much for responding. It sounds as if there have been varied experiences--as is true in the U.S. My fear was that my husband and I would inadvertently book the wrong guest house or go to the wrong restaurant and end up in a bad spot. However, I'm encouraged to read that even with negative experiences, others have walked away with an overall positive feeling about South Africa. This is great news.
WelltraveledBrit, your research sounds fascinating! I'm curious to see how we will be categorized in the minds of local residents. And thank you for the anniversary wishes.
GuenMai we are definitely planning a trip to Ghana. We'd like to tour with Na'im Akbar in 2005. I've heard it's a life-altering experience. Are you going solo or with a group? We're in Orange County, CA and I'd love to know who you are booking through, if you don't mind sharing. The book you suggested sounds wonderful--certainly one to add to the library. Thanks so much!
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Aug 4th, 2004, 12:13 AM
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My father is white married to a black woman and has had trouble when visiting South Africa only in hotels and expensive shoppes. At one hotel they did not want to give them one room! When they finally did get a room it had 2 single beds. We are sure this had more to do with the fact that they were a "mixed" couple rather than anything else, this seems to still be an issue there. I really don't think you will have a problem and I am sure you'll enjoy the trip.
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Aug 4th, 2004, 05:05 AM
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LilyLace, I have to say that I'm flabbergasted. How long ago and where was that?
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Aug 4th, 2004, 05:16 AM
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Yes we were too, but not shocked. This happened about 6 months ago at of all places an airport hotel. Dad often flys South African Air from the states to Zimbabwe and spends the night in JoBerg. Similiar "little" things have happened in shoppes, about 2 months ago my brother and his wife (also white man, married to a black woman) were shopping for a coat in a nice little shoppe, the white sales lady would not speak directly to my sister-in-law Cynthia, she only spoke to my brother. Having said that they must travel to SA often so they simply deal with it. There are lots of hotels that are fine and very accomodating.
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Aug 4th, 2004, 05:54 AM
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WOW!
I'm a British Asian married to a (white) Englishman.
We didn't encounter any prejudice during our recent 5 weeks in SA though we were "primed" for it as my sister had experienced minor slights during her trip (with her white female travel companion).
Whilst I'd have fallen into the "Coloured" category under the old apartheid system I would have expected reactions from any remaining openly racist white South Africans to be discernable towards Asians as much as blacks.
To be honest, you'll probably find that there are many, many more white South Africans who have embraced the new "rainbow nation" than there are those who hanker after a return to the old days and if you do encounter any such prejudice as LilyLace's parents experienced just take your business elsewhere...
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Aug 4th, 2004, 09:43 AM
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To:MissingMN- As to whom I book with...I don't. I just get a plane ticket, decide on a hotel, and take off...totally solo to wherever I'm traveling to in the world. I'm in Pasadena, so if you want to stay in touch let me know how to contact you...an e-mail address...if you'd like...or we could meet somewhere and chat. There is a great travel store in Pasadena...Distant Lands.... where everything is located under one roof...books, clothes, travel accessories, travel agency, etc. They premiered the book, "Go Girl" a few years ago. A lot of people drive up from Orange County to go there and shop. Maybe we could meet there one weekend. Let me know. I'll be off to Bangkok/Singapore soon and will return at the end of August.Oh, who is this person you plan to travel to Ghana with? Oh, stay off of Ghana Airways. Yesterday, I read on the BBC internet news...bbc.co.uk...that they have been suspended from flying to and from the US due to safety issues and flying on an expired license...They are however, still flying to Europe it has been reported. Check out the BBC news since they report a lot on Africa and what's going on there. Happy Travels!
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Aug 4th, 2004, 04:20 PM
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Kavey: I imagine these things happen just as they did here in the US a few years back (I am horrified to tell you they still do happen in some of the southern states). I don't think it's so much a matter of people who "hanker after a return to the old days", as it is just plain prejudice thats been born and bred for years .

From my experience in other African countries I can tell you that there is also a certain (sometimes very strong) prejudice between tribal groups as well. A very good example is the Ndebele and the Shona in Zimbabawe. And as you mentioned yourself, the coloreds have a distinct position as well.

In my own opinion, things are still a whole lot better than they were 20 and 30 years ago, and with lots of love for one another and prayer I think the good will continue to grow!
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Aug 4th, 2004, 04:38 PM
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Hi MissingMN: I was debating whether to answer your post because it's been a little over 5 years since I've been to South Africa.
My late parents were working there for a few years. My mom was Haitian (light-skinned with an Indian look to her). I think South Africans thought she fell in the "colored" category until they realized she was not South African. My stepdad was white (from Belgium). They honestly never had any problems while living there (in Joburg). The reason could be because they were NOT South Africans.
I'm black (my real Dad was Haitian) but a naturalized U.S. citizen who's lived in the U.S. for quite a long time (American accent et al..). I lived in South Africa for one year in '95 (I think I got my year right). Anyway, I had great relationships with South Africans of all colors and truly had no problems. I think there was still that "Black Americans are really cool" mentality...which was fine by me!
Anyway, long story to tell you I think you'll be fine. Have a GREAT time!
 
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Aug 4th, 2004, 05:52 PM
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Very good point Caribtraveler! My 2 step brothers went to school here for several years (both graduated from college now) and the school was all white but them and the same thing only reverse happened to them...they were the cool kids from Africa! The soft spoken Ndebele/British english accent really added to their charm! Or maybe kids today are just more accepting than they used to be?
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Aug 4th, 2004, 10:47 PM
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Kavey, not that it (thankfully) matters now, but you'd have been classified as "Indian" not "Coloured". And yes, I think that Asians of other origin such as Pakistan would also have been "Indian"! Don't ask!
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Aug 5th, 2004, 03:44 AM
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Arthur, yes the Coloured categorisation did seem to have a very abitrary definition and I remember reading ridiculous reports of siblings being classified differently because one was paler or darker than the other or one had wavier or straighter hair!

Lily when I referred to the few who hanker after a return to the old days I specifically meant those people who harbour a return to the old days BECAUSE their prejudices were enshrined in the political and legal systems back then. So I DO mean those people with prejudices who want to return to a time when it was not only OK but the law to discriminate on the basis of race.

Don't forget that it's only a short 10 years since everything changed and South Africa has come a long long way in that time. It still has a way to go but it's going to take more time.
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Aug 7th, 2004, 09:46 AM
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I've been out of town for a few days, and am so pleased with the responses! Thanks again to everyone for sharing their stories and experiences. They have been so helpful.
The category of "Coloured" is still a bit of a mystery to me--a third distinction where in the U.S. things are so "Black and White" --Pun intended-- Unless, of course, you consider the African American community that still sometimes makes a distinction between "light-skinned" blacks and "dark-skinned" blacks. We, too, have a long way to go.

My father is Ethiopian (many generations back) and Cherokee Indian, my mother is white (German & Norwegian). So in many parts of the world I am given that questioning look...as if to say, "hmmmm, what IS she?" Most times I am mistaken as being of Latin decent--go figure, a "race" that I don't even have within me! However, from the descriptions, it seems that I would not fit into the "Coloured" category--primarily of "Indian" decent? Is that correct? At any rate, I'm no longer worried about the classification, thanks to all of you. SA sounds a lot like the U.S. I had an experience with a true, full-blown, out in the open racist in Phoenix, Arizona, (not a "Southern" state--it's everywhere) a couple of months ago, and I survived. I'm just encouraged to know that in SA there is no longer a general tolerance for/practice of discrimination. My husband and I will travel there with the same general attitude that we carry here (we have no problem taking our business elsewhere), and I'm sure we'll have a wonderful time. We're very much looking forward to the trip.

Geunmai--I'd love to keep in touch. You can e-mail me at [email protected]. Distant Lands sound great--deserving of a visit for sure.

LilyLace, I think children are more accepting than they used to be. The world IS changing, and there are lots of us--as is demonstrated on this site--who are of mixed heritage, that are a testimony to these changes. At some point, people will abandon the need for neat and tidy racial categories; systematic, psychological, or otherwise. Until then, progress continues--sometimes two steps forward, one step back, but it does continue. We're not where we were 40 years ago... Cheers to SA for the strides that have been made--and in such a short period of time.



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Aug 7th, 2004, 01:56 PM
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Thanks for the e-mail address. I'll keep in touch. I'm off to Bangkok and Singapore in about a week and a half.I'll be back by September 1st. You should plan a trip there,too. It's fabulous. I've been there several times and it's cheap to fly from L.A. to Bangkok.The largest population of Thai people, living outside of Thailand, live in L.A...so it can be cheaper to fly from Bangkok, from L.A., than to fly to other parts of the U.S.! Check out the Asia forum...and just collect pieces of information for the future.There's a great group of folks over there,too. I'm usually over there typing advice and comments. Happy Travels!
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