Featured image: I went paragliding from the top of Signal Hill, which required me sprinting really fast down a hill and hoping that the wind would catch me. It did.
Far and Aweh: “On Race”
A few weeks ago my friend J told me about an encounter she had with one of her sister’s South African friends. J is more obviously black than I am. Her skin retains more color and her hair is more textured than my own. Yet this South African girl that she had met told her that she could tell that J was American even before J spoke.
J asked how?
The girl told her it’s all in the nose. You can see the colonizer in her nose.
I often think about race in Cape Town. It is impossible not to. Apartheid is recent. And the people that make up the city vary in color, race, ethnicity. My friend tells me, “South Africans always talking about UCT [the University of Cape Town] being so white. But like, where are they? UCT feels so Black.”
We (the Black Americans) tell South Africans that we came to here so that we could finally be in the majority. They laugh. “You came all this way and you’re still not in the majority. Cape Town is so white.” I find it ironic because we turn toward one another, shrug and think in disagreement. UCT may be white to them but it is the most diverse campus I have ever encountered (outside HBCUs). White people may statistically outweigh the Black people, but it is as if they are drowned out by so much color.
It makes logistical sense. Many UCT students of color come from communities and schools of color. UCT must a white shock to their systems. The country is 80% black and the university is 70% white (clearly something is wrong here). Whereas a lot of us, have migrated from small liberal arts colleges, where we have had to acclimate to white spaces in order to survive.
I am reminded of race in little moments each day.
Trivia Night, Tuesday
Cape Town is frighteningly small. Every person I have met here, I have bumped into again at some point. On this Tuesday night, I ran into a guy that had hit on me and my friends a few weeks ago and introduced me to his sister at 2 am in an extremely dingy and darkly lit bar. At some point in the conversation he looked at me hesitantly and grated his teeth.
“What’s your ethnicity?”
“Oh like…is that all..?”
“I’m black. Both my parents are black.”
“Oh wow! That’s so cool. Like how in America everyone is black, ya know like we’re all the same, hey.”
“So are you in a biracial relationship?” (Implying a relationship with a white man.)
His question made me uncomfortable. (As if implying: why be with a black or brown man when you can be with a white one?)
“I’m not in a relationship.”
“’Cause you know that’s the really great thing about America is that you have all these biracial relationships.”
Jim Crow, 2018
The first week here, I spoke to my mom on Whatsapp and told her:
It’s really weird. Sometimes I legit feel like I’m living in Jim Crow. Like there’s so much black labor. I’m not used to seeing black people doing all the manual labor. Like all the janitors, gardeners, the people picking up trash are all black. I haven’t seen any white people do these jobs and on top of it, it’s like there are barely any black professors and stuff. And even though all the classes are black-centered, they’re still taught by white professors. It’s really weird for me. Like why is this anxious and literally shivering white lady with unbrushed hair teaching me about American slavery and trauma? Actually one of the South African girls I met here told me that when she went to France she freaked out because she had never seen white labor before. But when I saw all these black people doing these jobs I thought about how back home I feel like it’s usually the Latinos doing these jobs, so America is just as racialized, it just has different demographics.
I went to purchase my daily coffee. I asked the Coloured man at the counter, “Can I have a tall cappuccino?”
“One cappuccino coming up. Tall red cappuccino!”
I remember hearing him yell the wrong order, but I suppose it did not register in my mind. I walked to the next counter to pick up my coffee. The Black barista hands me a cup of coffee, “Red cappuccino?”
“Oh, I actually ordered a regular cappuccino.”
The man from the first counter walks over. “What’s the problem?”
“I ordered a regular cappuccino but this is a red cappuccino.”
“I’m so sorry, Miss.”
Then he turned to the barista and yelled at him, “You only have one job! It’s so easy! You can’t even get the order right! What’s wrong with you?! Make her a cappuccino!”
“Umm, no. It’s totally fine. I’ll just drink this. I’ve never tried it before…Ya know, new things in all, hey?”
“Are you sure ma’am? I’m so sorry he messed up your order, I can get you another if you want.”
After the man said some rude other thing to the barista, I turned toward him, feeling incredibly guilty for this series of events.
“Thank you so much.” I tried to smile as well.
These are only a few small, casual instances of everyday racial dynamics I have encountered. (I have had a guy I just met at a bar tell me that if we had kids together they would have good hair.) Each day I just think to myself, colonialism really did a number on this country. And so many others.