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Ryland Fisher

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Racism and identity

One of the problems with South Africans is that we quite often blame racism when it might not even be a factor.

I thought of this last week after reading a story in a newspaper in Port Elizabeth about a Xhosa girl who had been crowned Miss Teen India, or something to that effect.

Immediately after she was named the winner, there was an outcry among the audience, who believed that an Indian girl should have won. The paper called this outcry “racist”.

On the face of it, it seems to be racist, but it could also be that the people who felt offended felt that this was an Indian competition and how does one explain that a Xhosa girl, as she was identified by the newspaper, could win an Indian competition.

I know that in South Africa we are so sensitive about race that we are trying to deracialise everything. But maybe the protestors in the audience had a valid point.

It is highly unlikely for a Xhosa to become an Indian, so how is it possible for a Xhosa to represent Indians? Surely this case goes to the heart of identity and the need to protect different groups’ identities in South Africa.

My feeling is that, while the protestors’ actions might have seemed racist, the root of their problem is not necessarily race but identity.

This is one of the complex issues that I try to deal with in my book, Race. It is an extremely important issue, especially in a complex society such as South Africa, where we are still suffering from the effects of 50 years of legalised racism.

One could even question why white people can have membership of exclusively black organisations, when the reason for these organisations is to provide a forum for black people to talk about issues that they have in common. But in South Africa we don’t want to offend anyone and risk being called racist, so we allow whites to also become members, and in the process, we defeat the purpose for the establishment of the organisation.

I can understand how the organisers of Miss Teen India could have been made to feel under pressure to open the competition to people other than Indians, but this was probably done reluctantly. And when the judges eventually decided that a Xhosa girl was the winner, this was probably the final straw for many in the audience.

While it is important to fight against racism at all levels in our society, we must guard against seeking racism under every tree. We must also guard against creating a society where we will be scared to celebrate our differences.

This will lead to a pretty bland and boring society, and will be a far cry from the vibrant and diverse society we have today.

Ryland Fisher

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Hazel</a>
    Hazel
    July 20th, 2007 @16:27 #
     
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    The main reason on why racism is the way it seems like is because there is simply no love for one another. Think of it like this: wars,hatred,corruption,violence,rape and e.t,c.Why would these things even occur if there was love?? Identity takes time for some individuals to actually figure out.A great exampl;i am a 20 year old Xhosa girl but i know that i have mixed blood because ny great granfather was white-how do u explain that??? not that i dont care but ive done my homework and i indeed proud to be who i am. To be honest, i only dicovered my full identity a month ago,altho i knew im a black xhosa girl.refering to this "MISS TEEN INDIA"-RACISM iS NOT REALI A HUGE ISSUE THERE BUT I THINK IDENTITY IS A CRISIS.If yuo know and understand your identity,why shud you feel inferior if another individual of another race wins?????? Imean modelling is modelling,if the xhosa girl deserved to win then,it was so.Not by lck or her race......People need to find themselves,until they dont;the'll always have sumthn to say.

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  • Shereen
    Shereen
    July 21st, 2007 @12:32 #
     
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    Hi Ryland,
    its me - Shereen from Germany. I need your new E-mail address and a telephone number.

    so if you forgot who I am (which I doubt).
    We went to Crystal together.
    Best wishes
    Shereen

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  • Shereen
    Shereen
    July 21st, 2007 @12:32 #
     
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    Hi Ryland,
    You can send it to me at shepet_AT_gmx_DOT_de

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    July 30th, 2007 @12:52 #
     
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    The Sunday Times also covered this story, albeit rather tardily:
    http://www.thetimes.co.za/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=526741

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  • <a href="http://philyaa.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Phillippa Yaa</a>
    Phillippa Yaa
    July 30th, 2007 @16:15 #
     
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    One of my biggest problems in being a socially active human being as opposed as a pure, conflict-free hermit is that I am not entirely phlegmatic about how people have carte blanche to make any kind of judgement of me. It is exacerbated by my perverse practice of publishing and performing, which expose one to even more opinions of all and sundry. As a writer I'm preoccupied with identity, not so much what other people assume my identity to be but rather excavating the buried treasure of how I came to be, and how I found myself reflected in the world's face. and vice versa. In reality I am constantly in a dialogue (no, that is too reasonable - more like having a shouting match) with my various personalities, trying to put race in its proper place.

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  • <a href="http://www.justdone.co.za/" rel="nofollow">John Dovey</a>
    John Dovey
    July 31st, 2007 @15:12 #
     
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    Hi Ryland,
    Interesting take on the issue. Maybe a bit too narrow though? I agree that this particular case is about identity and the cries of racism are unjustified, especially when one looks as it in terms of identity as you explain.
    On the issue of exclusive memberships of groups based on race.. this is a little more of a thorny issue IMHO.
    It seems that you are saying that admitting whites to groups set up for blacks is wrong and that they should be exclusively for blacks. I don't disagree with you, but I do wonder what the reaction would be if the same opinion was expressed by someone who suggested that white groups should be kept exclusively for whites? I suggest that the calls of racist would be deafening. Imagine a "White Businessman's Forum" or WEE (White Economic Enpowerment" etc.
    I still have trouble figuring out exactly what the definition of racism is in South Africa. I suppose that the cynical view might be that if it is an action by someone who is white, then it is racist, but if by someone who is black it cannot be.
    my own opinion is that racism is simply a part of the greater term "bigotry" and applies equally to anyone who practices any sort of discrimination.
    The definition which I found for racism on the web is:

    "An assumption that there is an inherent purity and superiority of certain races and inferiority of others. It denotes any attitude, behavior, or institutional structure that subordinates, persons or groups because of their race or ethnic background. Such practices can be intentional or unintentional.
    web.bryant.edu/~fsp/modules/2/diversitygloss.htm"

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    August 6th, 2007 @08:16 #
     
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    More reaction on the Miss Teen India beauty contest - including a note from Ronnie Govender:
    http://www.sundaytimes.co.za/PrintEdition/Article.aspx?id=532380

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