On Sunday morning, Olivia P. and I embarked on a day that the two of us will always remember. As we got picked up by our safari’s van to drive two hours to the company’s lodge, I was BEAMING. Time passed, and 7 other guests were also picked up. The first was an Asian man, Alex, born and raised in Australia. Next up, three young white American girls who attend a university in Colorado. Lastly, two older American women who knew the other American girls. As we finally began the journey to the site of our safari, we all participated in conversation. Ranging from where we’re all from, why we’re in Cape Town, and how long we’re going to remain here, the conversation was multifaceted. This all seems innocent and lighthearted right? I mean, yes, to some it could. But, one thing that I remember and live by constantly is my motto, “It’s all about the implications”.
30 minutes into the ride our conversation shifted to the beautiful city of Johannesburg. Well, beautiful to me at least. I remember the very first day in Jo’burg I was shocked and surprised in the best possible way. As the other Duke students and I drove to our first tour site, all I saw in the streets, malls, and in cars on the highways were people bathing in skin with a golden dark color to it. Everywhere I turned, black Africans were everywhere. I felt as if i was in some Harry Potter, some sci-fi, some fantasy movie and I was beyond content. Being surrounded around black people, being in a country that is 83% dark-skinned black was an experience I knew I’d experience in my days leading up to South Africa, but for some reason really didn’t believe until I saw it. And I did. And it was beautiful.
Okay, back to the ride with my safari group from yesterday. When Jo’burg came into our lively conversation. Alex, the Asian man from Australia said, “Yeah, I spent only two days in Jo’burg and before I went I heard it was pretty sketchy.” To this, the young American white girls said, “Oh yeah, I heard that city was pretty sketchy as well”. Instantly, I was shocked and I think Olivia can attest to the visibility of my discomfort. Before I could respond, Alex said, “In Jo’burg, I could feel myself having to be very conscious of my surroundings and my belongings and I’ve never had to do that before.” All of these comments that were said by these people who thought it was completely fine is what triggered me enough to push back, but in a manner that was respectful. I pushed back. I had to push back because this association of Johannesburg with the term “sketchy” only came from these fair-skinned people because Jo’burg is a city that is predominantly black unlike Cape Town’s majority coloured, white, fair-skinned population.
Again, it’s all about the implications.
These people in my group were implying that spaces that are mostly made up of dark-skinned black people means that is automatically not safe, it is not a comfortable space to reside in, and must always be dangerous. Yes, Alex’s comment about having to be aware of surroundings is definitely a fair statement. Don’t get me wrong. It is salient to be cognizant of your surroundings and belongings when in a foreign land. But what sincerely enraged every cell in my body was the subtle prejudice viewpoints of these people against this city that I was so fond of, the city that showed me nothing but love and the glowing radiance of black skin, the city where everyone on the street said “Good morning” and “Have a great day, my sister”. Everyone was smiling, everyone in Jo’burg was kind, and never did I feel unsafe. So what could be so sketchy about a place like that? Oh, damn, I forgot. I guess the answer to that goes back to how the majority of people in Jo’burg were black.
Why do the majority of Duke students in this program with me explicitly state that they preferred Cape Town or Johannesburg? Cape Town with white and fair-skinned people in every bar, every club, and every space we occupy during our time here, whereas in Jo’burg we mostly encountered black dark-skinned people.
It’s all about the implications.
In a previous blog, I questioned why this DukeEngage program that is focused on race and the racistly-charge system of Apartheid is based in Cape Town, a city that exudes the whiteness that helped implement that system.
It’s all about the implications.
Is it accurate or fair to claim Cape Town’s awesomeness, yet degrade Jo’burg for its “sketchiness”. Interestingly enough, to the best of my knowledge, no one in our group was harassed, followed, or felt in danger in anyway in Jo’burg. Yet, during our time here in Cape Town, my roommate has been grabbed multiple times by men, another student was followed multiple times as well, and two of this program’s participants had people grab food from their plates. But wait? That sounds weird. I thought Cape Town was awesome and safe and could never have any problems or any elements of sketchiness because of its majority whiteness. Hm, can you believe that!? I guess stereotypes aren’t accurate or fair. I guess you can’t expect preconceived notions to identically parallel reality.
I ended that previous post by saying that during my time here I would try to understand that decision to base a program centered on race in a tourist city with majority white people. And you know what, this exchange during my trip to our safari confirmed everything I thought.
All these decisions we make and all these offhanded comments we say that are seemingly innocent, yet obnoxiously misinformed, radiate disgusting and malicious implications. Jo’burg is allegedly “sketchy” because it’s a city with black people every where one turns. In addition, an important aspect of programs like DukeEngage is to ensure safety of its students. Interestingly enough, the base of this program is in Cape Town, a city with a majority fair-skinned population. So the implications of this program may point to a notion that we think that the only way students, participants, and tourists can be safe in foreign areas is which these areas are majority white. Meaning places like Jo’burg, places where mainly black people reside, similar to what Alex said, are dangerous and scary.
At the end of the day, I try to live a life of utter “realness”. Say what you mean and mean what you say. But, sometimes, you don’t really have to say anything at all for your thoughts and biases to be explicitly lucid.