Colour, race and nationality

Comments: 0

I’ve had conversations in the past with colleagues of South African heritage, where we discussed the personal attributes of some of that nation’s celebrated artists who happen to be “of colour”, that ended with the South African person saying “he (or she) is not a true African”.  I was always puzzled by this attitude, even though I was familiar with some of the ways that gradations of race and colour had some impact on the Apartheid system, which I believe is deeply embedded in the psyche of that nation’s population.

I guess my question to those colleagues is this “if he (or she) isn’t an African, where is he (or she) from? As I became more familiar with the group dynamics of the exiled South African community of the era before Mandela’s release and the drafting of a new constitution in that country, I began to understand the thinking behind those character assessments. My experience of national identity, from years I lived in Nigeria was somehow different to theirs.

People of mixed racial heritage in Nigeria didn’t have a different legal status as citizens of that country, to those of us who had both parents from indigenous heritages. The issue of identification with aspects of culture and nationality were negotiated within different terms of reference.

Maybe South Africans need to find ways to address this issue, that always seems to raise hackles at moments that people from other nations and cultures would least expect.

Nowadays, I am comfortable with the idea that there are white Africans and I’m sure there are many who are used to the idea of black Europeans. Shouldn’t these matters be assessed, based on each person’s breeding and cultural outlook?