Wednesday, January 14, 2009

(Not) one of the "only white tribe" of Africa??!

Jacob Zuma, President of the ANC (and most likely the party's presidential candidate for South Africa in this year's election) made the statement that 'Afrikaners' are the 'only white tribe' in Africa and much needed:








Now I am asking myself ever since, am I part of the 'white tribe' he refers to and do I really associate myself with those who 'play konsertina'? It is easier to answer the 'konsertina' question than the former, as it strikes at the heart of identity and relates to my very roots. It also reflects on the active or passive role that I have played (or not played) after and before(!) 1994 in South Africa. There are many assumptions about diverse peoples living in South Africa. I encounter these daily in my digital life - meeting new people - and also in the South African business environment and political arena. It is simply assumed that I vote for an opposition party; it is assumed that I do not speak an African language; it is assumed I played no role in the struggle against apartheid; it is assumed that I do not intimately know the poor communities where we work; it is assumed that we could learn much and teach little, and it is assumed that I have (or do not have!) money, depending on who I speak to - mostly because of the color of my skin and (maybe) location in Africa.

I have learned much about diversity in Religious Studies; and I have learned more about it in our own home where all were always welcome. Lately, it has been virtual worlds that taught me new lessons about identity and culture: I have two avatars in Second Life (R) - Alanagh Recreant, a pale-skinned and slender English speaking woman and Wilberforce Rau, a dark-skinned and slightly overweight English-speaking African male. There is a reason for choosing these two avatars and over the past year and a bit I have seen how people react VERY differently to each, UNTIL they understand the one to be an alternative of the other, which I may already know. I am fascinated by this observation and wonder how much of it is a reflection on reality. I have never bothered to declare my ethnicity inSL and interestingly, in all this time, only two people have asked me straight-out, "Are you black, Ally?" (In this regard, if you have some time, please read Marion Walters personal observations about identity and Second Life Skin in 2007. I quote a bit: "That said, I really hate the fact that the default color on the Second Life avatars is white, and that you just never see dark-skinned avatars in these online environments. Most people in the real world are dark-skinned, dammit. There are probably a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, global economic and geographic inequities mean that you don't find many Africans playing online games!" I have found that there are many many more dark skins inSL today than in 2007. An analysis needed!

Am I seen in virtual worlds as part of the 'white tribe of Africa' ??? Nope. I don't think so! I am cautiously embraced by the African-American community and welcomed at vibrant initiatives, but the realities of free enterprise and sustainability inSL, fear of the unknown, a desire to do your own thing on your own terms, geographic distance and using the right lingo define me quickly as an 'outsider' from the inside Africa. I also don't think my African brothers and sisters here in South Africa really see me as a 'tribal person' - black or any other shade! :)

I am an Afrikaans-speaking forty-something business woman living in South Africa and being accepted by other citizens - not for my language (tribe) or my skin-color (undefined for the purpose of this discussion) but for my day to day actions, for building relationships one at a time in each circumstance; for breaking down age-old barriers of racism and prejudice through conversation and by not 'fitting' into the mold that history so tragically and painfully tries to pour me and others, into - on a daily basis. I defy definition. I am. And this, "just being" is no less true for virtual worlds than it is for my first life...(I use the term 'first life' as oppose to 'real life' as I believe all of what I do is 'real' and an extension of reflection of my personality). I do, however, debate issues of unity and respect (not tolerance!) and agree it is much needed in the world and in South Africa. We some times tend to be so politically correct, that we walk on eggshells when we talk about issues of race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion and culture. These are the matters that are part of humanity. Lets not wish it away by not raising the issues.

I am a 'tribe' member, I guess. If one listens to Seth Godin in his video presentation, it is simply clear that tribes are here to stay in the new economy of scale. And, that we all belong to one tribe or another... However, let me at least choose my leaders and my tribe members and don't cluster or box or associate me - merely because I look a certain way or speak another way. I am too much of an individualist to be defined by anyone's prejudice or tribalism... or is that socialism?

One thing I do agree on, and do believe as surely as the sun rises in the morning: I am African and I am serious about doing business whilst trying to do some good.



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