n Africa Insight - Black faces, white spaces - adjusting self to manage aversive racism in South Africa

Volume 44, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0256-2804


This article focuses on conversations in which South Africans speak about their experiences of aversive racism in 'raced' spaces. The article interrogates experiences of aversive racism and argues that, for various reasons, racial segregation and less overt forms of racism remain entrenched in South Africa. Presently, those subjected to such racisms actively shift, challenge and critically respond to the racial insults and aggressions. It is argued that such responses (as discussed in Michel Foucault's The hermeneutics of the subject) are a form of self-care requiring complex 'identity work' for those defined in racial terms. In the post-apartheid context, aversive racism is palpable in spaces still defined as 'white'. Black people (that is all those who would have been officially defined as such under apartheid) obtain differential 'access' to 'white' spaces and are forced to 'adjust' self to achieve belonging, respect and status. The conversations also suggest that moving across racial boundaries is difficult and problematic because to be 'authentic' and therefore acceptable, one must hold and demonstrate a stable identity. Secondly, moving across may involve loss, the burden of assuming a new identity and the profound discomfort of occupying an unfamiliar social space. For a younger generation of South Africans embedded in a globalising world, such shifts are potentially less traumatic, since global and hegemonic aesthetics make space for multiple situated identities.

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