OPINION: What when lighter skins turn dark?
SUNDAY INDEPENDENT / 25 FEBRUARY 2018 - 13.00 / DENNIS PATHER
WHEN you’re filling in forms that request your details, how do you respond to the race question? Do you specify white, black, Indian or coloured as the apartheid handbooks prescribed or do you leave the column blank as an act of silent protest about the country’s obsession with race?
I ask because many South Africans remain fixated on race. We might be rid of offensive signs on park benches and beaches, but we remain haunted by the race bogey whenever we push for racial quotas in sport; argue about who’s entitled to benefit from BEE and whether white and Indian undertakers should be allowed to bury black deceased.
A likeness of 'Cheddar Man', Britain’s oldest known almost complete human skeleton, is seen at the Natural History Museum, after genetic research concluded that he was dark skinned and blue eyed. Picture: REUTERS
Some say it’s because we failed to deal with the race issue post-1994. After a political settlement was reached, South Africans appeared to naively assume all issues pertaining to race would resolve themselves.
They didn’t. Our problems with race and colour will be resolved when we realise race is not a biological concept, that people we categorise as belonging to a race group are not genetically homogeneous. Take the example of Britain - the heart and ancestral home of many white people across the world.
DNA tests have revealed that the first modern Britons, who lived about 10000 years ago, had blue eyes, a dark brown to black complexion and dark curly hair. They became lighter-skinned over time - having originated in Africa, later moving to the Middle East before heading west to Europe and then Britain. The genes for lighter skin became widespread in European populations much later than originally thought, confounding the connection that is often made between Europeans and whiteness.
Stop demonising one another - we’re all descendants of immigrants anyway. South Africans could be heading for interesting times. When our white compatriots begin to turn dark, how will the government stop them demanding rights under BEE and affirmative action?
Will white monopoly capital be rendered redundant? How will the government identify white-owned land to expropriate? Will quotas in sport teams and medical school admissions be permissible?
Once we’re all different shades of black, can we declare South Africa a non-racial country?
I suggest the next time you complete a form asking about your race, write “human race”.
Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER