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Miriam – Race, Gender & Class in Contemporary South Africa

“In studying abroad, my goal was not to simply visit, but rather fully immerse myself in the culture, interact fully and grasp an understanding of the customs of South Africa in hopes to gain cross-cultural appreciation. I now further understand the similarities of race, gender, and class when it comes to the Black American and Black South-African experience.”

In the Race, Class, and Gender study abroad program I had the opportunity to spend fifteen days listening to lectures, participating in discussions, and taking tours across Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town. This opportunity gave me the needed skills to push myself as a researcher out of my comfort zone to experience another culture, language, environment, and socio-economic system. By studying abroad, I had the opportunity to see a side of my field of Africana Studies from the lens of one the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries in Africa. Learning first-hand the impact of the anti-apartheid movement resonated with me as it shaped my correlation to the African American experience, when it comes to inferiority due to race, class, and gender. I brought back an understanding and appreciation for South Africa’s people and history, gained professionally in my studies, and grew personally in my international perspective.

Exploring within the field of African American studies as a graduate student, this program provided the platform to further critically analyze and research the complex and varying experiences of the African Diaspora. Extremely similar to the United States and the international community, race, class, and gender is a determining factor in one’s’ quality of life. When it comes to capitalism, social class, and socio-economic class, ones social stratification is definitely a determining factor in one’s’ quality of life in South Africa. From the indigenous villages to the racially segregated townships, the remnants of capitalism and the power of economic freedom are evident. In South Africa, race and gender are intertwined with class, in which the white, male, and wealthy have the true influence and power. It is evident that even after the political freedoms were granted after the apartheid that economic freedom for Blacks, Coloreds, and Indians purposely linger behind. Like any capitalistic society, the social stratification of class in South Africa limit opportunities for those who were and still are individually, systematically and institutionally racially oppressed. Similar to the United States, in South Africa, institutions implement and abide by policies like that give false promises of homes and land, limit educational resources, and give stagnant job opportunities, if any employment opportunities at all. While the black middle class is a dominant class in the political arena, an economic oligarchy of white males are superior when it comes to the transformation and future of South Africa. Due to Western influence, and European colonialism and imperialism, racism and colorism privileges those with lighter skin closer to white European skin tone, while disadvantaging those with darker skin. When it comes to race, class, gender, and even colorism the influences from European colonialism and imperialism are still very evident and skin color bias has detrimental effects on peoples of color internationally.

Seeing this first-hand and listening to individual stories of resilience when it came to the effects of racism, sexism, and classism, were remarkable. I grew personally by visiting townships and areas of extreme poverty, talking to freedom fighters during the apartheid regime, and meeting with students who share in similar experiences of being a scholar-activist. This experience not only broadened my worldview but provided me a deeper appreciation for the life and conditions that I am afforded here in the United States.  In studying abroad, my goal was not to simply visit, but rather fully immerse myself in the culture, interact fully and grasp an understanding of the customs of South Africa in hopes to gain cross-cultural appreciation. I now further understand the similarities of race, gender, and class when it comes to the Black American and Black South-African experience. My diverse interests in studying the effects of intersectionality, my desire to teach, and my love of African culture were all well combined in this life changing trip abroad. The experience abroad was indeed life changing and my appreciation for South Africa’s people, culture, and history has grown immensely.