The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party in South Africa, recently released a poster showing a white man and a black woman, both seemingly naked from the waist up with the tag line “DASO, in our future you wouldn’t look twice.” The DA defended their poster on ETV’s Judge for yourself by saying that it was meant to stir debate on race relations in this country. It was meant to get people talking about how to achieve a future where South Africans embrace each other (not literally) and uplift the country. While some people saw nothing that warrants outrage from the poster, reactions to it have been mixed ranging from indifferent to insulted.
The main argument of those against the poster seems to be that it is crass. This is because it shows two naked people. It must be conceded however that although the two are naked they are only shown from the waist up. The angle used in the picture also hides any thing that might border on pornographic. The nakedness in this picture is almost reminiscent of the nudity shown in paintings where nudity is very often subtly suggested and not made prominent as would be the case in a Playboy magazine for example.
Secondly, the poster is accused of not focusing on more ‘real’ issues or more ‘serious’ issues. South Africa has problems in health, education and employment (or lack thereof). All of these are issues that divide people especially on lines of class.
Those for it argue that the focus of the poster is how we relate to each other as people of different races. The argument here is that if race relations are to be improved it needs to be on a personal level first. This responsibility does not rest on political parties only but on us as a society. To do this people need to talk openly about such issues without tiptoeing around them. People also need to do away with stereo typing that is very often misinformed.
Both sides make strong arguments but the fact is that the issue of race is very complicated and it is interlinked with so many other variables. This is so much so that a surge in interracial couples in this country wouldn’t necessarily correspond to a non racial society. Attitudes are affected more by people’s personal circumstances and not just media campaigns like this one. For example, if black South Africans were economically empowered and could afford to live in more affluent neighbourhoods they would undoubtedly interact more with white people. This line of thinking continues to suggest that with time they would become so used to each other that they wouldn’t see each others as ‘the other’. Therefore the idea of a black woman and a white woman embracing, in a state of undress or not, wouldn’t cause so much controversy as it is doing now. Off course that is assuming that all the white people didn’t start moving out the neighbourhood from the influx of black middle class families i.e white flight.
Due to South Africa’s history of white supremacy issues of class get caught up with race and that can not be avoided. In this country it is hard to talk of one without mentioning the other at some point. This is because the pattern of disadvantage still exists. No matter how much one wants to deny it the fact remains that the people who are poor in this country are black and not white. I use the term black to refer to all races previously (and still) disadvantaged by the apartheid regime. The fact that I have to explain who is black is actually evidence of the lack of progress made on this issue.
If the aim of this poster was to start debate then this poster was a resounding success. I am talking about it right now and the social networks were abuzz these past few weeks with the different opinions of the South African public. If the aim of this poster was to dream of a non racial future then it succeeded after all dreams need to be visualised before they become material.
I don’t speak for all working class communities but I know in my community it would raise more than a few eyebrows if I, a black man, dated a white girl let alone married one. It must be said that compared to the days of apartheid this situation has improved as there are many interracial couples some of them even celebrities like Matthew Booth, Lira and …… oh yeah those are the only two I know. Although many won’t admit it, interracial couples still raise eyebrows in this country and in other countries in Africa. And to those who question the link between class and race I dare you to find an interracial couple living in any of the poorer townships in South Africa.