Social cohesion means talking against the everyday talk of racial segregation: iLIVE
Wednesday marked the beginning of the social cohesion summit being held in Soweto. The summit is being hosted by the department of arts and culture and aims to promote social cohesion, national identity and nation-building. Addressing the summit Dr. Dlamini Zuma, minister of Home Affairs, said that in order for social cohesion to be realised South Africans must practice equality.
This past weekend I was with an acquaintance and a programme on the radio was discussing the summit. She chuckled when the radio presenter mentioned the World Cup and social cohesion present between all South African. At this point acquaintance announced that “black people just think differently”.
My heart sank. I have been in this position before and it is beyond uncomfortable. I always want to confront the person making this type of statement but for some reason good manners prevail and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So, as usual I go silent and I think my discomfort becomes evident in my body language. I thought about this woman – well she and I may be similar in terms of culture but we surely don’t think alike. I think she sensed my disapproval and asked me whether I work with black people. My response – I work with people.
So what does this have to do with social cohesion? Why do we stereotype and form what psychologists refer to as in-groups and out-groups? It is simple – we are always trying to form, reshape and reinforce our identities and whilst we mostly think of identity being central to individuals, group identities are just as important. By creating a group identity we strengthen cohesion within that group and this also contributes to our individual identities. The flip-side of this however is that by making our in-group identity stronger we run the risk of widening the gap with out-groups and this hinders social cohesion between groups.
In our rainbow nation we are suppose to be one society – South African. However we cannot deny that there are differences and at the moment there is still a trend to create ones’ identity in relation to others of similar race, culture and classes. This tendency results in us turning other races, cultures and classes as outsiders, even antagonists. A shift needs to occur where we place more of an emphasis on our national identity in order to increase social cohesion.
South African identities are also rooted in ideologies of segregation. I still know of instances where people let their domestic workers use different plates to the rest of the household. I know this was common practice under Apartheid as it perpetuated the legitimised ideology of different races and superiority and inferiority of certain races. The fact that people still practice segregation of crockery is indicative of an ideology, whilst not legitimised, still exists. When I see this practice, I am too polite to say anything. What I really want to ask the person is ‘what will happen to your plate if someone else uses it? Really, what is the worst things that could happen?’
But I am so disappointed in myself. I know the saying that ‘bad things happen when good people do nothing’. By not addressing this sort of statements that represent an ideology that needs to be changed I am, and surely many other South Africans are tacitly perpetuating the ideology. So I promise that the next time I am faced with a statement that threatens our sense of nationality I will in some way address it. Not in a rude or mean way but in a way which hopefully makes the speaker reflect on the statement and realise the damage that it causes to a socially cohesive nation.Rizwana Roomaney is a research intern at the Safety and Peace Promotion unit of the Medical Research Council
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