(By Thiruna Naidoo)

In 1966, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 2142 (XXI), which proclaimed 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day commemorates the horrific events that took place in Sharpeville, South Africa in 1960. It is also a national day commemorated annually to remind South Africans about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy in South Africa. On 21 March 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the racially discriminating apartheid ‘pass laws’. This was a gross violation of human rights.

Today, 25 years after the fall of apartheid, we are in a new constitutional order where the values of human dignity and equality are upheld. Despite this, incidents of racial discrimination are still rife in South Africa, and other regions of the world. If we want to see a society where human rights are truly respected and protected, we need to investigate and understand different experiences of racial identity and racial discrimination.

To understand where we are after 25 years, 25 youth under the age of 25 reflect on their racial identities and experiences of discrimination:

Refiloe Boipelo Mofokeng (22) 
Jurisprudence tutor

“My racial identity is Black. Since colonial Africa and the inception of our white hegemonic society, Blackness has been seen as ‘other’. Racist stereotypes still continue to influence the perception of Blackness today. Being Black and a woman in the racist patriarchal society we find ourselves in, is double jeopardy. Both racism and sexism influence how Black women are perceived. Historically, Black women have always been portrayed in a sexualised manner; this has led to our continued objectification and dehumanisation.”

Christiaan André Joubert (24)
HIV Testing services program coordinator 

“I'm multiracial, most people in my community would call me coloured or black and occasionally Middle Eastern based on looks. However, culturally they would say I'm white because of my dad being white. Mostly it comes with inappropriate curiosity such as asking if my dad raped my mother or if I'm confused about my identity. There’s an expectation to be overly masculine and even have a lot of toxic masculine traits. There is little to no room to be anything but heterosexual and cisgender.”

Kuvaniah Moodley (24)
Digital media and design journalist

“Personally, racial identity is closely linked to culture and culture is adapted to local. I identify as South African of Indian decent - particularly Durban Indian. I suppose this too is how society would identify me - when people see my brown skin and dark hair, the statement to follow is: ‘which part of Durban are you from?’ It’s not a question that I find offensive or assumptive, living away from home, Durban, and it’s so easily recognised nuanced Indian culture, it is sort of a comfort. I love telling people about R5 chips sandwiches, and where to buy the best silks, and where the best beaches are. Society so easily recognises my racial identity, it reminds me of home and the culture I grew up in. I consider South African Indians as a minority community in my society. The rhetoric of corruption is so often used to describe the Indian community in South Africa.”

Stephanie Cookson (20)
History & anthropology student

“I am white, and I think having grown up in Botswana and then moving to South Africa really showed me how my racial identity is different depending on where I am. South Africa's intimate and difficult historical relationship with race leaves my identity in a complicated place that I did not experience in Botswana. I feel as though I've had to work quite hard to unlearn social assumptions about what it means to be white - and white in South Africa. It feels sometimes as though white communities fabricate this thick layer of guilt that we think the world expects us to take with us everywhere. This is simply not the case, but I was socialised to believe my whiteness was a wall - of privilege, class, and even guilt - that was impenetrable. Racial discrimination occurs frequently against minority communities in the form of racist individuals. Sharing racist 'jokes' or only tipping white waitrons or even leaving racist, dehumanising comments on social media is a rampant form of racial discrimination happening every day. It's the surface level bubbling over of racism we see in day-to-day interactions, and while it seems harmless, when powerful individuals exercise that power over others out of racism, real damage happens. But secondly, systematic racism is a complicated form of racism hinging on power and class, which discriminates against classes of people but in South Africa, more often than not, that indirectly translates to racial discrimination as well.”

Anonymous (23)
Foreign national living in South Africa

“I identify as a black woman. The general construction is that black women are at the bottom of society, constantly being disempowered within the domestic and more institutional spheres however I do notice a change within my own social and academic spaces. Black women have clearly been underrepresented in tertiary academia; we are constantly seeing white males in senior lecturing positions. In social spaces we have a strong ‘blesser’ culture within SA, which is largely attributed to the perceived money-hungriness of young black youth who are woman. This paints young black women in a poor light since we cannot thrive within the conventional institutional spaces; we are seen to be thriving by using our bodies and femininity to get ahead economically and socially. The negative consequence is that black woman are further demonised and sexualised, especially within the eyes of black men who themselves benefit from this ‘blesser’ culture.”  

Lebohang Ramasodi (21)
International relations graduate

“I am Black and that’s either perceived to be something radical and in need of serious civilising by means of assimilation or it is understood to embody laziness and lacking in work ethic. Blackness is also greatly associated with poverty, so much so that black aspirations are limited to the confines of a township. Once people get past my Blackness, my womanhood just triggers more violence and unnecessary backlash. Economically speaking, I will suffer for it both at the hands of my family and my employers.”

Bulumko Mbete (24) 
Artist and freelancer

“Socio-economic status puts you in similar environments to those of other races but does not balance the scale of inequality or discrimination. Generalising socio-economic status as the essence of one's lived experience may sometimes create a facade for what challenges individuals actually experience as a result of the different parts of their identity. The more affluent your social status, the more covert and subtle the racism is. Exclusion or discrimination is exercised quite intentionally in the workplace especially within the private sector. I think people who are considered poor or seen to be lower class bear the brunt of more open and blatant racism.” 

Ryan Naamdhew (19)
Student, University of Pretoria

“There are many stereotypes that have been constructed of Indian people ranging from a persona seeped in fast cars, slicked-back hair, arrogance and excessive smoking to thinking every Indian person wants to strive to be either a doctor or an accountant and nothing beyond those two realms of occupation. I witness racial discrimination is mainly towards Black people and Coloured people. While black people are not considered a minority group in South Africa, large amounts of racial discrimination is directed towards them from many racial groups including Indian and White people. It's mainly a subtle thing: gestures, small glances, passing comments and minute expressions all contribute to this quiet build-up of racism. Black people and Coloured people are either crudely or subtly discriminated against. There's no-in-between. My family, from the time I was born, has always been in the middle income bracket. I've grown up in very open environments with people from many races and cultures. I am male as well as queer and this blend does not necessarily bode well in the Indian community.”

Kegan Gaspar (24) 

“I identify mostly with latinx constructions of identity but also with white constructions of racial identity as my heritage intersects with both of these groups. I am aware that most Portuguese South Africans identify as white, but I am greatly influenced by my American family and their links to the latinx community. Personally I am not of the belief that race means anything. Rather, the social consequences of race and racial identity formation are real and tangible, but the concept of race is a colonial ideal with separatist aspirations and should, therefore, be dismantled, deconstructed and discarded. Whiteness is placed on a pedestal in South Africa and those who fall into its category experience the privileges of whiteness. Minorities in my society are strictly divided by issues of class. The poorer you are, the more racial indignities you are forced to endure. I have also noticed that the more you intersect with un-favoured minorities (for example: if you are both black AND Queer) the more likely it is that you will experience racial prejudice, sometimes from your own community.”

Melvin Agaba (25)
Ugandan citizen

“In Uganda, a country so welcoming, we often brush off racism to not appear as confrontational but it does not disappear, it remains ever-present and looming in our society. Often subtle racism is our society’s ailment. We tolerate micro-aggressions such as ‘you speak good English’ and preferential treatment to non-blacks by restaurants, hotels and even by our own police. But at times, this subtle racism becomes explicit as evidenced by a one Jimmy Taylor, a self-proclaimed missionary here to save the people of Uganda. Instead, ending up spewing out racial slurs all the while physically assaulting the black hotel manager.”

Mankhuwe Caroline Letsoalo III (21)
Final year LLB student

“Intersectionality considers the multiple social stratifications such as race, class and gender; it attempts to illuminate intertwined social stratification of oppression. I am a black woman; one cannot remove my gender away from my race or vice versa. I am not only discriminated against on the basis that I am black but also that I am specifically a black woman. There is the racism, the patriarchy and misogynoir all systematically working together to suppress the black woman’s plea for equal rights, a plea that white feminists our supposed ‘allies’ relentlessly refuse to hear. The discrimination I face as a black woman can never be reconciled with those of a White or Indian women, in fact, the two contribute to the racism I have been subjected to throughout.”

Sadé Crowder (24)
Candidate attorney

“I was raised in a matriarch ruled household. Growing up as a young woman I was raised to be strong. Coloured girls are always raised to be strong, which is not to say that girls of other races are not raised to be strong. When I say coloured girls are raised to be strong I mean that our fathers teach us to fight from a young age. As a group we are tenacious and aggressive, not bad traits, despite how they can be construed by people who do not know why we are raised to fight. My father taught me how to hold a knife when I was four years old. And so the stereotype that all we know how to do is stab, lives on. Look deeper and it gets easier to see why I needed to know how to wield a weapon when I was four years old. When one moves away from coloured as a race, as a whole, and focus on coloured women and the socio-economic climate prevalent in most coloured communities it is necessary to be able to protect oneself. As a bisexual coloured girl I have not felt that my sexuality and race have stood at an impasse. Surprisingly my sexuality is the only thing I have felt to be less of a burden than the colour of my skin or what is in my pants. I think perhaps it is because sexuality appears last on the list of things to criticise coloured people on.”

Sameshni Govender (25)
Masters student in historical studies 

“Racially, I am Indian or South Asian. Society’s construction of this race group is definitely multi-faceted. I think that due to many lingering stereotypes, a large amount of expectation is placed on members of this racial identity automatically. The stereotypes associated with being Indian or Asian are not always bad; they often include being smart, virtuous, hospitable, generous and spiritual. At the same time this group has been portrayed as corrupt, conservative, self-serving and generally apathetic. All of these traits, in all honesty, seem to be true of many of the people who share my racial identity. Due to the prior expectations generated by these stereotypes, this is all that Indian people are ever seen as. Although these traits may well form part of the group’s identity, the emphasis that is placed on them ultimately dictates how each individual Indian person is viewed – which is unfair. I think that it is important for everyone to recognise their own privilege and their complicity within the racial power structures; each group has some, it is just that some groups have far more than other groups do. The recognition, however, is only the first step and active measures against archaic, useless power structures must be the next one.”

Emma Paulet (25)
Contract lecturer in Academic Literacy

“I am white and privileged as a direct result. In my experience, whiteness is almost revered - as if it is something to emulate in order to achieve success, or something against which to measure personal success. I think racial discrimination would stand a better chance of being eliminated if people stopped imagining that it doesn't exist. I refer to the notion of 'colour blindness' and the hashtag #AllLivesMatter as examples of unhelpfulness in the process of attempting to eliminate racial discrimination. Acknowledging that racial discrimination exists is an important first step.”

Brian Chipa (24) 
LLM student

“I am a Black African. The society construction of this identity can be traced back to colonialism. The society just took the identity bestowed by them by the white rulers. The Zimbabwean society is very unique society. The racial relationship between the blacks and whites is a normal relationship after the land reform programme. There is little or no hate left in the society between these two racial groups. If racism is happening it’s in a private and is never reported to the general public. Other minority groups such as the Indian and Muslim community never experience racial discrimination. What we experience in Zimbabwe is tension between the Shona`s and Ndebele’s. This is largely due to history between these two groups. These however, are ethnic groups.”

Zolani Nkomo (24)
Data scientist

“I identify as an African. I live in a Township and the creation of a Township is evidence of the most sadistic kind of racism. Spawn from Apartheid spatial planning the Township is a concentration camp type of design which not only produces death but taxes its living inhabitants through purposefully underdeveloped infrastructure, expensive travel cost to places of employment, diseases and crime. As an educated pseudo-middle-class Black person I am acutely aware that I was born at a disadvantage and I am aware that in most circumstances where I find myself is perceived as a privileged position.”

Kyly Janine Heugh (23)
Intern, Sol Plaatje University

“My racial identity is coloured. Society sees us as mixed-breed. We have the best of both worlds. But we also have the worst of both worlds in that we don’t belong in either of the dominant race groups. There are a lot of stereotypes about the coloured community such we are a violent race and we are always associated with being alcoholics or in a gang. I grew up in a working middle class family and attended a previously model-c primary and high school, so that shielded me a lot from witnessing or experiencing racial discrimination. As a coloured female, men, specifically men of other races think that we are exotic and they almost fetishize being with us. Being a queer coloured female just adds to the experience or challenge.”

Sonalia Ragavadu (18)
Recently matriculated

“The minority community in my society experiences unfair racial discrimination based on the general views people have on the community. Racial discrimination towards these communities is still rife to this day despite the fact that we call ourselves a free and democratic nation. We claim to be 25 years into democracy but we still bring up the issue of race when something goes wrong.”

Zenia Pero (25)
LLM Candidate

“I am white, and Afrikaans. I clarify that I am white and also Afrikaans because there is a violent historical significance that tags along with this identity in particular. The most glaring racial discrimination I witness in South Africa, and on a daily basis, is the mental and physical remnants of apartheid. White Afrikaners still hold on to some beliefs that were cultivated over centuries of conquest and colonisation. Many black South Africans still live under apartheid conditions – both physically, in the sense that many still live in shacks without the resources that the rest of us are afforded; but also structurally, in the sense that access to jobs, bank accounts, education, and health care are still unequal based on skin colour. Structural change is the only way to change this system that is so embedded in our society”

Louisa Ntaji (24)
LLM HRDA student

“I identify as a black Nigerian woman. Racial identity is not a construct that is present in the Nigerian context. This is as a result of the fact that Nigerians perceive themselves as indigenously ‘black’; as such issues of race never arise, amongst Nigerians. There might exist discrimination based on ethnic or tribal identity but never race. Minority communities in Nigeria are not based on race, but ethnicity. There are three major tribes in Nigeria; Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. Pockets of ethnic groups not belonging to these major tribes are considered the minority. The problem faced by these minority groups is lack of representation at the Federal level. As a result, their concerns are never addressed.”

Nathan Milanzi (23) 
LLB student

“I identity as an African or a Black person. My people have been taught to feel inferior and we are not meant to have certain things. There seems to be this notion or belief going around that black people are lazy and they don’t’ want to work. As a queer person, it’s hard because on top of the racial discrimination you get from white people; black people also discriminate, leaving one on the receiving end of a lot of discrimination based on your identity.”

Corné Nel (21)

“I am white. I witness mostly slandering and oppression. I experience a strange form of racism. Others have a habit of self-imposing racism where there was none. I was once in a politics tutorial where land claims without compensation was the topic. I had stated that I agree with the concept of land compensation but food security is then a huge stressor for me as we have a community where only 4% of the population knows how to farm for large scale distribution. This was not a racially bound comment but a woman, so to the fact that I am white, self-imposed racism in my comment and asked if I was saying that black people can't farm. There is also the feeling of being seen as an outsider that does not belong simply because I am the same colour as the oppressors of the PAST. History is somehow in a way repeating itself in a reverse way and it’s entirely due to the mistakes of the past. I’ve seen that racism also affects other races. Look at Indians; they have an even smaller chance of getting into university than a white male. Coloured people are not feeling like they belong anywhere.”

Batsirai Farai Zhuwarara (22)
Zimbabwean student, Part-time soccer referee

“My own racial identity is black and according to society I am black based on the colour of my skin. The construction of this identity is one which is similar to socialisation, it is taught from a young age. Due to the fact that I come from a privileged point, I don’t really experience racism or witness much of it to a deep level. However when I do encounter certain situations where the people don’t know me such as at work, there are various times I’ve felt racially discriminated and witness racism in the way the white people treat black people as inferior and “dirt”

Dawn Barendse (22)
LLB student

“Racial discrimination for coloured people is hard living in a black and white society. We either are not white enough or black enough. It is difficult being coloured but at the same time you have some privileges that black people do not have. Then again, you lack the struggle that they went through to benefit from things like the BBBEE Act. The way society sees us is very stereotypical. It is unfair that we are stereotyped like this and it is definitely not true.

Thiruna Naidoo (23)
Law student, Intern at at the Centre for Human Rights

From my own view, as a 23 year old law student an intern at the Centre for Human Rights, all forms of intolerance are equally unacceptable. The South African society is still deeply divided by racial divisions which are more representative of underlying issues related to economic and gender inequality. We are a nation who views things through a black and white lens and this stifles the voices and experiences of minorities. The law is clear on the position towards unfair discrimination based on race and many of the other intersecting aspects of identity but the lived experiences of people still shout that racially based discrimination is rife. It is clear that matters relating to ‘race’ and racial discrimination are not as straightforward as it appears. Class, gender, sexuality and socio-economic status play a major role in understanding one’s own racial identity and why we witness and experience certain things. Perhaps this is why South Africa chose to celebrate Human Rights Day as opposed to the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Thiruna Naidoo is a law student at the University of Pretoria and an intern at the Advocacy Unit, Centre for Human Rights.