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[OPINION] Pop music, the bridge to racial segregation?


The universal language of music has long been praised. Its appeal and power to bring people together is no secret, a truth of the ages, so to speak. And while it’s a rather clichéd notion, the Justin Bieber concert in Cape Town on Wednesday night resonated with the idea that music is the glue that connects us all. There are lessons to be learnt at a concert composed of clichés and a diverse audience of youth.

There’s black music and there’s white music. And then, of course, there is appropriated music: white musicians crossing over into the genre and culture of black pop culture to be cooler; to adopt an identity that in marketing terms will hopefully tap into a market that results in bigger sales. This is often contested because of ‘wokeness’: an awareness about white privilege and the means that a politically dominant race has over all others, the benefit of culture, race and identity shopping. Gone are the days when these transgressions slipped under the radar. These offences in pop culture no longer slip under the radar. Superiority, at least in theory, is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Just like the racial divides and appeal in music, there are white cities and there are black cities. I have so many friends who are people of colour who refuse to live in Cape Town. The mother city has long been touted as a white city. It is known as a city that harbours racism and does not shy away from proudly claiming its demographic and racial bias.

And there is truth in this. You will find it hard to come across a week or a month where some altercation rooted in discrimination has not been covered in the media. The unfair treatment of black customers in stores, the preference of white waiters who aren’t even South African over citizens of colour. It’s obvious and its real and as a person of colour, I cannot deny this divide when I compare it with Jo’burg, having lived in both cities. And let me be clear, a lot of these friends who refuse to live in Cape Town are white liberals.

As an aside I have come to learn there is nothing more annoying than a white liberal’s subtle racism that is often forgiven out of pity or some other validation. But let’s discount that fact for now.

The argument stands. “I will not live in a city that is racist, where I am the odd one out and where I stick out like a sore thumb because I am not represented at public events” – for example. It makes me angry. Because while I have to suffer through the same discrimination, I have to admit that it’s no different from the discrimination I am subjected to in other cities. And more than that, how can we, as people of colour, expect circumstances to change when we just avoid it? When we do not lay claim and take ownership of the geographical locations we are entitled to? We are entitled to the mountain, we deserve the ocean and there is no need to deny ourselves that.

I went to the Justin Bieber concert on Wednesday night and it proved to be an enlightening experience. I judged myself about the preconceived ideas I had about the kind of audience that would attend: middle-class white South African children who probably attend private schools – it was an obvious conclusion to come to.

I was wrong. I found myself surrounded by a racially representative crowd of teenagers. Admittedly, the white kids hung out in groups and so did the kids of colour and the friendships between races was few and far between. But the truth was obvious, the generation that will realise all the change the adults are so busy fighting about have already started, and maybe it’s time for us to stop talking and start listening.

We cannot deny the castigation that these kids of colour experience in schools, the reason they stick to their kind or the stereotypes that affect them, which is perpetuated through messaging in the homes of the “superior race”. We cannot overlook the questions they have about it, or the ways in which we need to teach them to deal with it, or how they should have those conversations. We cannot take for granted that they will find pride and acceptance in their race by themselves and we cannot continue with the misleading messaging of a rainbow nation and non-racial society. For lack of better words, their struggle is real.

But for one night, and I anticipate, many nights to come, the abolishment of this struggle was fought by a bunch of teenagers who fought it with the rhythm of peace.

In the words of Maya Angelou: everything dances.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment.

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