Columnists

'I don't want to be a fetish' - sex and race in SA

Khaya Dlanga

While questioning the idea of othering and stereotyping in SA, Khaya Dlanga queries the dilemmas of black men "dating in the white world".

Race matters, says Khaya Dlanga. (Reuters)

I spent some time with a very good friend of mine who lives in Cape Town. Now, for the purposes of this column I have to mention his race. He is a black guy who has predominantly dated white women in South Africa. He is not South African. He made some interesting observations I found stinging and interesting at the same time. He told me to write about how – as contradictory as this may sound – he hasn’t ended up with white girls exclusively because he just likes white women. It’s because he has felt that it’s more difficult for him to get with black women in South Africa because he senses a barrier because he does not speak any South African languages. 

He went to elite schools and Stellenbosch University, which isn’t exactly known for having a vast number of black people. 

‘I don’t want to be a fetish’
I won’t lie but I was laughing my ass off when he told me his dilemmas of dating in the white world while being black. He seems to hate it but trapped in it at the same time. Not that he doesn’t like white women; he likes them as equally as he loves black women. It’s just that he can’t seem to crack the black code. So much so, I even have to teach him the ways of black Twitter too, like phrases such as “towning”, “yellow bone”, “eziwey” and so on. His dilemma has made me realise how easy it is to isolate people we think are the other. 

He has become a fetish. When he meets a white girl who has an interest in him, he gets disappointed when said white girl’s friends say to him, “Oh, Jessica? She has a thing for black guys. Go for her bro.” Since these girls have a thing for black guys anyway, he feels that they aren’t attracted to him for any other reason than that he is black, and then maybe because he is interesting. I know that it could be argued that when a guy sees a hot chick, what attracts him at first is her physical appearance. 

I have a friend who studied at a prestigious university in the United States, rated one of the top five best business schools in the world. She is South African. She told me that she found that she was not that well received by African Americans while white people seemed to be welcoming to other Africans. As a result she ended up hanging out with white people. 

‘I hate it when people say I’m in a interracial relationship’
This is another thing that pissed him off. He has a point. Why do we label people as being in a “same-sex relationship”, for example, but no one ever says, “Those two are in a same-race relationship.” They are simply in a relationship. 

‘You’re not African enough’
 I laughed when he told me about a girl he went on a date with. They had a great date, much laughter and joy was had and they said their respective goodbyes. He began to text her during the week but the texts were sent to a phantom person because there were no responses. Obviously he didn’t understand why, so he stopped after a couple of texts. 

Then later he runs into her at some or other party and he asks her what happened. She told him that he was great company and all but, “You are not African enough.” I can imagine people who were walking past and just heard that (“You are not African enough”) probably stopped, did a double take and wondered if this white girl is really telling this black guy that he is not African enough. I’m still not sure what she meant by that, nor is he. To this day. 

‘I hate Googling kissing’
“When I Google ‘kissing,’ all you ever see are white people kissing. Don’t black people kiss? Is kissing this mystery to black people?” He explained to me that if you want to see black people kissing on Google, you have to actually do a “black people kissing” search. “It’s bullshit,” he said as he put his wine down. 

I got the sense that you never stop being a colour in a circle where one is a fetish, as he believed he is. 

He finds it fascinating that in a country with a population of 80% black people, he meets an overwhelming amount of white people who have never kissed a black person.

It looks like we are still very much in our comfort zone when it comes to dating and are unwilling to explore. It comes as no surprise of course, we all remember the survey by University of Cape Town newspaper which concluded that whites were the most attractive and that blacks were the least attractive. 

There is also the argument that people use in this modern age: we really aren’t all that different. We live in a global village where we see the same things and have similar outlooks in life. Why do people restrict themselves to a narrow world of dating when the possibilities are so much more when you expand your horizon? Why would narrow your pool? 

As much as I often tease and say Cape Town is racist, it was only in Cape Town where I dated across the colour line, but never in Johannesburg. When I dated a white girl or a coloured girl, it was not because I was looking for someone different, I just fell for someone who happened to be another colour. And that was all that mattered. For some reason, race seems to matter more than how people actually feel. Which is sad really.


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