by Maya del Mar

People often ask how I found racial relations in Capetown. I can only speak from my brief experience of being there, as a white person, and talking with Yvonne and others, so this is not a definitive description.

My overall impression was of a camaraderie among races (and there are many, including many Indians) which I find non-existent in the public arena in the United States. I hadn’t realized how much tension and self-consciousness among races exists in the U.S. until I experienced the relaxed social intercourse in Capetown, wherever I went.

Yvonne says that her relationships with people depend on who they are, not on their color, their status, their work, or any other external marker. She indeed acts that way, and so did everyone else whom I saw. In general, people were considerably friendlier than they are in the United States, to me and to one another. I felt that they were truly committed to a multi-racial society, and I was very moved by their demeanor.

The contrast made me see the depth of the racial divide in the United States. It made me feel that the legacy of slavery, enshrined in the Constitution, is alive and well here.

On the plane home I talked with a young mother who had lived with her family in Capetown for five years, simply because they love it there. She is Canadian and her husband is American. I told her my observations and asked her to comment. She agreed completely, and added that racial relations in Canada are also much easier than in the United States.

The work of furthering real human equality feels like the major task of the United States. I’d like to see a national commitment to that goal.

Like so much else I experienced on that trip, the racial positions were also a mirror image. A huge majority is black and other non-white races, perhaps 90% of the population. The government is primarily black. There is affirmative action, but still in practice blacks are hired before whites, and women before men. Black women are at the top of the preference list, and they are taking advantage of it to create success for themselves in all fields. Yvonne has great admiration for their savvy and willingness to work.

Poverty is a major problem. Unemployment is perhaps 30% in Capetown, with many of the unemployed being refugees from warring nations to the north. The crime rate is thus high, although I never felt threatened anywhere, in any way.

Many whites are emigrating because of the lack of employment opportunities and the crime. Those who are staying have faith in the eventual working out of problems. The consensus is that it will take perhaps a generation, but that South Africa has a bright future.

In general, I was very inspired by the faith, hope, and good will which I encountered in Capetown.

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