I’ve been thinking about diversity since I’ve been here. South Africa has 11 different official languages. The United States has none. Both countries are highly diverse, and I feel that this sums up their different takes on diversity. (Warning: the following consists of my own subjective take on matters, and I welcome any alternative opinions on the subject.)
In the USA, diversity seems to be largely concerned with where one came from, possibly generations ago. I define myself as being Scottish, Irish, and Swedish, with colonial ancestors as well. Oh, yeah, and I’m a Midwesterner too. Others might identify as Asian-American, or Polish-American, or African- or Mexican- or Cuban-American. (Of course, there are Native Americans, too, but we sweep them under the rug usually. Seriously, South Africa eventually got rid of its “homelands” for ethnic groups – we still have sub-par reservations.).
So a good deal of American diveristy is exocentric – based on where one came from outside of the country. The metaphor used is that of a melting pot, or more recently a salad bowl, but still a hodge-podge of different sorts. We are a “nation of immigrants.”. I went to a university in Indiana, where I learned the Japanese art of origami from a Brazilian, and I still remember the Air Band performance there to the Bollywood song “Mahi Ve.” When asked about my favourite foods, I answer “Thai” or “Korean.”
South Africa contains its diversity internally, by constrast. As I pointed out in the last post, most people here stake some claim to the land (though there are also the Brits, and a huge Indian population – Mahatma Gandhi started his Satyagraha movement here, and his son was an importpant figure in anti-apartheid struggle. This is to leave out the Chinese and Malays, and the recent African immigrants – I am reporting general impressions, not necessarily accurate in the details). There are the amaZulu, the amaXhosa, Basotho, Vatsonga, and so on, just amongst the African peoples. (And the amaXhosa seems to be a confederacy of different tribes, at that.) Then the Afrikaans-speaking people, which include both those of European descent as well as those of mixed racial background.
This is the “rainbow nation.” Every colour is represented here, in theory. Most people seem to locate their identity inside South Africa. Different languages come from inside the country. People in general seem to trace their roots back hundreds of years here. The government is trying to incorporate this diversity in the country; unlike in the US, there actually are blacks in the government here in a proportion somewhat resembling the population. (Though if they actually put into effect the official language policies, my Zulu students wouldn’t so desperately need to know English.)
What does one make of this? I don’t know – I plan on trying to find out more while I am here. I feel like the US is starting the change, to be a little more similar to SA. More and more, we seem to have populations that are Spanish speaking (or Arabic, if you are around the Dearborn area, where I’m from), and they are no longer recent immigrants. They’ve been around a couple generations and are just as much a part of the population as anyone else. The white population will soon be less than a majority – and the sooner that happens in Congress too, the better. So what lessons can we take from a country that is already dealing with some of the issues that arise?
But what does this diversity here in SA entail? What do you think of when you think “Zulu”? Tune in next time, same bat-channel, some random bat-time.