The idea of starting a blog has been percolating for a couple of months, prompted from time to time by the nagging sense that black and white still make a curious couple, and by the need to reflect on why. That sense and need apply whether it’s Concord, New Hampshire (90% white), where we lately made our home, or Cape Town, South Africa (79% black), to which we’ve newly come, or somewhere in between.
As such, we consider this blog a mainly selfish endeavor: we see things everyday that make us think, make us mad or sad or glad, and leave us with that urgent need to try and understand why. We see these things not just because we’re black and white and often enough in public: we see these things because they’re everywhere to be seen. (The world was a fraught and fitful place before we came along, and so it will remain after we’re gone.) But perhaps our particular urge to think through them to the extent that we hope to do on this blog is an outcome of our being black and white – living together and in ongoing conversation about how we each see the world and how the rather distinct worlds we were raised in shape(d) that very sight. Degrees of understanding matter (sound knowledge is the basis of sound action), and so we’ll try our best to interpret what we see. Our hope is that the different perspectives that we each bring to what we see enrich the interpretations at which we arrive and produce a colourful – and by no means uniform – tapestry from our individual voices, here presented both side-by-side and interwoven.
A few explanatory notes to set the stage.
1. Cecil Road in Cape Town is where we live. Actually, our driveway is on the next road over, but if you climb the quite high and studded wall out back (crime being what it is in a country still on the mend from too many years of asymmetric civil war), there you are. Walk down Cecil Rd a block and you get to Rhodes Ave. And, yes, when you look up at the mountain from our house, that conspicuous sight you see is the memorial to Cecil John Rhodes, colonialist par excellence, who made his fortune in these parts on the backs of Sindiso’s kind. Like it or not, Cecil Rhodes (in whose Oxford house we spent considerable time) looms large over our lives.
2. To state the obvious, mixed up is what you get when you put us together – racially, culturally, socio-politically, experientially, linguistically … Sindiso’s as African as they come, at least where race and phenotype are concerned, and Dan starts burning in the South African sun before you can say “Rhodesia cum Zimbabwe”. Prior to our varicoloured weddings, the last time Dan’s people and Sindiso’s people got together was probably back in the day when they emerged from a common cave in the ‘Cradle of Humankind’ – not far from Johannesburg, the place of Sindiso’s birth. Someone must’ve said something wrong or forgot to take out the trash, because paleontologists tell us Dan’s people decided it was time to take a hike. A couple ten thousand miles and many millennia later, they had settled the British aisles and then jumped ship to Holland and then America, arriving at Plymouth Rock.
Reunited as we now are, we’re learning one another anew and finding that among the many core similarities there are also plenty of differences (not all, but surely some of them, the result of racial, gendered or national identity as we have been socialised into them). For instance, Dan has a knack for letting the world know that Sindiso is his wife when in public; for many reasons, Sindiso ‘blushes’ at this. When we first started dating, Sindiso would point out nearly everyone who stared – whether smiling, frowning or simply curious. Dan was oblivious. In relative perspective, we were both helped to become much more self-aware, especially of how Dan’s ‘default’ positioning in the world gave him internal permission to do a host of things that Sindiso’s heightened race and gender self-consciousness did not allow her. As a somewhat lighter example: Dan was also unaware of the complexities of ‘treating’ black hair and the socio-political and pragmatic causes that generate the need for it. Sindiso knew a lot about white hair. Black people are exposed to a lot about white people (on television, in schoolbooks or in caring for their homes and children) and they have to know a fair amount about white people in order to survive – and, certainly, to succeed – in a ‘white man’s world’.
These illustrations are but a couple of teasers. Needless to say, being mixed up – together and apart – and trying to make sense of the same will doubtless loom large in these reflections.
3. The subtitle, ‘the status quo ain’t neutral’, has become Dan’s go-to phrase of late; expect it to be used and abused. It stems from the elementary observation – helped along, as alluded to above, by his meeting and falling in love with a certain black South African woman – that the place from which he starts in life, his ‘status quo’, is decidedly unequal relative to the rest of the world. Truth be told, of the more than six billion people with whom he shares this earth, Dan figures he was probably born into the top two or three percent in terms of good old-fashioned inherited (unearned) advantage: white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, male, heterosexual, post-graduate, and covered in red-white-and-blue… not to mention a long line of forebears who made their way just fine in the business of America, which is business, and in politics too. Inhabiting the cultural normative is a pleasant place to be, Dan concedes, but it’s also patently unjust. Call it a guilty conscience if you will, but he figures its high time he went about unpacking this (un)happy status quo, ably assisted by his better half, who herself is more fortunate than most who look like her.
4. The photography is Dan’s hobby and sourced from South(ern) Africa, except where otherwise noted.
We thank you for setting out on this peculiar path with us, when it suits your schedule, and hope you’ll also lend your thoughts from time to time to help us on our way.