CAPE TOWN – The United States emphasizes the individuality of people. The underlying ideals behind the political and economic systems of democracy and capitalism are that each individual has the opportunity to express his or her own beliefs on how the state should be run and to be able to delve into whatever professional venture he or she desires. Unfortunately, though, much prejudice and malice exists in the minds and hearts of so many people even in a place that champions individuality.
I have spent the last week and a half in a neighborhood called Observatory – or as the locals call it, “Obz” – on the other side of the world in Cape Town, South Africa. Not surprisingly, the way of life here differs from the police-patrolled streets of Florida’s suburbs. Here, I cannot leave the house on a whim, wandering the streets hoping to find something to do or run into someone I know without the very real danger of being the potential victim of some violent, petty crime. I must plan everywhere I go. I must exercise extreme caution. I must be aware at all times. When I lived in St. Augustine, I could walk through the Plaza or down MLK in Lincolnville alone in the middle of the night and feel entirely safe and confident. On Lower Main Road in Obz, however, hunched-over, looming, observing eyes follow me as I speed-walk down the strip to get to my pub of destination.
At night, I dare not walk alone.
The people I meet and converse with do not make me feel this sense of danger. Bright, unique, personable characters hang-out inside the many cafes, restaurants, and local watering holes in Obz. Within the walls of Scrumpy Jack’s or Stones Pool Hall I feel a lack of ill-blood amongst people and the potential for bar brawls are less-than-likely. Inside these places, I am white and I am American, but the stigmas and stereotypes that typically accompany such classifications seem to melt away from the subjective perspective of my interlocutor. Even when some friends and I inadvertently stumbled upon an art exhibition/ political lecture on the importance of shebeens (what Americans could relate to “speakeasies” during the prohibition period) as a mode of artistic expression and debate in the townships of South Africa, and we were stamped with an unambiguous “non-black” on our arms, the stamper wore a large, inviting smile and we were sandwiched between blacks, whites, and “coloureds” alike – none of whom gave malicious or suspicious glances to anyone else in the room.
These are my observations from Observatory. More from the other side later. Peace.