THE CONSTRUCT OF OUR MILLENNIAL IDENTITIES.
Historically, the freedom of marriage was not always granted between races. Native Africans have always been seen, regarded and treated as inferior to their former colonizers, be it the Dutch, the Germans, British or even the French. Had that not been enough, further disregard was placed on Africans from other Western nations. Africans have never been good enough, white enough, smart enough, rich enough or even social enough and this has, for generations disadvantaged them because no one simply gave them a chance to be the best they could be. Interracial marriages are slowly increasing in number and status within Namibia and we are regarded by neighbouring states as one of the fastest moving and more liberal democracies in Africa. In an attempt to find out how many interracial marriages have been recorded over the last 26 years after our independence, proved futile. It has somehow become a paradox of the last century how whites are now into black and vice versa. Can we attribute this to the generational cultures that have been more integrated the world over?
Interracial Marriages is when individuals from different racial backgrounds get married. Mostly in African countries, the relationship would be that of “exogamy”, meaning that race is not the only variable, but a difference in social grouping and class also comes highly into play. Interracial marriages have not always been so popular; on the contrary, it was a taboo in many societies, not to mention cultures. Although this was the case, many Africans, especially women, never had much of a choice since they were used as sexual slaves during the slave trade with the Arabs and many others.
Neighbouring South Africa, one of Africa’s fastest moving and progressive economies, experienced racial segregation in the 1960’s. This was also the era that racial tension was highly sensitive in the US, with the 1964/65 Civil Rights Movement and now becomes visible how parallel events fuelled opposite sides of the world on the same sociocultural conflict. During apartheid, this concept was banned and frankly speaking, illegal for a white man or woman to be married or even be in a relationship with a black person. For those that defied this law within South Africa, they had to keep their mixed race children, or “coloureds”- a term used in South Africa and Namibia, a secret from the world. Most of these mixed race, or known as biracial children only surfaced in dominant societies after the bans were lifted and it was no longer illegal to have interracial relationships, Namibia, on the contrary, did not have it that bad and was however not the case in all African countries. Some of Portugal’s territories such as Mozambique, Angola, and even Cape Verde have seen interracial relationships for decades. This was due to the relationships between the white Portuguese and black Africans from these various countries.
Comedy Central’s newest addition to the team, South African comedian and tv personality, Trevor Noah, took over the Daily Show from John Steward, and has in most of his skit shows, made reference to his biracial heritage as an African-born child. He described his life, isolated from other kids since he grew up in a black community while his father was a white man from Switzerland and his mother a black “Xhosa” woman. Noah makes people drop to the ground with his real life story when he tells how he pretended to be an Albino in his society due to his fairer skin colour, just so that his mother would not be jailed for her unlawful interracial acts. Recalling the then Group Areas Acts, amongst the many that prevented black and whites to mix he says “I couldn’t live with the family as a parental unit together, had to go back to the townships with my mom”, he even admitted that his mother had to lie on his birth certificate, in order for him to form his identity in a black community, “She couldn’t say that the father of her child was, in fact, a white man,… she had to lie on my birth certificate, she just didn’t put a father”. This was very important for him as he grew up because he needed to find a sense of belonging.
So regardless of the practices from the older generation, things are slowly changing for some of these traditionally rigid cultures. Usable statistics around interracial marriages and the birth of biracial children seemed not to be readily available for many African countries and certainly nothing surfaced up for our own motherland, Namibia. This lack of research in this field could be attributed to more pressing matters receiving preference and budget allocations, examples of these are often seen in new and emerging nations that have a larger focus on nation building, national development, and change leadership.
HOW IDENTITIES ARE FORMED:
Well known celebrity golfer, Tiger Woods is one such person that has changed how society views biracial children. Being in the limelight, he has attracted extra media attention and due to his success, he has given meaning to the new-age biracial kids of today. However, in the earlier years of this societal sore, children from interracial marriages were looked down upon and even denied certain privileges and benefits as same-race children.
Inevitably one of the most common questions that biracial children are faced with today is “What are you?”, often this is asked with neither malice or menace, but merely wanting to know what race and ethnic background they are from. Some authors on culture say that these are the uniquely structured, associative, and relational thinkers, however, the construction of their social reality for identity is what takes them times to come to grips with. Identity issues with biracial children could be described similarly to that of Third Culture Kids (TCK’s). Some enthusiasts believe that it is important to exert a perspective on multiracial people, in this case, biracial children because it serves as an important topic for dialogue on identity.
It is probably not as important for biracial children to answer the question of “What are you” as oppose the intrinsic self-reflection of “Who am I”. As Namibians, it becomes more important to understand that children born have an inherent need to belong and feel a sense of the self. Be it self-reliance, self-gratification or self-identification. Nowadays we get a laugh out of our kids and call then Embwiti, our self-enduring term for our lack of failure to teach them their mother tongues and their cultural values. Biracial children have no definition that involves a foreign culture as such, other than that of their two parents. So this means that they take on the culture of their parents, which is their primary culture, but then also that of the overseas culture. Research in the field of biracial children and their adoption of the culture yielded more on the fact that they would either take the culture of the father, who is the more dominant figure in the household, take on the more resilient and custom intensive culture or if their parents have conformed to a nationalist culture, they too would adopt that.
A social reality for identity is not a once-off process and with children born from interracial marriages they experience it at different periods in their lives. The identity crisis in today’s day and age could mean that at this age these children become more aware of their racial identity, but also more aware of how they perceive and identify with the world and vice versa.
Ockert Jansen is Fulbright Scholar doing his Master of Arts in Intercultural and International Communications at the American University, USA.