Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The question of Identity, where do I fit in??

A lot of information has been given and received, about how I can be 'marketable' to a prospective employer, but not much has been said about how to deal with identity and politics in the workplace. I imagine that it is not crucial at this beginning stages of job-seeking. Thinking about politics in the workplace raises for me, questions about what it means to be a young black South African degree-holder, applying to job adverts in the present day South African context. This interests me, particularly because I have previous work experience gained from a different cultural environment. How is BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) adding to or detracting from the development of this particular group? Is it a successful programme? Is it adequately empowering black entrepreneurship? What about Affirmative Action? This is supposed to be an 'empowering' time for young black up-and-coming, educated South Africans yet this process of 'empowerment', providing opportunities, seems to be fraught with stumbling blocks and 'baggage' inherited from past history, and present day politics.
My studies into the dynamics of South African cultural heritage and history, has led me to a better understanding of the political and socio-economic positioning amongst the diverse racial groups in South Africa. Living in South Africa these past one and a half years has motivated greater introspection. I remember being asked a question at a culture-related conference which I thought at the time was ridiculous. The question was; 'what is an African identity and how would you define yourself in that context?'. My instinctive response was, I am African and that's the end of the story. I do not need to explain my identity to anyone, it is apparent. But is it really so apparent? So simple?
That question started me thinking. What is an African identity in the present day African context? Where do I fit in? Does being black give us automatic 'ownership', excluding all other races? What about persons of other races who have 'roots' in Africa? Families born and bred on the continent, who have ancestral links dating a few generations back, deeply rooted in Africa? What then? I am still grappling with that question even now. It however occurs to me that the days of the black race being the only 'authentic' African race are over. We must accept that though our ancestors are and will always be the 'true' sons and daughters of the soil, we can no longer claim sole ownership.
I come from a very culturally diverse society, and I think that is what makes African societies unique - our differences, our multi-culturalism, the hybridity of indigenous cultures with colonial influences. For some reason South Africans believe their country is more racially diverse than other African countries. On a personal level, I have encountered and lived with the 'other' as foreign-ness is alluded to in tourism, travel writing specifically. I have aunts that are Hungarian and Korean, but I don't think of them as 'foreigners'. In my culture, if you marry into a family, no matter your origins, you become integrated into that family. This means that your character, your individuality, your ability to relate, is more important than your skin colour. That is what you are judged on. This is the kind of attitude I would like to see take root in South Africa. I look forward to seeing greater integration amongst South Africans. I am confident that it will happen. When it happens, South Africans will be better able to embrace peoples from other parts of Africa. How does this translate to relations in the workplace? Integration I believe, will change attitudes, foster better understanding and respect of one another in a multi-cultural work environment.
This is an evolving thought process. Please share your views with me.

1 comment:

Susan Mwangi said...

Your discussion on identity reminds me of the session in which we discussed self-awareness with the CCDU group. To know oneself helps to understand and tolerate(not fear)others. I think the diversity of Africa's people is part of our communal wealth. However, some individuals with ill-motives may exploit these differences for whatever selfish reasons[usually political... ]to further their own ambitions. Our "collective self-awareness" may be part the answer in our quest for African unity in diversity... I think.