While apartment hunting, my American roommates and I heeded the advice of literally everyone and made sure that we were looking in “safe, nice and fun” neighborhoods. Unlike Johannesburg though, there does not seem to be a real black middle class here in Durban as far as I know. The bulk of black people I see are in the townships, with a small amount at restaurants, malls, etc while not working there. Imagine the three of us roomies: black, biracial and Korean America, out here in South Africa trying to navigate the stark economic contrasts between races to find a decent apartment. While we took huge pay cuts to be here, our American money stretches here and we can afford to live bad and boujee neighborhood-wise, so should we? When it comes to living in the townships where our students live, would that make us gentrifiers? The reality is that none of us are truly down for it and have been warned against it. Not because black people are thieves (yeah, I saw that judgemental look), but an American accent presumes money & nice things if anyone is out there looking for them and we also happen to be three petite women.
What I hate is the fact that the contrasts have to be so stark. That as I’m writing this I am not exaggerating. That access to that beach club (see previous post) was due to American privilege and a nice Air BnB host. That due to the same privilege, I have endless options of where I can live here on wages that I would literally not be able to survive on in America. That the advise and decision to live in a certain place for safety can remove a large part of the authenticity from this experience and in some sense a choice needs to be made… and we know what the likely choice is.
What do I say all of this to say? Well, I don’t know. I know I’ve been here for three days and I already know I have a lot of unpacking to do. Not just with my luggage, but what it means to be black and American in South Africa, yet again. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of conversations about what it means to be a woman here too. While my blackness is something I can’t shake, I am realizing that my Americanness is too- and though I am no longer walking past the building where the apartheid was signed on a daily basis, I am viewing and dealing with the remnants of it regularly. The thing is, I can still hide within my Americanness to a certain extent because instead of being the token black I would be at home, I’m “the American black” so it’s all “good.”
Meanwhile, America hasn’t grown too far past this herself. Ask any immigrant being detained at JFK as I write this, or any Muslim, or any black person, or any Hispanic, or any woman, or any person that identifies as lgbtiq, need I continue?
Anyhow, back to unpacking…everything.
Update: We chose the apartment that last year’s Fulbriyhters stayed in, it is a 10 min drive away from the community that we serve while also close to grocery stores, restaurants and bars. The building is predominantly white and privileged, but bit by bit I am coming across more and more black yuppies who don’t live too far from here, outchea getting it.