Policing racial boundaries: University students’ interpretations of race relations in South Africa

by Kim Wale

Working Papers WP 10-10
September 2010
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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This paper draws on observation as well as informal and in-depth interviews to explore the continued policing of racial boundaries for students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and University of Johannesburg (UJ). While overt race talk is often silenced in public South African discourse, these students recode racial boundaries in terms of a discourse of cultural authenticity. This discourse operates in conjunction with powerful emotions of anxiety and significant support from the social institution of the family. Claims to cultural authenticity have particularly powerful boundary policing functions for an emerging in-between racial identity which participants refer to as ‘Model C’. This term is used by the South African public to indicate historically white state-aided schools, but is invoked by these students to more generally refer to those ‘black’ and ‘coloured’ students who have become adept at negotiating traditionally ‘white’ spaces. Through this analysis of the Model C position in terms of the discourse of cultural authenticity, it is argued that despite the seemingly integrated nature of this group, this in-between racial identity represents a site at which racial segregation is most powerfully policed.

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