I’ve been planning to write this for a while, but I didn’t really know how to start.
Fortunately, a conversation I had with a friend and fellow journalist helped me find my intro.
To set the scene, we went to grab drinks after work at a bar, when she surveyed our surroundings and then pointed out this point.
Her: “Do you notice what I notice?”
Me: “That everyone is mostly a person of colour?”
Her: “Yes, but it’s more than that. Look at that spot across the road. It has nearly the exact same prices, but then when you look at the place across the street…”
Me: “…It’s predominantly white people.”
Her: “It’s weird how Cape Town is divided so racially…well not weird, because Cape Town is racist, but it’s crazy when you think about it and see how some spaces are geared towards certain people in terms of race.”
It was this very thing that has been on my mind for a bit about Cape Town, including how queer spaces are almost separated to race.
Yes, socio-economic status plays a part in this, because white privilege and generational wealth is a big deal in, not only Cape Town but, the country too (because Apartheid and slavery were things that greatly impacted on the socio-economic status of people of colour).
ALSO READ: Turning to the person who hurt you…
In Cape Town, for some reason I don’t yet know, this is compounded.
There is a trading of racial currency at play, where a particular skin colour has a different value at certain places, and also sometimes on different nights.
As a person of colour, when you enter predominantly white spaces, you feel immediately uncomfortable. People even tend to act differently.
I remember when I was at a gathering with mostly coloured people, we had been laughing and having a good time at a restaurant when suddenly a group of white people walked in.
There was an audible reduction in how loud we were speaking, and even how expressive we were. Someone, who hadn’t been paying attention to the arrival of the white patrons, asked: “Why did everyone get quiet?”
We pointed in the direction of the new people, and the person understood. We eventually relaxed again and continued to be more of ourselves, but the fact that roughly 10 people had noticed the arrival of white people in a restaurant, and became visibly muted, feeling like we shouldn’t have been as loud, indicates to a problem.
We had every right to be in the space as what the white patrons did, but we automatically became reserved, as if to accommodate them, because it’s how we’ve usually felt throughout our lives.
Every person of colour has had an experience where while out with friends or family, they have felt uncomfortable in spaces with predominantly white patrons.
Another instance of this was a discussion that another friend, who happened to previously be a waiter, had divulged.
They had said how sometimes, while the waiting staff would treat everyone the same, they knew that white patrons were more than likely to tip better, so they’d put in perhaps 5-10% more effort.
He mentioned that, yes there were many times when people of colour would tip well, but that mostly they knew they were likely to get better tips from white patrons.
We had mentioned how unfair and wrong that was, which he had immediately acknowledged, but he said it’s just how things are. This could be attributed to how white people typically are more financially secure than people of colour.
It was pointed out that this could be because people of colour have to stretch their limited income twice as far for basic domestic needs.
Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but we live in a country where for white people, going to Spur is usually a weekly treat, where for people of colour, that’s a monthly treat.
I’ll be honest and say that because people of colour have this representation of not being good tippers, I make sure more than 10% tip is given in instances where I receive good waiting service.
It’s like I’m psychologically trying to combat this stereotype and fight against it.
Cape Town gay spaces are not exempt from this.
I want to discuss two particular gay places, where I see the trading of racial currency at play – Zer021 and Crew.
Crew is very problematic unless:
- You are a white gay male
- You’re from a particular tax bracket
- You’re mainly from the Central Business District
- You like to objectify straight males who serve you booze
The place is fun don’t doubt that, but there are micro-aggressions you experience as a person of colour in such spaces.
Sometimes the underwear-clad straight boys working at the bar will overlook you and serve everyone else around you. Usually, the people who were around you were white.
Sometimes, I might be inclined to tip well, but when that happens the bartenders do lose out on whatever tip I was gonna give them because I’ve been ignored for so long.
I can concede that sure, these clubs get busy and they can’t get to everyone, but for it to have happened to me regularly on more than one occasion, means that there is definitely some grain of truth here.
We won’t also delve into the problematic objectification of straight males and slippery slope it causes.
I get that some spaces are geared and advertised towards a particular market, but that doesn’t mean you exclude other potential customers and markets. That would be turning away money.
I was initially hesitant to go to Zer021, and it took a while to grow on me, and there was a reason for it.
That reason was that I was unfamiliar being in a queer space where the patrons were predominantly people of colour who looked like me.
The fact that I needed to adjust to a space where most of everyone around me looks like me, should indicate just how fractured Cape Town is and the racial dynamics at play in its spaces, not just queer ones.
The interesting thing about Zer021 is also how it has more inclusion of queer people that aren’t just gay men:
- There are more drag queens
- There are more lesbians (not just gay men)
- The prices are more affordable for queers of colour
- The people who are bartending aren’t dressed in underwear – and some are gay and some are straight.
I was having a conversation about another friend, who I had mentioned to that I was going to be writing about this, and they had asked if perhaps I was choosing to see race in an instance where there was none.
I gave him an satisfactory answer explaining my point but I’ve have since thought about it more and come to this realisation – as a person of colour, I don’t have a choice in choosing to see race, I just do.
When you’ve grown up a someone non-white, the colour of your skin and the fact that you aren’t white are one of the first things you notice.
Of course, there are those who argue that you can choose not to see race but is very problematic because there is a lot of cultural heritage, identity and socio-economic status linked to race. It ignores those and gives someone the ability to see part of a person, not the whole.
Also lets not forget that racism is a thing.
Things are not always blatantly related to race but it does play a big part of the conversation. Even more so in queer culture where many people still see whiteness as something to be achieved.
I’m also a part of this problem given how I typically am attracted to white men.
I am NOT solely attracted to and interested in white men, but for a majority of my dating years I have been attracted to them. That doesn’t rule out me being interested a person of colour in the future.
However, I’m still a part of the issue.
Me and constantly ending up liking white Afrikaner guys: pic.twitter.com/dihCqBD6tl
— King of Awkward & Angst (@thelionmutters) January 3, 2018
Of course, when looking outside of these two predominantly gay spaces, you will be able to find spaces that cater to those within the queer community who don’t identify as gay or don’t identify to a singular gender, but those spaces are even more limited, and it’s something you have to look into, not something you easily stumble across.
Like many things that come with being queer, these things are things you learn over time, often on your own.
With all this said, I LOVE CAPE TOWN.
It is very problematic and has a laundry list of issues that it needs to work on. Don’t even get me started on the problematic portrayal of coloured people specifically and how we’re only seen as caricatures.
It’s a lot.
Cape Town does have its good qualities but doesn’t always put it on display.
Race plays a big part in our daily lives and our spaces – queers not excluded. I hope that in future, posts like this are relics of a bygone era, but alas, that time can’t come soon enough in my opinion.