Affectionately, we call it the Rainbow Nation: it’s bright, pretty, colourful and represents the union of groups of people who were previously denied any mix. The rainbow alone comprises primary and secondary colours – also a mix, with a bit of this and a little of that. The rainbow makes us smile; the nation not always.
Why can’t everyone see the rainbow?
Seemingly, not everyone sees the rainbow or recognises its composition. I guess it’s about how or where the light is reflected. Or, indeed, if the light is even present. Real-life current experiences prove that the sun does not shine the same way for everyone and, maybe, no one is helping everyone see the rainbow. In South Africa, we insist on categorising people into neatly defined racial groups which doesn’t work for those of mixed race. Maybe you’re not a fan of rainbows but they do exist and they must be seen. Cross-racial relations are natural even if not common. That’s all. You needn’t like it but you shouldn’t be blind to it.
The sunbeam highlights the rainbow, it shines from behind you. It will only blind you if you turn your back on the rainbow and stare into the sun.
As a member of a single race but having brought three beings into this world with a mix, I stand on the periphery of a magnificently complex journey. It’s a multi-faceted process, deeply intricate and infinite in its challenges. It’s rich, precious and valuable – just like gold at its end. But the ongoing search to share that wealth, rather than shed light on its source (the rainbow), feels somewhat unattainable. It remains largely misunderstood and not wanting further investigation. People see my race and all other assumptions follow that.
Typical comments by those blind to the rainbow
- Who will your children look like?
- Why is her sister white but she isn’t?
- You have blue eyes, your father can’t be black.
- They don’t look like you – are you sure they are your children?
- Your hair is like a shaggy dog/mop/carpet on your head.
- You won the competition because they favour lighter skin.
- Black friends not welcome but she can visit because she is “like a white”.
People stop to look at rainbows: sometimes to share in their beauty but sometimes to confirm their presence. However, many remain unaware of their own biases or misconceptions, preferring not to see the rainbow (hence the term ‘choice blindness’).
Maybe many people only see primary colours or they’ve never really paid attention to the beauty that arises when introducing a little mix. What is also apparent is that people in one group assume all others with whom they identify are of the same ken, with an assumed complicity in the same life choices and experiences. Or worse still, people of one group make sweeping statements about what people of other groups are or should be. Equally evident is the obvious discomfort experienced when a mix of hues, and wider range of possibilities, is announced. I can only imagine that the uneasiness that people feel when informed of real-life mix, with all its variations (some obvious and others not), reflects a very small world view with limited exposure: a life with little rain or little sun. I can only hope that it is not a reflection of a choice to block the light after the rain so the rainbow cannot shine, or turn to the sun in favour of blindness.
Rainbows as a reminder of possibility
Rainbows rise and then they fall. Their beautiful form is not how the world is but certainly serves to remind us of what is possible. Yes, structural inequality remains and must not be underestimated because it is as a result of this that such inane statements as those above are made. But the mix is real and the experience is valid. The possibility lies in each one of us recognising that mix happens. Just like the rainbow, there is space for beauty and structure, form and function: standing alone or mixing it up.
What lies at the end of the rainbow?
I feel I straddle two worlds: one informed by my background and physiology and the other experienced vicariously, albeit intimately, through the lives of my children. It is deeply personal but begs exposure publicly. Privately painful, my unrequited joy could still be recompensed when we all embrace seeing the full spectrum of the rainbow and acknowledge the potential in its pot of gold. Let the sun shine from behind and reflect all that lies ahead!
Author’s note: Thank you to SAFREAN colleague, Neesa Moodley, for editing this post.