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Ethnic Unbonding in South Africa Essay

Manuel Castells notion of ‘ethnic unbonding’ refers to: the gradual withdrawal certain African-Americans are undergoing, so that they no longer are a member of their initial ethnic group. ‘Ethnic unbonding’ is a process where individuals remove themselves from their ethnic groups, because they are either ashamed or humiliated to be associated as part of a stigmatized ethnic identity. “So, race matters a lot. But, at the same time, the class divide among blacks has created such fundamentally different living conditions that there is growing hostility among the poor against those former brothers that left them out.

Most middle-class blacks strive to get ahead not only from the reality of the ghetto, but from the stigma that echoes from the dying ghetto project on them through their skin. They do so particularly, by insulating their children from the poor black communities (moving to suburbs, integrating them into white-dominated private schools), while, at the same time, reinventing an African-American identity that revives the themes of the past, African or American, while keeping silent on the plight of the present” Castell, M p.57.

Manuel Castell raises cognizance to the fact that black South Africans are gradually disassociating themselves from their original ethnic identities. (‘Black South Africans’ refers to the non-white individuals of South Africa, those who were disadvantaged and traduced in the homelands during the Apartheid regime). These ethnic unbonding patterns were first noticed among African-Americans and now South Africans too are gradually adopting them.

Citizens split from their ethnic groups to mainly better their lives, since being a part of a stigmatized ethnic group cannot ensure a successful and pleasant lifestyle. Parents want a better life for the children and they find that to live a better quality lifestyle one needs to firstly get an education. So they get a good education and become a success in life only to put their stigmatized ethnic background behind them, to avoid risking the loss of their achievements. Ethnic performances are rarely practised and individuals lose sight of where they come from.

“In the last two decades, geographers have become extremely interested in the issue of ethnicity. Ethnic groups are found in essentially all societies. Ethnic groups are populations that feel a common bond and have a sense of common origin that distinguishes them from other groups. Religion, language, national origin, and skin colour are all used to various degrees by ethnic groups to distinguish themselves from others. It is estimated that the 200 or so independent countries recognized by the United Nations are made up of about 5000 ethnic groups.

Increased migration of people in the last 200 years has produced a complex pattern of ethnic groups. Essentially, ethnicity is a spatial concept. Ethnic groups are associated with clearly recognized territories, either some large homeland district or some smaller urban or rural enclaves in which they are the primary or exclusive occupant. In addition, they have somehow marked these places with certain distinguished cultural signs. ” (http://teacherweb. ftl. pinecrest. edu/snyderd/APHG/Unit%203/culturenotes. htm).

Ethnicity is socially important. It gives certain individuals a feeling of belonging and prevents one from feeling isolated and alone. It contributes immensely to one’s core identity, focusing mostly on the construction of one’s personal identity, and in turn having an effect on the type of person an individual turns out to be in the future. It forms the basis of an individual’s structure and agency. Ethnicity also promotes national strength which can be built from the diverse cultural resources present in South Africa.

It brings together a national identity. ‘Afrikaners historically considered themselves the only true South Africans and, while granting full citizenship to all residents of European descent, denied that status to people of colour until the democratic transition of 1994. British South Africans retain a sense of cultural and social connection to Great Britain without weakening their identity as South Africans. A similar concept of primary local and secondary ancestral identity is prevalent among people of Indian descent.

The Bantu-speaking black peoples have long regarded themselves as South African despite the attempts of the white authorities to classify them as less than full citizens or as citizens of ethnic homelands (“Bantustans”) between 1959 and 1991. Strong cultural loyalties to African languages and local political structures such as the kingdom and the chieftaincy remain an important component of identity. National identity comes first for all black people, but belonging to an ethnic, linguistic, and regional grouping and even to an ancestral clan has an important secondary status.

(http://www. everyculture. com/Sa-Th/South-Africa. html). As a result of years of racial separation and discrimination, the majority of South African citizens of which are black, have been severely ill-treated based on the colour of their skin. “A race is a population that shares visible physical characteristics from inbreeding and that thinks of itself or is thought of by outsiders as distinct. It has been used by societies to justify poor treatment of minority groups” ( http://www. sociologyguide. com/questions/ethnicity. php).

For decades black people have been slandered and stereotyped by the white superior citizens, to be uncultured individuals. White people were entirely prejudiced against the black people. ‘Prejudice is a judgment based on group membership or social status. Prejudice may be formed through both individual and group influences including socialization, rationalizing through stereotypes, the scapegoating process, reinforcement of a self-fulfilling prophecy ramification of an authoritarian personality and degree of contact with minority groups.’ http://www. sociologyguide. com/questions/ethnicity. php.

How black ethnic groups emerged? Being ethnic is relating to or a characteristic of a sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic or cultural heritage. (http://www. thefreedictionary. com. ) Just like the trends in America, black citizens of South Africa formed groups based on commonalities. These people shared hardships and sufferings, as a result of being excluded from having any opportunities and privileges, by the white superiorities.

The white citizens undermined the black citizens for centuries and thus blacks were forced to form close relationships with one another based on the fact that they had common deprivations. ‘Bantustans’ were formed in South Africa and these areas were wastelands of hardship. Residents of these areas were forced to deal with struggle and poverty thus leading to an increase in crime rate. People did what they could to survive. Stealing, drug dealing etc. all the forms of violence and corruption exploded from these areas.

Put a group of homeless and poor people together and what do you get? Chaos. White people were aware of the disorder in the homelands and ever since then stereotypes were given to black people. What provoked ethnic unbonding? Ethnic unbonding is when individuals from an ethnic group break away from their core cultural identity and instead pursue an identity of their own. Individuals mainly do this to improve their standards of living. The stigmas attached to certain ethnic groups are undesirable and individuals are afraid of being part of these unpleasant stereotypes.

Certain groups especially ethnic groups have harsh associations linked to them and for these people to improve their quality of life they need to detach themselves from their ethnic groups. The negativity one receives from being part of a stigmatized ethnic group for some is too much to handle. People want to be freed from the harmful judgements of the past, and thus completely detaching themselves from their core ethnic identity is the best way out.

‘’Race and ethnicity are central – to America, as to other societies’ dynamics – their manifestations seem to be deeply altered by current social trends. ’’ (Castells, 1997: 53). Globalisation affects people’s choices on being or not being part of an ethnic group. Westernization transforms certain cultures and moulds them into a more modernized culture, with less practices and more simplicity. Cultural identity is a victim of globalization. Culture is being altered so much by globalization and media effects that soon the culture will transform into something completely different.

According to Tomlinson, J. p. 23 states that “it is fair to say that the impact of globalization in the cultural sphere has, most generally, been viewed in a pessimistic light. Typically, it has been associated with the destruction of cultural identities, victims of the accelerating encroachment of a homogenized, westernized, consumer culture. ” Conclusion Ethnic unbonding is inevitable. Every single individual wants a decent lifestyle and a decent life is one with no racial, gender or ethnic inequalities.

Ethnic unbonding will continue to take place in South Africa as well as the rest of the world, because the desire for one to have an improved standard of living exceeds the desire to want to belong to an ethnic area. Castells concept of ethnic unbonding is a notion unknowingly practiced amongst the people of South Africa. Castell believes that individuals belonging to certain ethnic groups are developing boundaries within themselves. However, I think that people can still live a better life and yet maintain a part of their ethnicity.

Lifestyles can be adjusted so that some form of their religion and culture is integrated into their everyday life and not forgotten. Future generations might be at risk of never knowing exactly where they come from, and being clueless about their ethnic and cultural heritage. 1. Castells, Manuel. 1997. The power of identity. Cambridge, MA. Blackwell, 52-59 2. Tomlinson, John. Globalization and cultural identity http://www. polity. co. uk/global/pdf/gtreader2etomlinson. pdf(12September 2011) 3.

Definitions of race, prejudice and discrimination: http://www. sociologyguide. com/questions/ethnicity. php (12September 2011) 4. Countries and their Culture – South Africa http://www. everyculture. com/Sa-Th/South-Africa. html (12September 2011) 5. THE GLOBALIZATION OF CULTURE, AND THE GEOGRAPHY OF INEQUALITY: RACE, ETHNICITY & GENDER http://teacherweb. ftl. pinecrest. edu/snyderd/APHG/Unit%203/culturenotes. htm (12September 2011) 6. Definition of Ethnic: http://www. thefreedictionary. com (12September 2011).

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