South Africans rejoiced earlier this month when Nelson Mandela returned to his Johannesburg home after a three-month stay at a Pretoria hospital. He had been hospitalized for lung problems, and had -- in the past -- contracted tuberculosis while he spent 27 years in prison challenging South Africa's government.
Mandela is among the most well-known figures in the fight against apartheid in his country. Elected as president in 1994, the Nobel laureate represents the end of the unjust white minority rule that had been a reality for over 40 years.
In April of last year, South Africa marked the 18th anniversary of the end of apartheid and is now hailed as the "Rainbow Nation." South Africa boasts citizens of many varying nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. Additionally, it has the largest economy in Africa and is a member of BRICS, a group of influential countries with quickly growing economies that also includes Brazil, China, India and Russia.
It is important to remember, however, that the nation is still affected by the shadow of its very recent past.
According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, white per capita income is nearly eight times higher than that of black South Africans, and the level of relative poverty is at 42 percent for black Africans, while it is only at 1 percent for white citizens.
The unemployment rate is high in South Africa, and as a consequence, so is the crime rate. Add in the socioeconomic inequality that corresponds with color lines and you have a perfect recipe for hot, steaming racial tension.
Additionally, in recent years there has been a huge increase in the murder of white farmers. This is probably a result of the fact that whites principally own the country's farmland. It is grossly unfair that whites should own a disproportionate lion's share of the land, but the violent killings of innocent individuals with families to take care of are most certainly unjust and uncalled for.
Despite this tumultuous racial atmosphere, many idealize the current state of affairs in the "post-apartheid" era of South Africa. In the same way, many American citizens insist that the U.S. has entered a colorblind, "post-racial" era.
Subscribing to the ideas of "post-racial" and "post-apartheid" societies are problematic because they allow us to remain ignorant of how pervasive race has become in our society. We overlook and ignore. We become callous of the daily struggles of others.
What has happened in South Africa after the deconstruction of apartheid resembles the Reconstruction era of the U.S. Poor white Americans, delegated to the near-bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy after the abolition of slavery, alienated the group of people who were just as marginalized as they were -- poor, recently-freed black Americans. Consequently, wealthier individuals with political influence were able to play anti-black sentiments in a way which gave way to the Jim Crow era.
Unions between blacks and white farmers and workers were discouraged. If the poor blacks and the poor whites had allied together against the wealthy and powerful, we might be living in a different sort of country now.
In much the same way, there is great misunderstanding between poor white Africans -- who are growing in numbers -- and poor black Africans.
The problem could be seen as being strictly race when it is truly at the intersection of race and class. It also is necessary to mention that there exists a significant Asian-African segment of the population, mostly comprised of people of Indian descent; however, their grievances are often completely ignored in what has become a strictly black and white discussion.
If we wish to change a society for the better, we must unite and listen to all sides of an issue, taking care not to be selfish in our concerns. We will never be post-race, post-apartheid, post-homophobia or post-sexism if we do not have conversations in which everyone is included and in which everyone listens.
Mandela, though released from the hospital, remains in an unstable condition. He and his doctors will be proceeding with caution and alertness, and so should we when faced with the notion of a post-anything era.
Andrea Richardson is a sophomore in anthropology. She can be reached at a firstname.lastname@example.org.