- Black, yellow, (honorary) white or just plain South African?: Chinese South Africans, identity and affirmative action
- Transformation: Critical Perspectives on Southern Africa
- Number 77, 2011
- p. pp. 107-121
- View Citation
On 18 June 2008, while the country was still reeling from outbreaks of xenophobic violence, the Pretoria High Court issued an order proclaiming that the Chinese South Africans fall within the broad definition of ‘black people’ as contained in the nation’s affirmative action policies. Reaction to the decision was swift, angry and overwhelmingly negative; across the board, South Africans were in disbelief that the Chinese South Africans could be viewed as ‘black’. In this essay the author, a Korean American long resident in South Africa, addresses concerns about affirmative action and argues that these race-based policies are re-racialising the country. Chinese South Africans have long held an ambiguous, confused, in-between position in South Africa. In light of continuing new Chinese migration to the country, the global rise of China and its growing influence on South Africa’s economy and polity, the place and position of Chinese South Africans is further confused. Seen through the lens of the Chinese South African case, affirmative action policies impede progress toward building an inclusive, racially diverse national identity. So long as rewards are doled out solely on the basis of blackness, and blackness increasingly becomes the principal defining characteristic of South Africanness, South Africa fails to construct a national identity that reflects its history and its diversity.