by Phelisa Sikwata
Above are photographs of merry-go-rounds; one taken in Mfuleni, which has a predominately black population, and the other in Kenilworth, predominately white, both in Cape Town, approximately 30km away from each other. The Mfuleni merry-go-round design is one I’m used to. Every person from the township knows it, have old scars or dents from flying from it in high speed, and some (whom I’ve never understood) love being on it. Seeing the Kenilworth one, for the first and only time, wrapped me up in the bitterness that is the political and classist aftermaths that is clouding Cape Town.
In my earliest memories of being on a merry-go-round, I was instructed to hold on for dear life and I always instruct my younger sibling to do the same. Now odd years later, one taxi ride away, I was witnessing a miracle. This merry-go-round had seats, a chain to buckle up like, if you wished, a child could lift their arms up at high speed and feel the wind dance with their fingers without hesitation. But why hasn’t this design reached my side of town? What is it about children where I’m from that is seemingly undeserving of such consideration?
Yes, it could be argued that parks are vandalised in the townships; I’m not oblivious to that fact and the chains probably wouldn’t last a month. But with that said, the reasons behind this difference are the results of undermined equity.
Now my favourite folks are those oblivious to the links I’m referring to. Let’s use pop culture. The music video for Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar, for example. That video is sexy with people living their best lives at the beach, eating watermelon. In one random frame, with people loungingly performing for the camera, there’s one person of colour walking around with a metal detector in the background; the undermining of historical symbolism of black and brown bodies near the ocean, and black and brown bodies doing minute, demeaning labour just for humour (in this instance, I can only assume the reasons for the frame). I am aware that it’s a fun video with no malicious intent but when many parts of one’s life are not basking in privilege, one can’t help but find everything political. And by no means do I undermine the agency of the person of colour in the frame but share the ways we, as the human race, in our ‘forgetting’ and evolving, have made the mockery of black and people of colour palatable.
That even in one ‘innocent’ frame, with all the steps and people a video goes through before its release, there is a refusal to see and stop the little ways that perpetuates stigmas about race and class. Now that blind spot sits alongside that of the merry-go-rounds; that in the same city, the safety of black and brown children is not as considered as that of white children. This is not necessarily done deliberately either, but that absentmindedness is rooted in historical social constructs that deliberately undermine and dehumanize black lives.
The big, bad, emotionless -isms and structures, which thrive on excluding and marginalizing, influence the somewhat small things, like children of colour not having merry-go-rounds with chains to buckle up.