Escape from Soccer City

By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  July 15, 2010

Imagine saying: "The blacks in New York, they're so much more sophisticated than in Boston, and so much better looking." As an American, I bristled at the woman's remarks. But is it better to say something and risk offense? At least then the possibility of dialogue and of reconciliation is opened. A candor exists here in talking about race that doesn't exist in the United States.

Keke — a black South African who grew up in Soweto — raised the idea of political correctness, how it gets taken too far, as we drove through Johannesburg. "Certain conversations you have to have," he said. Then, he spotted three white people standing on a street corner, smoking. "Hey, look," he joked, pointing out the window, "white people," as though we were on safari and they were exotic game.

I told him about the reticence, in the States, to talk about race, almost a taboo.

"It's possible to let too much go unsaid," he said. And in all the talk of transcending boundaries, bridging divides, the world joined by a ball, Keke summed it up in two sentences: "It is not a black problem or a white problem," he said. "It is a human problem."

Nina MacLaughlin can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.

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