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Occidental College

Publication Date

Spring 2018

Program Name

South Africa: Social and Political Transformation


Though South Africans are no longer legislatively governed by the color of their skin, race remains salient in the way individuals make meaning of themselves and the world around them. Previous scholarship suggests that citizens of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ still see race as a fixed category of difference, making socialization between races fraught and relatively rare (Finchilescu et al. 2007). This study seeks to explore how born-frees understand race in South Africa’s shifting socio-political terrain through the lens of intimate interracial relationships—a form of cross-racial contact complicated by histories of sexual stigma and constraint. Conversations with 17 ‘born-frees’ across the racial spectrum centered on how youth’s sexual and romantic desires extend past the boundaries of their own race and how youth envisage interracial intimacy. From focus groups and interviews, the author produces an interrogation of the discursive links between race and sexuality in contemporary South Africa. The study explores apartheid’s legacies, current discourses of race, attraction and desire, and hopes for the future, as well as the connections these topics present to gender, class, and space. Linking historical forces to youth’s intimate worlds, the author argues that apartheid still holds powerful influence over the way youth conceptualize, desire, and enact intimacy. Attention has to be paid, however, to the growing belief in interracial intimacy as a method of achieving a more open and accepting world, as this view suggests fissures in existing notions of race and sexuality.


African Languages and Societies | African Studies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Politics and Social Change | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies


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