Race and ethnicity in South African urban history : A call to investigate “mingling” as well as “separation” in the city
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This article argues that more methodical attention should be given by historians to both the extent and nature of racial and ethnic mingling of people, ideas and cultures across the range of such potential divides in South African cities, and indeed cities beyond South Africa. Understandably, the focus of much of South African urban history has been on the origins, implementation, and effects of forms of ethnic and racial separation, especially residential segregation. Such history has commonly also focused on only one ethnically or racially categorised group in any detail. As it is, there has been relatively little research into mingling of a convivial, co-operative and creative kind, and how this was still possible and with what ideological and practical consequences after the implementation of forms of segregation from the late nineteenth century onwards. This article suggests that it is important while conducting such work to revisit our understanding of the terms race and ethnicity themselves, to explain why urban inhabitants may have perceived themselves in group terms along these lines. Mingling means the crossing of potentially rigid boundaries of group pride and prejudice that can accompany such self-identification and/or imposed categorisation, even if many doing the crossing could still retain a racial or ethnic identity among their other self-identities. It then explores concepts encompassed by the term mingling – such as transnationalism, integration, creolisation and cosmopolitanism – to explain some of mingling’s potential historical consequences. The final section uses a case study drawn from research on late colonial-era Cape Town as brief demonstration in this respect.