Cup shows us unity in diversity

The World Cup has given us experience of diversity as the norm.


quote A sense of not fully belonging shapes people quote

The distinction between who belongs and who is a guest has been blurred, rendering us all guests and citizens. The mixing of so many cultures makes people curious, tolerant and even bemused by each other’s idiosyncrasies, realising that they are equally different and, therefore, equally the same.

This experience is in sharp contrast to the situations many South Africans find themselves in, where people congregate in familiar groups and according to rank even if the purpose of the event is to encourage social integration.

At a social gathering, you notice immediately who feels like a fully fledged member, certain of their privilege and belonging, and who wears their demeanour like ill-fitting clothes that they try to pass off as comfortable. You understand this if you have had the experience of being junior in status and have had to go into the suites where those in power reside. Or, when you attend a function as a “partner” and have no connection with the people or the celebration.

Not knowing where you fit in, you have a feeling of literally not knowing where to put yourself, what you are entitled to take and what you are allowed to ask for or demand. You see other people helping themselves to facilities or refreshments and you touch nothing until you are offered or invited to by someone who knows their position in the pecking order, also a mystery to you.

Power and a sense of not fully belonging or having personal legitimacy shapes how people feel in a room, even how they experience being in their own skin. In social situations, the attempts by those whose belonging and privilege are assured to make new members feel welcome by emphasising their sense of comfort, for example, by putting on an air of conspicuous nonchalance as they indulge in exotic, luxury food and drink, only serves to highlight the gap and consequent discomfort of those who feel unsure and out of place.

Even knowing that your fear of overstepping the boundary is unfounded because you have been reassured of your right to partake as a fully fledged member, you cannot help treading with the tentativeness of someone in fear of public sanction and consequent humiliation. The other extreme would be to rebel and emphasise your entitlement, challenging people to prove their claim that you are an equal.

The Fifa World Cup will, hopefully, be a model of how we can rise to the challenge of making all South Africans feel that their belonging and entitlement are assured.

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