The Racist Incident... from Elska Cape Town


This sort of thing isn't easy to talk about, but when Elska's two values of honesty and positivity clash, I always opt for honesty. And honestly, I was worried before I got to Cape Town that I wouldn't like the place. The legacy of apartheid was still heavy twenty-five years on, at least in my mind, making most of my ideas about South Africa tainted with racism. 

To my relief, my experience making Elska Cape Town was not what I'd dreaded, and the men I met seemed committed to a fair and just present and future for all residents of their country. However, that isn't to say that race is no longer an issue, and a few of the men wrote of it in their stories, but at least for me during my visit to the country, racism did not overwhelm my experience. However there was one racist incident, and sharing it here I believe provides a good example at how endemic racism can be, so ingrained that one might not even recognise it as problematic.

So I was doing a shoot with someone who I will not name, and we were just wandering around his neighbourhood looking for locations. One of the most enduring memories of Cape Town Shoot Week was that people would often interrupt our shoots. Sometimes kids might ask for a photo with the 'model', or a few ladies would come over to fix the subject's hair or adjust his shirt, or a group of teenage girls would tease the subject about how good he looked. But when a coloured boy ('coloured' is the South African term for 'mixed race') interrupted this subject to ask what we were doing, this subject fobbed him off in an almost aggressive tone. He spoke in Afrikaans so I can't tell you what exactly he told the boy.

We walked away, and as we left the subject told me, "these people are so uncivilised." He carried on, elaborating on "these people", describing with contempt how differently they behaved. Now it is true that whenever I encountered 'jovial interruptions' in Cape Town (like the girls teasing the subjects), they came from black or coloured people, never from apparently more reserved white residents. But to term such social variances with a word like "uncivilised" is upsetting as it characterises 'them' as 'lower' or 'beneath' rather than simply 'different'. 

One of the things I've learned from making Elska is how different yet all the same we are, and how any differences do not separate us but just make us more interesting. Perhaps he just didn't see it that way, or perhaps what he said was just a habitual reaction that he didn't even notice as problematic. I won't comment too much though as in fairness two weeks in Cape Town making this issue was not long enough for me to make a proper assessment of a complex society and history, but it is clear that tensions still exist in South Africa.

Ultimately I very much enjoyed making the issue and am proud of it, even if it is also by far our lowest selling issue out of sixteen Elska cities. Perhaps the dramatically lower sales are related to a larger amount of men of colour in its pages and an endemic racism in the gay community ('gaycism'), but that's another topic for another time.