HONORARY WHITE by E.R. Braithwaite


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Honorary White"" is the convenient fiction in which the South African government enfolds visiting non-Caucasian worthies to protect them from ""embarrassment,"" as it is tactfully called. E.R. Braithwaite, who got the official red-carpet treatment on a 1974 visit to South Africa, records his often confused and ambivalent reactions to the experience -- a painful challenge to the identity of any Western black. Housed in a luxury hotel (one of three or four in Johannesburg allowed to admit non-white guests) and trotted around to showcases of official benevolence and black well-being, he sought and soon found realities more appalling than anything he could have imagined in a series of contacts (sometimes surreptitious or illegal) with the residents of Soweto, the black ghetto. Braithwaite's writing is, as always, strangely ineffectual, considerably weakening the impact of his story. His attempts to project his own conflicting attitudes often sound merely defensive and petulant. His reaction to the despair and anger of South African blacks is curious. He wants to identify himself with their pain, but sometimes resents and resists their initiatives in the same direction (he hasn't done anything to them, so why are they accusing him of letting himself be used by the government?) -- then guiltily readjusts his conscience. As he leaves after six weeks, he is struggling with a decision about whether to accept a university lectureship that will bring him back for three to six months. A valuable, even unique perspective, conveyed with less than telling clarity.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1975
Publisher: McGraw-Hill