Presentation Day.

  T H A N K   Y O U

Sinceninedfour is a project funded by Santander Banks. In addition to funding a lot of the equipment I used for interviews, the generosity of Santander (and Bernadette Pearson) helped cover my living expenses while I spent this past semester in Cape Town. Today I gave the formal presentation for the cultural investigation project, sinceninedfour. I wanted to take the time and reflect/ show gratitude for all of the individuals who made this project possible. I would like to thank my editor Bilqis Deaney who was instrumental in making sure all of my writing was up to par before I posted anything online. I would also like to thank ALL of the individuals I interviewed for the posts (there’s too many to mention but all of you made sinceninedfour possible). Although not featured on the site, I did extensive filming of the #shackville protests and I would like to thank the members of RMF for letting an outsider into a world that I don’t think that I can ever truly understand. Peace and blessings to the youth of Cape Town who opened to my eyes to what is possible – my creative growth in the past six months is all because of you. Special shout out to my right hand in Cape Town Harold Galeta who held it down for me on many occasions and brought me to Gran’s for a home cooked meal.

Another project that didn’t reach completion was a short documentary about Manenberg. The project was not completed because I personally felt like the direction of the project was not conducive to the narrative of the area. To the people that I met while I spent time there: thank you for your hospitality I felt so welcomed and you are often on my mind. The producers of the Manenberg project were Cecile Morden & Felicia Esau; to the both of you THANK YOU from my heart, I really enjoyed our time together.

Very special thanks to my Woulmunsters (you know you are) for being my family while I was working on the project. I love you all dearly and I miss you all.

Thank you to the Bentley University Office of International Education & Santander for providing me with this opportunity – my life has been changed (for the better) because of what you have given me. Thank you to Christine Hollenhorst from Bentley International Ed for checking in on me in SA and for guiding me through the application process.
To anyone reading this blog: sinceninedfour is trying to answer the essential question,

Where are we now?

I believe that this question is a HUMAN question and although it may never be fully answered I think its important that we are all are heard, appreciated and respected. This question is a step forward to solving the unanswerable. Thank you for your beautiful time I really appreciate it.

– Mal / sn4




The video above is a collection of conversations I had with individuals who are coloured. The four main questions throughout the interviews conducted were:

  1. What is your racial heritage?
  2. 2) Do you feel as though coloured people are under represented in South Africa?
  3. In your opinion are there boundaries to opportunity because of your race?
  4. Does race matter in post – apartheid South Africa   

In some sense, I think I am just trying to make sense of the whole “coloured” thing. In the states, being coloured is not something that anyone would identify with.  When I think of the word coloured (in a racial context) I immediately think of the Jim Crow segregation laws that existed in the Southern United States. In South Africa however it is an actual classification of race that likened to the American south it was used to segregate a population of people. From the way I understand it (in SA), coloured specifically refers to an individual of mixed descent. The “mix” is often some combination of Malay, Dutch, Indian, English and African etc.

In some ways, coloured people are living examples of the colonial history of South Africa and that’s pretty heavy to think about.  Speaking with the individuals from the video, my eyes were opened to the power dynamic between races in SA. Post apartheid, the division of race is still there – no question. Then I began to think about my own racial identity. The way I think about my racial identity is like this:

Racially I am “Biracial”: My mother is white and my biological father is black.

  However, politically speaking, I identify as black.

By politically I don’t mean any allegiance to a political party based on race, I’m speaking about my blackness through my experiences growing up as a kid. Although I was raised by a single white woman I was still able to develop a black identity. But it’s as I said earlier, my blackness came with my experiences as a person of color in the United States. I’m kind of getting at something Biko said;

“Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of mental attitude”

This quote in a way is speaking to the point I am ultimately trying to make about racial identity.  From the conversations I had with the “coloured” individuals almost all of them said that the coloured voice is under represented in South Africa today. Although the coloured population is made up of South Africa’s third largest populated racial group, many coloured people are still objected to the effects of colonialism and apartheid that has scared  the country not only socially, but economically and politically.  

My own struggle with racial identity (in my youth) almost mirrored the experience of many the people I spoke with for this video. I don’t want to sit here and try and draw out the similarities between being biracial in America to the coloured South African identity but I think there is something to be said about those who are often put in the middle of the two polar races. This “mixed” identity is an identity in it’s own right, but can sometimes make people question about their individual role in society. Ok. That was a little hectic, but basically what I mean is that for me I found it “difficult” to fit – in (racially) because in many social situations I was too black for the white kids and not black enough for the black kids. This “middle experience” is very similar to that of the coloured experience politically. I say this because when we got to the topic of agency as a coloured person almost all of the people I spoke with said that the issues are typically white and black, where the coloureds (and everyone else) are not really involved in the conversation.

Maybe I’m making too many assumptions based on a few interviews I did, but hey let’s all just pretend I’m finally getting a grasp on racial identity.

– snd4

Story written by: Malakhai Pearson

Edited by: Bilqis Deaney


an interview.



One of the reasons I wanted to study in South Africa is because I was thinking that I was going to have an evangelical type of epiphany about my individual racial identity. To the motherland type of situation. I’ve learned a lot since I have been here but in many ways, coming here has presented me with challenges that affect the way I view my own racial identity. (For one thing, here, I’m considered Colored which is a legitimate racial classification). I wanted to sit down with some of the other Black American exchange students that I have met while at UCT and have a conversation – and just maybe we could begin to break down the experience of being an African American student while studying at UCT.

story time.


Why did you choose to study at the University of Cape Town? 

LB: I wanted to study somewhere where there were a lot of Black people and I was also interested in the activism – specifically social movements. I also really wanted to come to SA but more so UCT because I wanted to immerse myself in a place where Black students were making moves in a different way from my home University.

ME: Like I said, I’m originally from Sudan – I haven’t spent time in an African context for an extended period since I was younger. I feel like as a Black student that goes to BC (a predominately White institution) I found myself lacking experiences and interactions with people of color – specifically Black students who experience the world in the way I do.

JT: I specifically choose SA because I had always wanted to study in Africa – as a homosexual male however, I knew I wanted to engage the country where I choose to study abroad. In Cape Town I knew I would be able to engage in open dialogue about homosexuality and LGBTQ issues. I had seen the protest culture here had gotten so far in terms LGBTQ rights and so I was interested in embarking on that.

How does the racial climate at UCT differ from your home university?

LB: One of the ways I was describing Cape Town / UCT to someone is that it feels like everything here is shouting all the time. It’s just loud as fuck. Whiteness is in your face, Blackness is in your face, poverty is in your face – its kind of like that with everything about the way people live here. There’s always an underlining tension. I go to Yale so it’s also intense – in many ways we have the same intense interactions but it’s not always understood in that way.

JT: What’s interesting about Morehouse is that it’s all Black male university. So in terms of how we view diversity – we see it in terms of socio-economic background, where you come from and what you subscribe to as an individual. So what diversity looks like at my school is a deeper thing, it’s not surface level. At UCT it’s very different because again I’m the Black guy looking to see who I would be cool with. UCT is still racially segregated – I see it a lot when I eat in the café. I think to myself wow; people really do still group themselves based on race. There are exceptions of course but for the most part – race is the deciding factor on where they group themselves. Not so much socio – economic, it’s more complex.

ME: BC is 3.8% black. There is a lot of privilege. There isn’t a lot of room for disagreement from the mold that a lot of students aspire to. At the same time there is a tight black community at BC – there’s a solidarity and unity which has been comforting in a lot of ways. About UCT, overall though, it’s very diverse and it’s a testament to the Rainbow nation of South Africa. In the classroom students are very vocal (especially black students) and they have aright sense of entitlement. I think at BC some students lack that. UCT though still feels kind of segregated – but at the same time the diversity is kind of exhausting.

Here, do you identify more as being an American or Black.

Does race transcend nationality?

LB: I think both – or it depends on the context. I’ve never thought so much about my Americanness so much before. The ways in which being Black for me now – I think I can only think about as a Black American. I think it’s easier to find myself in Black social situations than a White American student would. For me, I really connected with some of the RMF people form an activist’s standpoint – so much of it is similar in terms of experiences and what motivates people to be a part of it. In a lot of those moments I do feel like I’m on the same page – but never entirely.

ME: What I didn’t think about before coming here was how big a role my American nationality was going to play in terms of me being here. I’m constantly reminded the minute I open my mouth that I am American. I think about my privilege – what does it mean to have an American passport, what does it mean to have this accent? People can view me in a certain context and that has been a big part of my experiences here. At first I didn’t want people to just see me as another American but at the same time I’m proud of that, America is my home. Here I’m colored but I don’t think the texture of my hair or shade of my skin makes me less black or less African.

JT: I’m American by experience but when I think of my ethnicity I am a Black man. And I love when I meet a South African, or I meet someone from Zim or Botswana and I ask them what is your ethnicity? They say – I’m Black. When I was coming here – sometimes you try and connect with your roots. In that discovery I realized that we are one still…despite growing up on two different continents. Being black is not just an American thing – its only American from my experience. We share similar experiences despite where we are from – I’m a Black person.


Has your time in Cape Town influenced the way you think about your own racial identity?

LB: As someone who is racially ambiguous – I have a thing when traveling where I look like I don’t belong anywhere – people think I’m Dominican sometimes. South Africa is the first place I’ve been where I look like I could be from here. But at the same time I don’t feel belonging for that reason. Being perceived as a colored person here – I don’t know shit about Colored culture. Its interesting that Colored is a race, it’s a diverse group of people. With that being said, it hasn’t made me feel any less black – but it makes me think of how I own my blackness and what that means for me to own blackness as a person that might not be seen in that way.

ME: I think within the time span that I’ve been here something that has shaped my perspective is my confidence with being a black woman. Whether it’s certain attention I get on campus or people responding to me in a way here – there’s no asterisk that I have to live up to. I feel more comfortable in some ways. Racially I don’t think my core identity has changed but I’ve been exposed to new ideas like, what does it mean to claim that I come from Sudan (a third world country) and what does that mean while still having this accent.

JT: I won’t say that it has changed the way I see myself. As a Black man from America now in Africa – it has just made me want to know more. I have a hunger for the WHY’s now. I don’t know – it’s so complex. It’s funny, at UCT people say they talk about race but you don’t always hear the solutions. It’s a detailed topic. But I wouldn’t say that racially I feel any different but I can say I have gained a thirst for knowledge -wanting to know the whys behind the system.


Story, photogrpahs and design: Malakhai Pearson

Editor: Bilqis Deaney







On the Web. In The News.




The video shown above (if you haven’t seen it already) is of a black female student from SFSU who is accusing a white male student of stealing her culture because he is wearing dreadlocks. The video now up to 3 million views on Youtube, has prompted yet another conversation regarding cultural appropriation. To get definitions out of the way; to appropriate something in this context means

: to take or use (something) especially in a way that is illegal, unfair, etc.

In the case of this video the example of cultural appropriation is that one individual is being accused of stealing a trait that belongs to another culture. Whether or not you are an individual who thinks cultural appropriation is a relevant issue, (or even exists for that matter) what has people talking about this video is about the way that the black student approached the white student about the topic. Ultimately, the actions of the female individual are harmful to the conversation about cultural appropriation because instead of trying to have a conversation about the individual’s hair style and why she was disturbed by it, she chose to be hostile and assaulted the man because of the way he looked. In essence her actions create a problematic context in the way people will speak on this issue because she had no right to put her hands on someone else for the reasons that she did. A hypothetical scenario, if a white male student approached a black female student in the same way for having straightened hair…

I pose that hypothetical scenario because I wanted to highlight a single point. In the case of the video this confrontation transcends issues regarding gender as well as race and culture. As much as it shouldn’t be it is very significant that the individual being assaulted is a white male and the individual responsible is a black female. What is most interesting to me about this video however is that it made me ask myself can culture be owned?

The dreadlock (the catalyst that began the confrontation) is historically a cross-cultural symbol meaning it is not necessarily specific to one culture. However from the point of view of the black SFSU student dreads belong to her culture – black culture. While I do recognize that the dreadlock may be a significant symbol within the black community; following the female student’s point of view I believe it’s problematic to claim that only black people should be able to wear dreadlocks because it belongs to black culture. By no means do I intend to downplay the significance of cultural appropriation because yes I do think it exists but in the context of this situation I feel it was unfair for the female student to pass judgment on another individual just based on his looks. Moreover, I don’t believe that the white student’s choice to wear dreadlocks is a paradigm of white privilege or appropriation at all – but this is where the line is severely blurred.

In the way that I see it, cultural appropriation truly occurs when profit or recognition is the result or motivation for adopting another culture other than your own. And here is the problem, your culture may be how you define it. But I think the most legitimate examples of true cultural appropriation exist mostly within popular culture today. Based off my personal definition (and from what I see in the video) I don’t believe that the white student is guilty of being a culture vulture because he doesn’t benefit in any way from having dreadlocks, he simply likes the way that it looks. (And I know this because there is a response video of the male student explaining what happened). What I am trying to point out is that there is a difference between appropriation and appreciation. I believe that the female student is misguided as to that difference which is why I think she acted in the way that she did.

Knowing cultural appreciation when you see it is critical to moving forward from the point that we are at now. Culture is something that is shared among people and I believe that it can be dangerous when people think that it is something that can ONLY belong to a specific group of people and nobody else. How else are we going to learn from each other if we do not develop empathy or appreciation for cultures other than what we grew up with? (That is not to say that we should change our physical appearance or dressed to truly appreciate another culture). Culture is shared, but it can also be sacred in the sense that some individuals may identify specifically to the culture that they claim. It is something that should be respected, as well as shared.









away (3 of 27)

THE UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN: During the afternoon of February the second Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) occupied UCT’s upper campus with a demonstration highlighting unfair housing allocation towards black students at the University. The demonstration (known as Shackville) consisted of a small shack likened to one of the shanty houses that can be seen in a South African township. The shack itself was constructed on the 15th and some of the demonstrators slept. in the shack that evening.

According to the protesters, they received an unmarked infringement letter stating that the demonstration would be moved by 17:00 that evening. Promptly at the stated time of removal, the protestors created a human barrier around the shack and began to sing and chant. Protesters created large fires on either side of the street and burned tires and garbage. Tensions erupted momentarily when an unidentified male attempted to step into the demonstration but was then ushered out by a protester.

“Shackville is a representation of black disposition…” called an RMF member over a loudspeaker “Of those who have been removed from land and dignity by settler colonialism – forced to live in squalor.” The protestors continued to chant and sing through the evening.

The images attached were taken by Malakhai Pearson on the day of the protests.

away (11 of 27)away (24 of 27)




Since I arrived at UCT I have had a lot of my own questions regarding race and culture in South Africa. I spent the past week interviewing current UCT students to get a sense of how relevant race is at UCT.

I compiled the interviews into the episode posted above and decided to call the series: REAL TALK UCT. With RTUCT I want to focus on speaking with students to get their opinion on topics related to race and culture.

From what I have noticed this is an ideal time to have these conversations on campus. In addition, I was surprised with some of the responses I got from the students. Two things stuck out to me MOST while doing these interviews.

  1. Colored students:  One big difference between the US and ZA is the classification of race. For those of you who may not know if you are of mixed heritage in South Africa you are identified racially as “colored”. This term is interesting to me because (I am colored coming from a white mother and black father) but also because colored is a general term to describe a very diverse set of people. Here (In South Africa) two people can identify as colored but have completely different skin tones. True, there are varying hues of skin colors of those who identify as black or white – but colored people probably have the largest amount of variation.
  2. White Africans: one thing that had me discouraged was the amount of white South Africans who did not want to participate in this series. But then I started talking to some students to figure out the reason why they opted out…and it makes sense. See, I feel like in South Africa you tend to only get two white voices – those of the uber right people who are typically racist or those on the left side of the spectrum. So I asked some white students: why the hesitation? One individual told me that she would be afraid to conduct a video interview because she was fearful that her words may be interpreted as racist. To this I thought to myself – surely someone who is NOT racist would have nothing to worry about. As our conversation continued I really began to (start to) understand the racial climate at UCT. After we finished speaking I thanked her for the time we spent talking.                                                  From the above conversation I realized that if white students (if anyone for that matter) are fearful about having an open conversation about race, then maybe something is wrong with the way race is being discussed. Everyone’s perspective is critical in this conversation because I feel as though the white voice is underrepresented and this lack of input can lead to race stereotypes because a few speak for the white masses (similarly, with any other race). She was not alone in sharing this idea with me. I think that this series and these conversations about race would benefit from contributions from people like her because her opinion probably reflects the one of many white South Africans who are fearful of being perceived as racist – but aren’t and just feel like they cannot contribute to a conversation about race.