Please shoot this black man, South Africa

“Excuse me, can you please shoot this black man?”

Believe it or not, someone said this to me last week. It was a greeting of welcome and friendship. It’s not hard to guess that I am far from the streets of America.  

I was at Joseph and Royal’s wedding in the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, where for some reason my family and half the wedding guests were expected to attend the wedding photos. Walking around with my camera, some strangers approached, and wanting to be included in the festivities, asked me this question.

For starters, in a city known for its crime rate and gunshot wounds, “shoot” is also the word they use for taking pictures. If you’re passing any number of black children and you have a camera, you will hear shouts of, “Shoot me, shoot me!” It takes some getting used to.

The black man I shot, and his friend.

The black man I shot, and his friend.

But aside from the shooting, there was another surprising part to being asked to shoot a black man: the man's oh so casual reference to race. In South Africa, your race is a non-taboo identifying feature. This felt uncomfortable at first, and also feels like a huge relief. No one is offended by being called black, white, or coloured (which is anything in between). It’s just a fact. Every skin color carries a story and identity and relationship to privilege. And I’m finding it is so much easier to talk about privilege or inequality when we’re not uncomfortable acknowledging out loud in mixed company that we each have a race.

I was singled out at the wedding on many occasions for being a white woman, and I also shot a black man that day. Many of them, in fact. And we had a great time together.

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