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‘Assumed to Have a Race’: Everyday Encounters of Refugees with Racial Ascription in South Africa

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Scholars studying racialization processes in South Africa have largely focused on South African nationals. There is limited literature on the everyday experiences of non-South African communities with racial ascription in post-apartheid South Africa. I address this overlooked phenomenon by interviewing how first-generation Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town experienced racial ascription in their everyday interactions with South Africans. Convenience and snow-ball sampling were used to select participants. As part of a larger project involving 46 participants that explored various interrelated topics, analysis of the topic that examined everyday experiences of racial ascription resulted in the identification of five common themes. The themes were: racialized as Colored, racialized as Indian, racialized as both Colored and Indian, racialized as Black and racialized as ambiguous. Drawing on participants’ experiences I argue that South African racial labels which were originally constructed to classify South African nationals are experiencing discontinuity and limitations in light of increased immigration flows in post-apartheid South Africa. I further argue that South African racial boundaries in everyday life tend to be porous and fluid which contradicts rigid racial categories reflected on bureaucratic forms which assume a sharp demarcation between the different categories.




Tewolde, A. I. (2020). ‘Assumed to Have a Race’: Everyday Encounters of Refugees with Racial Ascription in South Africa. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, 18(4), 375–389.

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