For all its diversity and inequality, the inclusiveness of Johannesburg sometimes cathces me by surprise. South Africa still has a long way to go towards being a fully equal society, and there are times when it seems terribly segregated. But here in the heart of the “Rainbow Nation,” there is an energy of improvement and an economic drive that seems to transcend much of the racial weight that has for so long been a burden on this society. The people of Joburg are driven and hopeful, and see themselves as part of a cosmopolitan city, rather than just members of any race, ethnic group or gender.
This past weekend, I saw this positivity and inclusivity in action. I was lucky enough to win tickets to the Grand White Dinner, courtesy of Marie Claire Magazine. The concept of the Grand White is fairly simple: the day of the event, you get a text with the location of the party. Show up dressed in all white (with a touch of green), bring along a picnic and drinks, find your seat a long table and decorate (with more white and green), then enjoy the atmosphere and dance floor into the night.
On Saturday we found out it would held on the green of a horse racing track, and we donned our all-white outfits and packed a bag with food and drink. We took Uber to the venue, which turned out to be a good decision because there was a terrible traffic backup to get into the single parking entrance. We had to wait at the gate, anyway, because they were only letting guests onto the greens between races.
Once we got in, we found our table and pulled out our picnic wares. Despite what I had thought was a solid spread of cheeses and meats and cute little cookies all served up on adorable green and white polka-dot plates, it quickly became clear we were woefully underprepared. Our neighbors on either side had gone all out with green tablecloths, real champagne flutes and floral centerpieces and candles. At least we got the dress code right!
It really was a cross-section of Johannesburg society, with a great mix of all ages and races and styles. It was such a fun and jubilant atmosphere, with everyone having the greatest time. We watched the couple who won “best-dressed” get engaged on stage, and struck up conversations with our table partners. There were fire-dancers and sparklers and loads of creative costumes. I learned that South Africans love line dancing as much as my relatives in Georgia do!
I ended the night feeling buzzed and with the knew-found knowledge that everyone looks good in white. As much fun as I had, I couldn’t help but think that the only thing missing from The Grand White is a unifying sense of purpose. Perhaps it could raise money for charity, or bring awareness to some cause. The FAQ for the event even claims that “there is no goal other than for spending an extraordinary afternoon and evening together with amazing family and friends.” The again, the Grand White did such a good job of bring people together, that maybe that’s reason enough.