Friday, 16 January 2015

Demystifying Race

The premise upon which differences between races of human beings are said to exist, that human beings can be classed into four or five divisions in consequence of complexion is flawed. This flaw has resulted in great confusion and has made human beings see themselves as more different than they are similar. The world has, over the centuries, adopted a definition of race based on the physical appearance of human beings. This definition has been maintained and often used to back the science of discrimination against the people of colour, with a special focus on black people. This prejudice continues to be at the core of interactions between the people of South Africa. 

In an attempt to overcome this prejudice I have sometimes thought it progressive to reject my blackness and to adopt a non-racial identity. The universal declaration of human rights has cushioned me in this pursuit while the idea of a rainbow nation has filled me with hope of unity. Through an ongoing pondering upon my blackness I have understood, sometimes with great difficulty, that there is an ideological force waging against black people the world over; and that by virtue of being born black, I am often at the receiving end. 

In South Africa it has become common practice to suggest that black people should forget the past and embrace the future as a response to their cries about the prevalence of apartheid through its legacy. As a black person, this translates into shedding one’s blackness as a means to overcome the imbalances of the past; to get over apartheid and “get with the program”. This is in stark contrast to my reality where there is no space in South Africa that I can step into without being reminded of my blackness.  While in the past my blackness made those of my kind to endure gross discrimination, my blackness continues to be a thorny issue in present day South Africa. My kind are said to be reverse racists. It is an encouraged proposal – this shedding or rejection of my blackness and instant colour blindness. It is designed to make me fit in, to be accepted in so-called ‘white’ spaces. Remarks such as “you speak so well” and “you are not like the others” are evidence that you are making progress in shedding your blackness. It is further reinforced through subliminal messages on the television that promote whiteness. 

The emergence of the black middle class is the ultimate ace in the sleeve as it rubber stamps the idea of an integrated society, perpetuated by a false understanding of race. It allows those who benefited from the past an opportunity to rid themselves of the guilt and privilege.  Furthermore, for political reasons, the use of racial categories in the process of designing policies and strategies for a non-racist society is problematic if no consideration is given to more fundamental questions about its efficiency for ongoing social analysis. This approach has shown the impact of racist practices as a factor in understanding South African society post 1994; but does not acknowledge that the majority of the people continue to be victims of apartheid’s legacy.

In an attempt to get a better sense of socio-economic interactions between blacks and whites, and simultaneously shed light on better race relations in post-apartheid South Africa, one needs to point out that the real problem in South Africa since the advent of democracy is an economic one. The African National Congress-led government has adopted an approach to race that has resulted in no revolutionary change in the economic structure of South Africa since apartheid in 1948, and in that a few blacks are now in the privileged class thereby creating the illusion of racial integration. It also needs to be said that as a consequence of apartheid, most black people are subject to poverty. This further makes complex the distinction between the economic and racial nature of the struggle between blacks and whites.

The realization that we are united in race can be a great starting point to address the economic disparities that exist between black and white. To label incidences between black and white people as racially charged is but a symptomatic treatment of the economic problem. Pretending that the new faces of government have brought about real and meaningful change in the lives of the ordinary people needs to stop because it maintains and protects white privilege.