Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The perpetuation of racial ideology in South Africa today

Neville Alexander addressed the Wits Democracy Debate on October 30, 2007. A summary of his presentation follows:

Affirmative Action and the Perpetuation of Racial Identities in Post-Apartheid South Africa

While Alexander recognizes that affirmative action may serve a purpose, and that only conservatives are outright against it, there are some serious problems with this policy. He argues that the problem is that affirmative action is based on a racial ideology that perpetuates racial identities; hence, the issue is how to do affirmative action without perpetuating racial identities? He is quick to add that while he may end up in the same camp with white conservatives who want to protect their racial privileges, he believes South Africa is stuck with affirmative action policies because no social revolution was implemented.

The ANC in government applies affirmative action and continues with a racial ideology to show to a majority of black people that the new regime has something to offer to them. Otherwise, the current regime would just be seen by black people as a neo-apartheid regime. However, in order to work towards non-racialism, what is needed is to re-imagine socially constructed identities and communities.

The maintenance of a racial ideology through race classification contradicts the constitution which requires non-racialism. Race thinking is entrenched through racial classification when in fact the real issue is disadvantage, not race.

Under the current regime, broad based poverty reduction is neglected and preference is given to policies that support the advancement of the black middle class. Alexander asks why it is that a white capitalist is seen as a foreigner and not one of ‘us’, but a black capitalist should be belonging to the people? This shows that racial awareness and racial ideology is still very much present and the task is then to problematize racial identities.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Comparative race relations

I have been writing a piece comparing whiteness and race relations in the United States of America and South Africa. Almost all theoretical writings on whiteness originate in the US. This is the theoretical toolbox we use when writing about whiteness in South Africa. However, I find that there are considerable pitfalls when we try to do so.

Let me just analyze one such pitfall, and arguably the most important one. In South Africa, Africans have always been a majority. The white colonial masters were always a minority who had to rely on the suppression and cooperation of the majority. Even at the height of dominance, control was rather tenuous. Today, as Africans make inroads into many areas of South African life in which they are a minority, they do so from a numerical and political position of strength. In contrast, on the Northamerican continent, the descendants of African slaves are a minority that struggles to be accepted as equal. In this quest, they are very much dependent on the white majority. Inclusion into the mainstream is a slow process and remains arduous.

Dynamics of relations and the politics of race proceed along different avenues. In Northamerica, it seems to me that affirmative action cannot be discussed beyond the two camps, either for or against. What should be serious discussion about how people live together degenerates into political bickering, replete with suspicion and grand-standing.

In contrast, the South African public debate on affirmative action and race shows intriguing levels of maturity. Over the last week, public commentators and newspaper editors discussed the effects of racial politics without the usual labels of reactionary, right wing and so on bandied about but by the most ideological and narrow-minded commentators. The aversion to enforced racial apartheid awareness leaves many with a deep suspicion of racial arguments and politics. Indeed, this is ground for hope that something new will come out of South Africa, despite the continuing legacy of apartheid.