Racism’s in­com­pat­i­bil­ity with free­dom

The Sunday Independent - - Dispatches - JEF­FREY SEHUME Roseanne The Call of the Tribe, un­ter­men­sch ■ Sehume is a con­tracted re­searcher in the pub­lic ser­vice.

TO view one­self as a mem­ber of a par­tic­u­lar race or eth­nic group is in­com­pat­i­ble with 21st cen­tury iden­ti­fi­ca­tion mod­els. Glob­al­i­sa­tion is an equaliser in break­ing down so­cial bar­ri­ers and geo­graphic bor­ders. The re­sult is that iden­ti­ties have be­come a mat­ter of in­di­vid­ual choice more than be­ing de­ter­mined by col­lec­tive no­tions of tribal or racial af­fil­i­a­tion.

This has not pre­vented some peo­ple from be­liev­ing in, and act­ing out, ideas about al­leged race and eth­nic dif­fer­ences.

The re­cent can­cel­la­tion of the tele­vi­sion sit­com by the ABC net­work is laud­able. It de­fies ra­tio­nal­ity how the star of this hit show, Roseanne Barr, can send out a racist tweet that equates per­ceived hu­man phys­iog­nomy to so­cial group iden­tity. Sci­ence has proven that there are no black or white peo­ple.

Such char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion is used sim­ply to in­clude and ex­clude oth­ers, in or­der to gain cer­tain priv­i­leges. Race is used to en­trench in­fe­ri­or­ity and su­pe­ri­or­ity com­plexes that find po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion in dis­crim­i­na­tory so­cial en­gi­neer­ing projects such as Nazism and apartheid. This is a rea­son why pro­gres­sives ev­ery­where should pro­mote in­di­vid­ual hu­man rights as a coun­ter­weight against acts like those high­lighted in the de­plorable Ash­win Willemse episode.

In ad­di­tion, the as­cen­dancy of Trump­ism and Brexit – based on na­tional su­pe­ri­or­ity – should spur even fur­ther the im­por­tance of re­viv­ing Madiba’s non-racial­ism project. As we build the hu­man­ity of all be­ings on earth, the strug­gle should be strength­ened against eth­nic affiliations that are de­scribed by the apartheid chron­i­cler, David Welsh, as in­fan­tile “pol­i­tics of eth­nic out­bid­ding” where some peo­ple iden­tify them­selves pri­mar­ily as Zu­lus or Bri­tish.

As his­tory has taught us, those who use th­ese so­cial mark­ers will be prone to use what­ever means, such as vi­o­lence or slaugh­ter, to de­fend the priv­i­leges that come with see­ing one­self mainly as a Hutu or Tutsi.

The whole apartheid en­ter­prise was built and prac­tised on the no­tion that the so-called whites were su­pe­rior to oth­ers in in­tel­lect, physique and be­ing.

Tribal, na­tional or even re­li­gious iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is re­spon­si­ble for more blood­shed than any other no­tions of hu­man char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion.

If we are to sys­tem­at­i­cally de­feat what Peru­vian au­thor Mario Var­gas Llosa terms, in his lat­est book

along with gen­er­at­ing aware­ness on the fu­til­ity of racial clas­si­fi­ca­tion, we need to re-pur­pose rec­on­cil­i­a­tion projects such as those be­gun by the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) for the ben­e­fit of this cen­tury.

Such a TRC-like project would deal with the trauma that causes some peo­ple to rely on racial mark­ers to de­fend apartheid, such as Afrifo­rum, and oth­ers to de­pend on apartheid at­ti­tudes as ex­cuses not to ex­er­cise their re­spon­si­bil­ity as ci­ti­zens. Re­gard­ing the lat­ter, Marcus Gar­vey was cor­rect that a re­fusal to as­sert one’s in­di­vid­ual ci­ti­zen­ship be­yond af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion pro­grammes is tan­ta­mount to be­trayal of the need to recog­nise that self-re­liance hinges on sel­f­ref­er­ence. As Gar­vey said, long be­fore Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko: “If you have no con­fi­dence in self, you are twice de­feated in the race of life.”

The TRC-like projects would also be use­ful not only in sourc­ing the causes of racism, but ad­dress­ing the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of so­cial ills such as vi­o­lence, poverty and in­equal­ity. As a so­ci­ety, we can­not be non­cha­lant about the per­sis­tence of our high an­nual homi­cide rate (es­ti­mated at 18 000), rape cul­ture (50 000) and enor­mous wealth in­equity.

There­fore, racism is not only in­com­pat­i­ble with in­di­vid­ual free­dom, but in­di­vid­ual hu­man rights. This makes it all the more im­por­tant that we pop­u­larise and im­ple­ment, where pos­si­ble, Amartya Sen’s ca­pa­bil­ity ap­proach. This sees so­ci­etal de­vel­op­ment as premised on the ex­pan­sion of peo­ple’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties and their abil­ity to over­come poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and in­equal­ity.

Quite clearly, apartheid and Nazism were geared to­wards sys­tem­atic de­nial of cer­tain peo­ple’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, with Nazism deem­ing some as or sub-hu­man. The avail­able plat­forms we can use for such TRC-like pro­grammes would be so­cial com­pacts or covenants which em­pha­sise that sac­ri­fices are needed to over­come con­flict­ual sit­u­a­tions and con­sen­sus can be reached if com­pro­mise is made by par­tic­i­pat­ing stake­hold­ers.

Hence the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment – Gaut­eng MEC for Com­mu­nity Safety Siza­kele Nkosi-Malobane urg­ing law en­force­ment agen­cies to work around the clock to pre­vent the re­cur­rence of cash-in-tran­sit heists in the prov­ince. Plan has to be im­ple­mented, even as con­tentious sec­tions of this vi­sion­ary blue­print are be­ing rene­go­ti­ated. The ideal of build­ing so­ci­eties with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion or prej­u­dice has to con­stantly en­gage with the fal­lacy of race and ex­pose the ab­sur­di­ties of racism, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that, as so­cial sci­en­tist Am­bal­a­vaner Si­vanan­dan said, “You can­not do away with racism by re­ject­ing the con­cept of race.” WE’LL ob­vi­ously be set­ting all your pa­pers straight and, if you wish it, we will start the process of nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion so that you can be­come French. – Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron to Mamoudou Gas­sama, 22, from

Mali. On Sun­day, he had climbed up four floors to the bal­cony of a Paris build­ing to res­cue a four-year-old boy, who was cling­ing to a rail­ing and glanc­ing at the ground be­low, while hor­ri­fied on­look­ers watched. The boy’s fa­ther, who had left him in their flat to play Poke­mon Go, faces charges of fail­ing to look af­ter his child. Macron gave Gas­sama a medal for courage and said he would be of­fered a role in the fire ser­vice.


For­mer Spring­bok rugby player Ash­win Willemse, at his old high school, Swart­berg Sec­ondary, re­cently. He walked off a Su­pers­port live show, ac­cus­ing his col­leagues of un­der­min­ing him.

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