If I may, I would like to begin by invoking the following disclaimers.
The positions I am going to discuss hold in so far as you accept the follow that “Blackness” exists in a context that when projected onto bodies in its various manifestations it dehumanizes the experience of being human. This holds true in a similar sense for the projection of identities like “African” under particular contexts. This conversation also holds in so far as you accept that some kind of Affirmative consciousness is required for individuals in order to overturn the internalised and externally and influenced experience of the legacy of colonisation, so called neo-colonisation and other forms of domination exacted upon them. Then from this point forward the process through which these base objectives are resolved will be henceforth be referred to as “Decolonisation”.
Now with this said, digging right into reflections of my personal experiences of conversations about Race in particular. Discussions and debates held in classrooms, lecture theatres, various public spaces, office spaces, pubs, living rooms and even clubs! I have noticed that when we discuss the past and present segregation that haunt and cloud our cities and separate us on the streets. We tend to look very inwardly as South Africans. We invoke a language to discuss the legacy of Apartheid that to some extent has become reasonably well developed and consolidated in popular public discourse, from my observation.
In some senses in this country, I think we are darkly lucky. We have an “enemy” to point to for various explicitly racial crimes. The National Party of old was so bluntly and unapologetically racist that they brushless codified into laws what many similarly racist Governments around the world managed to execute through more subtle means. Their distinct lack of subtly, in fact, has gifted us a weapon but I’m afraid this is one that is undoubtedly a double edged sword.
I have encountered many people coloured with different shades from several parts of the globe that have come discover their “blackness” in South Africa. Peoples who have been subjected to our well known racially charged spaces. In particular what I have found interesting is engagements with some self-identified East Africans and West Africans and their experiences particularly in Cape Town. I’ve become accustomed to the idea of “discovering blackness” here. Said in a sort of resigned, negative tone, but to be honest – while I can empathise with that feeling – I am not convinced that, in the context of our shared history, this is a net negative experience to have. I am convinced that there is great strength that we can derive from these realisations, and discoveries of the seemingly infinite manifestations of “blackness”. If we think about the former colonies that are now regarded, on some level, as racially homogenous. A “black consciousness” of sorts it’s definitely still required in so far as they still exist in a space that is still tangibly affected by the legacy of colonial domination. The “whiteness” of these spaces is hidden by the absence of White faces, and yet it exists in the echo of the languages that control the ebb and flow of social mobility within the former colonies. It is still present as a shadow on our political structures and is a not so transparent spectre haunting the organisation of our economies. It is necessary for us to recognise “blackness”, even in the absence of the physical manifestation of the “white man”.
So I think I’m not alone in being confronted by the suggestion that South Africans are fanatical about “race”. I hear that we fixate on something so specifically but unable to see the so called “bigger picture”, accused on emphasising infringements on human dignity that may or may not be “there”. Apparently we are trapped and traumatized by our particularly peculiar history, but actually I wonder.. If this isn’t as it appears to be on the surface. I wonder if the conversations about “blackness” and “whiteness” in environments similar to those found in South Africa are actually going to be crucial leverage points in understanding how a decolonisation movement could exist.
It is of course true that because of Apartheid we have indeed been traumatised. We continue to experience events, spaces, and people who continue to exercise actions that ring clearly of racially charged violence in the present day. It is of course true that we have been sensitised in particular ways to be the touch of the domination of “whiteness” upon our bodies. In fact, many black bodies across all classes and creeds in this country have been developing shared concepts to discuss the awareness of the “whiteness” of institutions that govern our lives at various levels. There is definitely awareness among us, the conversations is happening amongst us, but we often lack coordination, and there are definitely real barriers to entry to engaging with radical ideas of any kind that are well worth acknowledging.
Now, with the Apartheid context so fresh in our minds, quite often our internal conversations about “blackness” definitely overpower thoughts about “blackness” in the global context. All too often we simple homage to this point by declaring – almost exasperatedly – that “racism exists everywhere”. We actually need to climb in and connect the dots between histories that were forcibly separated – and yet be cognisant that our collective unity would be an entirely new construction in its own right, and not a reversion to Utopias that never were. I think that in general, conversations about Race, and reconciliation in context of race limited to language steeped in the importance of national identities imposes unnecessary restrictions onto the conversation that can potentially distract us from one of the most significant pillars of anti-oppression movements in the broadest sense I can think of…
“We are all connected”
And it’s not a pie in the sky, through-away comment, or some kind of abstract academic declaration. It’s a point that I feel has really yet to seep through and become integrated in everyday conversations about the experience of “blackness” in this country. We use phrases like reconciliation quite a lot down here since the advent of the controversial Truth & Reconciliation Commission. It’s doctrine of forgiveness has raised anger in the chests of many who have not taken kindly to being told how and when they should reconcile. It’s inherent problems and limitations are well discussed and widely known within our borders. I suppose it would be better to say, they’re successes and their failings are intuitively felt by the citizens of the present day. Here we are. Largely unreconciled.
I wonder though how often we realise what a Pandora’s box we had opened when we endeavoured to undertake this approach. I wonder how often we realise that the reconciliation we seek is one that does not know borders. It is one that is heavily dependent on the experience of the lives of our brothers and sisters spread out across the planet we call home.
We cannot vanquish “blackness” in its dehumanising context in South Africa by focussing only on what is happening within our borders. We need to take advantage of the language that we have developed and not be held hostage by the idea of Apartheid; we need to use our conversations about Apartheid as a tool to dismantle the remaining binding and constraining structures created by the domination that has checkered our past.
As I see it we will need to see a ground swell of movements that portray a diversity of positions on “how” decolonisation processes can be materialised beyond “the self”, and impact institutions in particular. It will be very important for us to share stories to supplement the severally lacking formal education options that we are still struggling to provide for all our citizens. We will need to fill in the gaps, so that no child believes they exist in an ahistorical context. We need to encourage a spirit of healthy debate, respect, and commit ourselves to addressing with equal vigour the injustices experienced by other forms of oppression. Acknowledging that which acts upon our minds, spirits and bodies, as well that we exact upon others.
We are already in a period of the evolution of ideas that aim, at the very least, towards our ever moving collective targets. While we are strategic in our thinking and our actions, we will need to embrace the critiques of various movements that exist to address injustices that “we” may be unable to see. We must be prepared, each and every one of us, to step across all kinds of intersecting privileges to engage with one another, to break through to a space where we are actually able to develop solutions for peaceful, and bring about a tangibly more equitable cohabitation.
There is a definite clear need to embrace, recognise and continuously update the complex histories of our past, all the while safe-guarding against the production of ahistorical thoughts. Let’s remember to look deeper and further than Apartheid, fulfilling our commitment to address our very own, quite specific, manifestation of race hate.
I contend to you, as several others have done, that “Apartheid”-like systems have existed all over the world at various times. Let us recognise our dark gifts. Let us shape our powerful, substantial songs of struggle and unlock the potential of global solidarity by using the tools sharpened to dismantle Apartheid with the aim of breaking ground towards the aspiration of the process we now emphatically call “Decolonisation”. This message holds true to anti-oppression movements all over the world. Let’s do a little bit more than simply pay sporadic tribute to the essential truth, to the fundamental pillars holding up the dreams of social equality. Let take seriously, the fact that indeed..
“We are all connected”
These sentiments, I suspect carry for many spaces across the globe, and hold true for many different variations of the same core conversation. I would suggest to you, in closing, that if it takes places like Cape Town (South Africa in General) or spaces in the United States, or even Brazil for you to realise the realness of your “blackness”. If you need spaces like these to help you recognise the distinct taste of abstract “whiteness”, then my friend – welcome this, conscientisation is something we’re all going to have to do, and I encourage you to embrace it and face it..
“By any means necessary”