What is Black?
Am I black enough?
These are questions that has become of interest to me in recent times. This question has become closely tied to my acceptance of the ways in which the colour of one’s skin effects their experience of the world. This has been evident in the spaces I grew up in as a child, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa with not more than a handful of White persons in our schools or in our Public spaces at any given moment. Blackness still existed there. Divisions between more recent Apartheid constructions of race cut visible lines into the social landscape of what I encountered.
Coming to Cape Town. As I have discussed several times on this blog, was a different story altogether. White Domination in its various manifestations coloured the feeling of being racialised in a different light.
For a country as precariously placed with racial inequality as South Africa, one would assume that knowledge the history behind our problems would be a subject passionately discussed in schools and yet I did not find this to be the case. Access to History feels gated and complex, sometimes impenetrable and quite honestly so painful that many prefer to just look forward.. And in so doing doom themselves and the children they are charged with, to form reincarnations of unlearned lessons from our bloody past.
The continued discovery of my family history, of Africa’s history, has forced me to accept very many things about the present day. One of which is the understanding that the divisions we had are not there as a product of “Human nature”, they are not inventions of the inevitable corruptness of our beings. They are the product of ancient, violent structures that have flowed like insidious gasses through history, filling the size of whatever container we create for it. Whether that vessel is my head. My body. An institution or even a National border. The racialisation of people was a violent, cold, calculated process birthed through colonialism under the premise that certain peoples occupied a space on this Earth that was sub-human. “Natural Slaves”.
Now no one person is “black”. No one person is “white”.
If one accepts that the consequence of these social constructs in our societies is that social, economic and political capital are tied, unjustly, to the arbitrary categorization of one’s race – among other factors of their identity & subsequently to different extents – and if one accepts that this is in fact unjust. Then, as I understand it, one is committed to a position of non-racialism.
It is worth noting here that it is immediately evident that race constructs itself differently in different contexts but what I hope we can both agree is that no matter the shape of the construction we are all undesirably affected by the impact of the social construct “race” and some a disproportionately affected by this construct in a great multitude of ways that is difficult if not impossible to comprehend from a position of privileged ignorance (Read White Ignorance, Charles Mills).
Blackness & Whiteness are not real and I invoke them only in the hope to help destroy the manner in which those constructions affect our lives socially, economically and politically.
Black Power. Black Consciousness.
As I understand it are political strategies employed to weaponise race with the explicit intention of destructively influencing the effects of so called “White Supremacy”.
Briefly, “White Supremacy”, in itself, need not solely be understood as hooded members of the Klu Klux Klan riding in mobs or as explicit Apartheid Government laws that directly restrict access and distribute various forms of capital on explicitly racial lines. No. “White Supremacy”, birthed from Colonialism, is a System is centered on the promotion of the belief that what it is to be “white” is superior. It is under this system that persons are racialised. So long as persons are still experience the effects of what it is to be “black”, “white”, “coloured” or otherwise so called “White Supremacy” is still under effect.
This is to be distinguished from “ethnocentrism” which is rooted in cultural bias, as I understand it.
Black Power. Black consciousness.
Adopt the position that by creating an affirmative race consciousness for those who are disproportionately harmed by the system of “White Supremacy”, they are able to equip themselves as persons, collectives and institutions that are acutely aware of the ways in which constructs of race impact their lives.
“Who” is black?”
Black Power. Black consciousness.
Should be seen as an important tool to fight against race oppression. We exist under the banner of a number of forms oppression and so we should expect to have many tools at our disposal. It is for this reason that I see it strategically useful to consider “non-white” persons black. “Blackness” in it’s many different shades under that grouping not only illustrates the absurdity of race but also provides the advantage of providing a language of solidarity for persons negatively affected by the birth of the “White” construction. That is not to say that upon the adoption of this grouping that all non-white members experience Blackness in the same way.
Depending on the scenario, it may be strategic to augment certain tools to fight multiple issues.
In contexts like South Africa where both income and racial inequality are both closely tied to one another at somewhat dramatic levels. It may be expedient for a movement to mobilise under the “black experience” while explicitly invoking the language and strategies of a broader “class struggle”. How these tools are used, in what order and which issues they prioritize are, to me anyway, very clearly contextual.
This ordering of priorities.
Is “the calculation”.
In the US Black Power Movement, notable figures such as Angela Davis, Assata Shakur among others were consistently vocally outspoken about the misogyny and lack of critical self reflection about the role of “feminism” in shaping the Political Ideology of that movement.
Gender, seems to me, to be an issue that many celebrated, male headed and authored, black liberation movements and texts deal with rather poorly. Thankfully in the present day, many advocate for this point in many poignant ways that I am mentally unable to.
My “maleness” affects my judgement and induces and ignorance to the experience of those disproportionately affected by the system that ascribes me social, economic and political privileges as a result of my “maleness”.
There is clearly a necessity to mobilize under Feminism. The pointed weapon, among many, designed with the intention of destroy the system infamously regarded to as the Patriarchy.
My positioning in the cause of Feminism, as a man, is unquestionably compromised – to put it politely – however when I look to mobilize under the banner of say, “Black Power” or “Black Consciousness” I am implicitly requesting, for all intents and purposes, half of the persons who hold this experience to prioritize this issue as a choice as a weapon for a specific application.
That is not to say movements cannot be intersectional – In fact they have a moral responsibility to be explicitly intersectional..
It just seems clear to me that strategic decisions must be made by all parties involved regarding what would be the most effective tools and frameworks to mobilize under to effect broader changes, in a specific context.
That is to say that all social movements of this nature: Black consciousness, Feminism, etc – provide a framework for how discourse in that space develops that implicitly prioritizes issues.
What are the implications of this?
Negotiating Anger to an extent becomes a requirement. When prioritizing issues for specific functions it may be necessary to defer disagreement between schools of thought, individuals or institutions, until the activity under way has been dealt with.
Splintering is inevitable. In spaces where anger is required to be negotiated, lines will inevitably be crossed in ways that might disenfranchise prior supporters to inspire different groups or schools of thought that believe they can achieve similar – or greater ends – without being subjected to the Anger induced in a space that prioritizes certain issues that directly conflict with the ethics/strategy of said person.
So recalling the late great Audre Lorde
“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
I begin to ask myself.
Where do I fit in with
Middle class. Indian-enough-looking. Male.
How do I decide what and when to weaponise aspects of my identity to further the ends of social equality?
I am not certain.
It seems clear that one would need to do a great deal of changing gears depending on the context.
I have found it useful to differentiate when it is a conversation about the “black experience”, which in plenty of scenarios may require my silence, from situations where “Black Power” is invoked as a strategic weapon.
I have found that in my mind the question
“When am I black?”
Has been a more instructive path of internal reflection.
It seems equally clear that handling weapons is a very messy business. Not only are mistakes inevitable but they themselves may be faulty.
Persistent vigilance is necessary and we have to rely on each other for learning and accountability – respectfully.
There is surely no greater hope for us all than the acknowledgement of our individual and collective capacity to change. It is this over and above the power of any single idea that gives me hope we can get “there”.
Let’s do it.
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction.