Monday, March 03, 2008

Who is Black in South Africa?

It seems that the definition of who is Black and who is not gets quite a bit of attention in post-apartheid South Africa.

Below is a letter to the editor of the Sunday Times that proclaims indigenous Africans to be the only 'true Blacks'.

This is the letter in its entirety:

Only Africans are truly black
Published:Mar 01, 2008 (Sunday Times)

In South Africa race dominates our lives. It’s like an incurable disease.

The new definition of “blacks” boggles the mind. Blacks are black Africans finish en klaar!

Indians are Indians and they regard themselves as such except for the purposes of affirmative action and BEE. Come on, they never call themselves blacks!

It’s also true that they use racial slurs when they refer to us blacks.

I was disturbed when I discovered in my research into the origins of the k-word that Mahatma Gandhi used it freely when referring to us blacks.

As for coloureds, they also don’t call themselves black, and insult blacks with the k-word. — The Barefoot Doctor, Eastern Cape

Oh Really!

This is news to me but hardly inconsistent with the kind of knee-jerk rationalizations about race and racism that is common here in the land of the non-racial front.

The 'who is Black' assertion is about capital aspirations and it betrays any nuanced understanding about the politics that is Blackness.

Underneath the assertion that only indigenous Africans can be Black is a simplistic acceptance that race is an organic, or rather biological, construct.

It is not.

Race has no creedence in biology. Race is a socio-historical and political construct.

Steve Biko understood this complexity. He recognized that Blackness could only be as real as the politics that underwrote its resistance to racism.

Blackness was in Biko's thinking an intellectual weapon to retrieve a common humanity. He sought not to entrench racial terms but to move beyond the containment of race.

Black Consciousness (BC) was thus a dialectical liberation strategy. The strategy sought unity between indigenous African, coloureds, and folks of Indian and Malay ancestry.

There is nothing new about this definition, unlike the claim made in the letter above.

What is most important to understand about BC ideology is that it seeks to set aside race and thus the apartheid terms and realities of being Black, Indian, coloured, Malay, and even white.

BC is thus is expansive in its liberatory reach. It rejects the notion that only indigenous Africans are Black. It also rejects the idea that the revolution against racism must be focused on white people.

BC is most concerned with looking inward and repairing the damage that racism has wreaked on Black people. "The mind of the oppressed" is the theater of operation.

In this context, knee-jerk racism and nonsensical notions of non-racialism in a racialized state is purposefully avoided.

Blackness is a politics and not merely a skin color. It is a politics that calls on the victims of apartheid to free themselves from the construct of race and its inevitable racism.

Blackness is not a redefinition of race whereby opportunistic indigenous Africans are empowered to reverse the historical course of racism in South Africa.


***This post also appears at The Indigenist Intelligence Review.


Muzi said...

If you know you are an African… then you are an African. If you are in doubt or let people make you doubt yourself you are probably not.
All those who owe their allegiances to this continent are Africans irrespective of the skin color.

keep well

PS: I am not Black “I AM AFRICAN”

Shus li said...

Hi, Ridwan

Your analysis is inspiring. I remember you speaking in these terms the very first time Eugene and I met you.

When we spoke that evening in front of the art gallery, I heard the pain as you related how indigenous African Blacks had dismissed your blackness in the past.

Keep up the good fight.

Wishing you all the best,


Ridwan said...

Muzi yout words echo those of Sobukwe. Loyalty to the soil and all its people is the definition of an African.

Being Black is a dialectical stage of struggle.

Thanks for looking in broer.


Ridwan said...

Hello Shush li:

Thank you kindly for your words and rememberance.

I remember the night in front of that art gallery. I made a mental note of the power I felt as you placed tabacco on the ledge in front of the gallery.

You remembered the ancestors beyond the gallery and its afront.

I trust you are well in your new place sista. I will see you there.

Best wishes for your return.

Peace and struggle,

Rent Party said...

Well, this is very interesting. The Brazilians keep telling me that it is only because I am American that I think mixed people can identify as Black. They think that is oppressive: they think it is fairer to absolve as many people as possible of the label "Black," since it is a bad label.

At the same time, the same Brazilians want to take Afro-Brazilian culture and rename it "Brazilian." So: hardly anyone can be Black, but virtually everyone can claim Afro-Brazilian culture as their own.

I find all of this to be very strange logic which can be nothing but some sort of racist argument, but certain white and mulatto Brazilian scholars tell me that the only reason I think that is that I am American, and therefore I am an imperialist (because it is "imperialist" to call behavior which would be racist in the U.S., racist if it happens in the so called Third World).

Therefore I am glad to hear that related controversies take places elsewhere ... it seems to me that the efforts to say the U.S. or Brazil are unique in terms of the ways racial meaning is produced are
attempts to evade discussion of racism wherever it shows up.

? I don't know - this is what I would say, and I think I am right, but the Brazilians say it is old fashioned, simplistic, U.S. oriented, and so on. Black Brazilians tend to think more along the lines I do, but white and mixed ones say that is only because I, as an American, have forced that thinking upon them.

Kweli said...

I've been reading these older posts, Ridwan boet. This one caught my eye because I wanted to do a post similar to it, but I think I'm just going to ask you if I can reblog it at BMAG.

As I always say, blackness is a mindset, a political orientation and positionality. Not this bollocks about indigenous Africanness.

Ridwan said...

Brother Kweli please do repost. Thanks for reading these older posts too.

This post gets quite a lot of hits still. Might be the title but because a movie/documentary has just been made about Sobukwe's life there is a lot more interest in these issues - (my mom and I do an interview in the documentary but I have not seen it yet).

Trust you are well brother.