Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chinese Reclassified as Black

Chinese South Africans are to be reclassified as Black according to a ruling of the High Court.

According to a report in IOL:
Judge Cynthia Pretorius granted an order in terms of which Chinese South Africans are included in the definition of "black people" in the Broad-Based Economic Empowerment Act and the Employment Equity Act.
The ruling comes after The Chinese Association of South Africa sued the government for being classified as white, and thereby, suffering discrimination in terms of the Broad-Based Economic Empowerment Act and the Employment Equity Act.

These Acts seek to reduce white domination of the private sector and have some application in the public sector too.

The Association complained that their classification as white meant that they were excluded from private sector contracts and job promotions aimed at advancing previosly disadvantaged Black racial groups (Africans, coloureds, and Indians).

During the apartheid era Chinese South Africans were classified coloured and not white (the post-apartheid government classified them white after 1994).

This meant that they lived in coloured suburbs and attended coloured schools. They were also prohibited from marrying whites or even dancing with whites at private parties (believe it!).

Chinese South Africans could also not own businesses in white areas and their presence in universities and colleges was restricted by their coloured classification.

In these terms, they suffered historical discrimination and should have been included in the previously disadvantaged category from the very beginning in 1994.

The High Court's ruling is 14 years late but it does bring some resolve for the apporximately 200 000 Chinese South Africans who are very much part of our collective history and struggle against apartheid.

There is some historical irony in this race reclassification case. I remember during the apartheid years many coloureds applied to become white and some Blacks applied to become coloured, etc.

The rationale during that time was to upgrade toward being white.

Now we live in a time when being white is not that desireable, well at least not in terms of the Broad-Based Economic Empowerment Act and the Employment Equity Act.

I have my doubts about these Acts even as I understand the dire need to address economic disparities among race groups. I am not entirely square with the manner that race-based restructuring of the economy is being implemented.

What really irks me is the reality that only a few fatcat Blacks have joined dominant white fatcats while the vast majority are hardly empowered.

I am, however, hardly convinced that these Acts constitute reverse racism against whites in general.

Whites still earn 450% more than Blacks 14 years after apartheid officially ended.

In this context, we are hardly where we should be in terms of distributing wealth and opportunity more equally.



Dade said...

Wow! Racial politics in South Africa are fascinating and bizarre!

It seems that, as South Africa transitions from racism, she has adopted yet another form of oppression: classism.

This was a fascinating read, Ridwan, my friend. Great post.

Shus li said...

Ridwan, you never cease to amaze me with weird news like this!

My racist stepmother recently sent around an email about being proud to be white, but also lamenting that whites are getting marginalized because of perceived unfair advantages extended to minorities. When I countered her on that, she basically told me that "they" are getting all the power now. Jeez. Flush facts and figures - she has her perception already.

Thanks for this info.


Ridwan said...

*Thanks for your comment Dade. The politics of race in SA is very interesting and also very frustrating.

I don't think that many of us 'old school' strugglers are at all comfortable with the state of race politics now.

What is most troublesome is the growing weight of 'empowered' Black fatcats who define Blackness in capital terms.

Any serious research must, therefore, account for class and its intersection with Blackness when we weigh how much change has been achieved.

**Thanks for looking in sista Shusli. This case of reclassification was front and central news here in SA yesterday.

In practice the legal rules pertaining to who is Black will be applied with less consistency than implied in the corresponding legislation.

It is hardly a secret that many indigenous Africans are affronted by the claim that coloureds, Indians, and the Chinese, are considered Black for employment and business equity purposes.

This whole business must be viewed as a selling and buying of race. And that is very problematic.

Some of the consternation has elevated a new term that differentiates a more 'pure' Blackness.

That term is Ethnic Black and it excludes coloureds, Indians, and Chinese.

I have come across heated online discussions where Ethnic Black is used to undermine the legal notion that coloureds, Indians, and the Chinese, are as worthy of being Black in terms that relate to historical oppression.

This is the new era of race capitalism. The formerly oppressed now fight about who was most oppressed and most deserving of redress.

I refer to this as "capitalized oppressions" in my academic work.

It is also sad that as this nonsense appears as a measure of how we are moving forward it is also a measure of how stuck we are.

Stuck in the assumption that race is a biological reality that can be appreciated in legal terms despite all our pretentions that we are a non-racial democracy.

Yep we are stuck. Kinda like the US in a way.

Peace to both of you,

Tony said...

Hi Ridi
I think that you may find that the Chinese were had the choice of being classified either coloured (and live under the same conditions and laws as coloureds) or the option of being a token white (they could live in white areas and go to white schools. However falling in love and having relationships with whites was strictly verboeten, never mind the fact that they were living amongst and mixing with these people all the time). e.g. I don't know if you would know Mr Kwon, that took us for accountancy....he went to school with my mum....he comes to teach at Pescod, but now he's a white ou!!

My father in law and his daughter (Mel's step sister) fell foul of this law somehow. His family came to the brown side of the fence and his children went to coloured schools. When it came for time for his daughter to do teachers training, they refused her bursary at the coloured training college, saying that because she's chinese, if she wanted the bursary she should go to the white college. The white college refused her entry because she matriculated from a coloured school. So he ended up paying for her college himself.

I don't know broer. Convolutions within the convoluted!

Anonymous said...

Stuck in the assumption that race is a biological reality that can be appreciated in legal terms despite all our pretentions that we are a non-racial democracy.

I think you've summed up an aspect of our struggle in South Africa that’s been lost sight of. Apartheid constructed erroneous identities that nonetheless had very real implications for generations of people. Within it’s category of "non-white" (as opposed to "white") – the system constructed a hierarchy of privilege along racial identities: Whites were 1st class citizens; Indians 2nd, Coloureds 3rd and Africans last (using the racially constructed terminologies of the state).

I grew up in the Western Cape (and am now a migrant in Jozi :)) and this is how people were forced to live, work, socialise, etc in that province. I distinguish the province because the nuances of Apartheid law may have emphasised privilege slightly differently in other provinces.

At the height of the struggle against Apartheid, the most important rallying calls were always ones that sought to unite the oppressed; where Apartheid served to sow disunity amongst us. And the bigger vision (the one the popular press, even the alternative press and certainly those in power have all but discarded) is that we were striving towards non-racialism . This was not an easy rallying-call amongst the oppressed - it was much easier to simplify the struggle down to African black vs white. It's why Steve Biko & co were so dangerous to the system, because his biggest challenge was to the oppressed, to fight against white imperialist domination, by unlearning the ways of the oppressor within ourselves.

And now here we are. Having inherited and imbibed what was forced onto us: screwy notions of justice & identity, towards others and mostly, about ourselves. I think it has never been more important to take on issues of race, gender, class in articulate and consistently progressive language, than today.

Eish, let me stop there and say that of course Chinese people who were oppressed under Apartheid should be given reprieve today. Not all Chinese were classified "coloured"; some took on "white" identities. Apartheid was both ludicrous and brutal in how it classified people. Some “coloured” people could opt for being “white”, some "African black" people “coloured”, a few “white” people “coloured”, and so on. But this both matters and it doesn’t matter!

What’s also important, is to ask what kind of justice system we have today that takes such a "case" to court, and then makes no critical distinctions along these lines? From what I've read about its ruling... it continues poisonous thinking amongst oppressed people and serves to fuel xenophobic anger (now potentially towards the Chinese).

The paradox of tackling race in this country is that we have to use the racialised language we’ve inherited in order to break it down. We have to make visible the insidious mechanisms of “race” that operate every day. Not easy, but vital. And then of course gender and class are not severed from race,ever. Eish, ja..

I'm kind of new to the blogosphere - so forgive what is too long a letter. This is a cool blog though, and I'll be coming by regularly. err, I got to it via a comment you'd left on Thought Leader about a post on racism (in the real world i'm karima by the way) but am signed in here via my blogname, which you can use, as niteflyer (lol creating even more virtual identities). Anyway, keep it up!

Ridwan said...

Hello Tony! I trust you are well broer.

Thanks kindly for your comment.

I remember Mr. Kwon Hoo and the pain of Std. 8 accountancy. He was once so pissed with me that he invited me to settle the issue on the PT mat.

Come to think of it he identified as white and we accepted him as such. And the Oshun family that had a business in Green Street also lived among us but identified as white.

I think many of us just assumed that all Chinese folks were "honourary white", not so.

I also knew Mel's stepdad when he was married to Marky's moms. They lived next to us in Barkly road when I was just a lighty.

He and another family closer to Anderson's scrap yard lived there too. They intermarried with coloureds, I think.

The whole deal in retrospect is so whack hey. I mean we had coloured folks who "played white" or what they call "passing" in the US.

That was particularly whack. Remember that coloured mothers has "play white" children who married white men an lived separate lives under the apartheid radar.

Then there were those my mother referred to as "colourpeans" who were kinda uber coloureds.

Geez broer we come from some strange stuff, not that it is so much better now.

I did not know about Mel's situation. Thanks for sharing hey.

Please pass my best to the vrou and tell her it is cold and wet here in the Y, in fact all of SA.

Peace Tony,

Ridwan said...

Karima (niteflyer) thank you ever so kindly for bringing nuance and depth to my post.

There are so many excellent points that you make that I am smiling broadly and shouting "yes yes" :)

You are absolutely right that the "paradox' of our time is using race language to deconstruct race.

At times I wonder if the leadership and others understand the implications of the non-racial society ideal.

I agree that Biko spoke directly to the need to unlearn this brutal heritage. His process, and this is what confuses some knee-jerk reactionaries and other liberals :), was to make race irrelevant.

Yeah we are not going in that direction as a country for sure.

In fact there is hardly an appreciation of the intersections of gender and class that you raise.

Both you and Tony (above) speak to the reality that some Chinese folk decided between living as whites or as coloureds.

I must admit that I did not give the issue much thought until I read an article in the Sunday Times a few months ago.

I like how you speak to the "mechanisms of race" because it is vital issue/reality that needs address, as you say.

So many folks are fixated on the biology of race that they ignore the structure/values of race.

We must recognize that whiteness is primarily a structural and psychological reality even where whites are physically absent.

In a sense this is what is wrong with so much of the pretense around Mbeki's 'African Renaissance'.

It is not revolutionary in the terms of Nkrumah or Sobukwe's Africanisation ideals but rather quite euro-centric in its articulation and, thereby, well seated inside of whiteness and its material history.

Anyway, this blog goes back for a year and a half now. It has gone through all kinds of growing pains.

I started it while working at a university in India for the purposes of loading my travel pictures.

It has grown some since then.

One of the issues of the blogosphere I have struggled with is blog apartheid.

Thankfully there are really cool anti-racist fellow bloggers who regularly lend support here.

I also cross post at Indiginest Intelligence Review:

I have looked at your pozi and it is cool too. I will be stopping by there regularly from now.

Thanks for 'finding' me :0) and do be a careful 'migrant' worker in Jozi.

Holla when you can.