I have been thinking about race theory more than usual these past few weeks.
Unfortunately my thinking is blocked by an inability to make sense, or rather, to come to terms with the contexts of race as identity and race as politics in the South Africa of Mandela's 90th year.
Even as I write here it occurs to me that my thinking is confounded by terms and political conditions that at times betray what I know for certain.
It is not as if I have expected that race as a socio-political and historical system would stay stagnant here or anywhere.
Still, I think there is need for an interrogation of how much has changed. Take for example the term "post-racial politics".
Obama is said to be a leader among a crop of "post-racial" Black politicians who have e-raced race from their professional lives.
See, for example, this Guardian (UK) article "Young, gifted, black ... and leading America" for a discussion of this new batch of non-Black but yet Black leaders.
South Africa has its own unique set of post-race politics.
The constitution speaks of creating a "non-racial democracy" where race supposedly disappears into a definitive individual citizenship.
But how can we speak of a "post-racial" US and a "non-racial" South Africa when everything about life in either country is driven by race?
Some observers will no doubt point out that any theorization of race must account for its inherent duplicity. They may add that race as a system does not seek to
capture but rather to manipulate reality.
I would be hard pressed to disagree with the suppositions that underlie this position. I mean there is truth in the fact that race cannot claim a biological reality yet medical studies routinely connect race and medical practice.
Race as an identity is also extremely flexible. Take for example the purported identity of "ethnic-Black" that has appeared in South Africa.
What is an "ethnic-Black"?
I know that there are those who refer to white-ethnics in the US. But the term white-ethnic is not specific to a particular group, rather it references a historical process that created whites out of ethnic immigrant groupings such as the Irish, Italians, Polish, Germans, etc.
In South Africa the term "ethnic-Black" is particular to a group who can also define as Black and African. Coloureds, Chinese, and Indians are not "ethnic-Black" or African but can for legal purposes be defined as Black.
White South Africans are white and cannot just claim to be African without some unease. There is no law that allows for whites to be African.
There are, however, laws that define coloureds, Indians, Malays, and some Chinese as Black, but not as African or "ethnic Black".
In the US it is legally acceptable for folks to demonstrate biracial and multiracial identities. Biracial and multiracial people in South Africa are usually identified as coloured.
This may change of course as the politics of race rearranges itself into more of the same power game.
I am therefore working on a measure to gauge just how white "ethnic-Blacks" can become in anticipation of a possible 'post-white South African' era.
I think ;0)