Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Post Race? ... Think Again

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)



Eugene said...

My head is spinning!

Whiteness is Blacknesses part Yellowness/Greeness!

Being Indigenous in the U.S. comes with a history. That history, in part, was to breed the Indianess out of us. Therefore we now have Indians who are virtually white.

However, some white folks were considered Indians. During the 1700's, white indentured servants usually ran off to live with the Indians because they were treated better. They became part of the tribe, and thus, Indians. One of Tecumseh's right hand men was a white guy. However, to the Shawnee, he was all Shawnee.

Many run away slaves, slaves who mutinied, and boat jumper african slaves being forced to America were often absorbed into indigenous nations prior to the severity of the genocide and were known as part of those nations. This is becoming racially challenged these days as some of the Indigenous folks have bought into the racism of the U.S. occupation government. More racially absurd crap!

Native Americans are the only race that are required to be recognized by the U.S. government. We are supposed to carry cards with our racial identity. No other race in this nation has to. And we are defined by blood quantum. More racially crazed bullshit.

Ridwan said...

Yeah brother Eugene it is crazy. I remember you telling me about the requirement for Indians to carry ID.

Indians still have "pass laws" in 2007! That is just crazy. I think you know that Black South Africans were forced to carry "pass books" under apartheid.

Indian South Africans had to carry "identity cards" too but that law was scrapped in the 70s.

Thank you for adding complexity to my post. I think most folks living here do not think of Indians in the US as racialized groups.

Few would even know that runaway African slaves joined some tribes.

I am amazed at the way that race continues even as some folks herald its demise year after year.

Be well Eugene.

Peace and struggle,

Anonymous said...

Yes I feel the spinning head too...the complexities are confounding. I had to find how another has been able to articulate the messiness of it... According to Mamdani both the colonial and modern state generates continued constructed identities in pairs – the premised pair in the colonial African context is that of settler/native.

Settler = a generated political identity by the state in terms of race - so in SA it is white, Indian, coloured. Native = a political identity in terms of ethnicity & tribalism - so your identification of 'ethnic black' in this context fits and to be more specific it would be isiZulu, isiXhosa, Basotho, etc. The Chinese are Settlers and so are defined in racial terms as black, or more specifically, coloured. (No identity is of course afforded any respect in terms of cultural history and so on).

Anyway, Mamdani’s point is that in order to really change the world, you can't just challenge one half of the generated pair. In breaking out of the worldview of the settler, one must also break out of the worldview of the native.

Obama in my view might be turning the world of US politics upside down, but he's not changing the world. He's messing with conventional shades of power in the state, but the state in essence, remains.

I think the real challenge then, is how we in our everyday lives are able to break out of a settler/native worldview? ...In my own reality, I was tagged by the state in racial terms - terms that I reject in entirety. There is nothing about the identity given to me by the state that resonates with who i am - and who I am still becoming.

So it can infuriate me when I am perceived by others in these or 'other' racialised terms, which my eclectic appearance often evokes (just today again in fact). Eish and I try to direct the rage toward the machine and not toward the person standing opposite me. It’s hard and I don’t always get it right :-/ But when I do, it sits right with me in every way. Imagine there were multitudes getting it right at the same time; imagine the quiet power of that. I try to, to remain sane.

Anyhow, peace & light all round.
(Would like to see how your experiment evolves and hope you’ll be posting more about it)

Ridwan said...

"In breaking out of the worldview of the settler, one must also break out of the worldview of the native."

Hi Niteflyer!

There is so much in your post but I was struck again by the thinking of Mamdani.

Mamdani's "Citizen and Subject" was a tough read for me but very valuable no doubt.

I was priviledged to hear him talk about his thinking at Berkeley a few years ago.

I left wondering how Mamdani accounted for global racism and its influence in keeping the settler/native divide in post-colonial states.

I think Fanon is still forceful in showing why native rulers, as a class above the 'settled' native, act as neo-colonial agents.

Theoretically South Africa is still a settler state in form and function.

The notions of succession and transition notwithstanding.

I think that the nature of the negotiation that ended official apartheid and the ANC's neo-liberalism is largely the reason why.

For this reason we have seen a modernizing of the racial compact rather than a rapture.

This makes the stated ideal of a "non-racial" state untenable.

Heightened class consciousness coupled by race/ethnic interest is mostly unavoidable (and so is the divisive racism that is inevitable).

I see "Ethnic Black" as an evolving class consciousness that has a definitive materialist appetite.

The motioning behind the term does not, in my reading, seek to create a common 'ethnic' Blackness (so to speak).

Instead it is aimed at comparative advantage and access to the business of the state.

And there is racial gatekeeping implied because not all Blacks and Africans are included (that would defeat its purpose).

Yeah we live in confounding times.

Thank you kindly Niteflyer for adding more complexity to my post.

I hope we can do more talking here about the issues you raise above.

I also look forward to interacting with you on the Biko reading at your spot.

I invite readers here to roll over to your spot (pozi) too.

Peace to you sista!