In South Africa the issues of race, racialization, and racism are mostly debated in terms that are framed by the transition from apartheid and its official narrative.
This framing has become the Gramscian-like commonsense that is used to contextualize race and racism in the postapartheid moment.
What is disturbing is the mainstream emphasis in both the public and private spheres to keep intact the faulty assumptions of what constitutes a race, or rather its racial make-up (racialization).
Race, for the most part, is assumed to be biological in its function and presentation (phenotype) and this biological essentialism is replicated in terms that relate to culture and even religion.
Race as biology is the easy terrain but the latter is somewhat complicated.
What I mean to say is that it is quite easy to racialize someone/group into categories that privilege phenotypical traits like skin colour or hair texture.
What is more difficult is the process of defining race culturally. What makes culture white, Indian, coloured, black, or African, for example?
In popular culture discourse there is the often misguided notion that music, among other art forms, can be categorized by race. Such categorization is often cited in relationship to who listens to what and what is produced by whom.
It is a slippery slope of miscalculations and assumptions that illustrate how race is essentialized and packaged for consumption in race-centred societies.
The intersections to which I allude here came to the fore for me when I read about a local radio station that is self-defined as black and young. It seems that the brains trust behind YFM 99.2 has decided that its brand of hip young black music/culture can do with hiring a “young white boy” as a permanent presenter.
YFM claims that that this new “white boy” will be an Affirmative Action (AA) hire and, thereby, illustrate the station’s commitment to AA.
Of course YFM is full of marketing sh*t to put it mildly. They claim that the new “white boy”, and they prefer a male over a female hire, must be hip to “black culture and know some black language”.
The contrived and racist assertion in this bullsh*t is that ‘everyday’ “white-boys” (and all white women) need not apply.
The YFM episode and the Ignition one I discuss below beckon an entry point for a wider and more nuanced interrogation of race and racism in the postapartheid moment.
There is a need to appreciate, and theorize, a fuller understanding of how public and private entities market racialization(s) and race for capitalist consumption.
YFM’s advert is not just a joke because it advances the twaddle that a race quota is progressive, even hip.
Behind YFM’s racist audacity is a disturbing commonsense that confines postapartheid race relations to flippant cosmetic racial engineering that seeks to meet the demands of the market (they say that some whites listen to their station making a white hire a good business decision too).
Having grown up in the era of official apartheid I am struck at how similar this sounds to the kinds of advertisements that characterized the employment smalls of old. Who can forget adverts that sought to employ “whites only” or “Europeans” or “Natives”?
Damn. How far have we progressed hey?
I am listening ;)