Thursday, October 17, 2013

City Press Editor Ferial Haffajee on Racists

“I don’t tolerate white racists, so what makes black racists any different?
Today, I drew a line in that sand. Two sides: one awful coin.”

See Glenda Neville's "Exclusive: Haffajee draws a line in the sand over racism" (The Media Online, October 17) for more background to this quote.

Comment: Ferial Haffajee is absolutely right to abhor any stripe of racist. The further complexity, nonetheless, is recognizing the racist pandering or undercurrents in some non-racial/racist positions. Here is where the complexity lies and it is a particular problem for liberals - and Haffajee may speak about an avowed Afrocentricity (whatever that means beyond the essentialization it implies) but her posturing is quintessentially liberal.

Liberals like to extol the projected nonsense about fairness and hard work as variables that determine worth in a society. What they can't get right is separating how worth is derived from the value it is ascribed. For example, black dysfunction is often assumed to be characterized by laziness. Whites are never just assumed to be lazy as a group. And even where an individual white person is confirmed lazy it is not definitive of all whites.

The examples of black dysfunction assumptions range from sexuality through intelligence too. So there is a difference when someone raises matters of hard work to describe black or white performance. That difference is contained in the historical experience of racism and cannot just be set aside; it must be contextualized.

I am often amused by white online commentators who say "why are we still talking about race in 2013?" The simple answer to borrow from Cornell West is "because race matters".

My reading is that blacks and whites can be racist and if the South African government started legislating race preferences tomorrow - outside of the legislated Affirmative Action categories - it would be guilty of racism.

Affirmative Action has its origins in the US and like the policy directives there the aim in South Africa is toward restorative justice. For this reason, women - all women including white women - are an Affirmative Action category. Those who want to spend copious amounts of spittle decrying Affirmative Action are mostly missing the boat but are not entirely wrong when they point out that its practice in South Africa is being corrupted by unscrupulous race entrepreneurs (both black and white).

Still, it would be helpful for movement beyond the confines of race and racism if just about everyone took some time out to understand the terminology used, the history inferred, and the implications that keep us stuck in racist mindsets.

Anyway, it is a minefield of race sensitivity that has been kicked off by Haffajee's comments on Twitter. But there is no reason to suspect she is being disingenuous about her sentiments on race or her gripes about some of the folks at City Press.

I have followed her impressive career and she remains committed to the positions of non-racialism and gender equity she advocates - she is mostly admirable even for a liberal.


Ps. Did I tell you that The Guru claims to have met Ferial Haffajee on several occasions? I wonder if she remembers his transcendent aloofness?

Probably not.
Picture Credit


Pstonie said...

Ah, affirmative action. "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."

Until it's abolished, its beneficiaries will never earn the respect like someone who didn't get a helping hand from the government and the media to get where they are, not to mention someone equally or better qualified who was discriminated against because of the colour of their skin.

Until then it's worth keeping around for its satirical qualities. Like a big dunce hat for governments.

Ridwan said...

Thanks for your comment Pstonie.

At its inception AA was not intended to discriminate against more qualified candidates.

In the US it is hotly contested too. Particularly in university admissions of late.

But the greatest beneficiary of AA there has been white women.

That aside, the intention was to use AA between relatively equal candidates as a deciding factor. So the black candidate would be chosen or the female candidate would be chosen when all other things had been considered.

AA was intended to amplify diversity and to restore a semblance of balance after centuries of white rule - apartheid was really white AA and the result is the skewed workforce in terms of skills that we have inherited.

I share some of your trepidation nonetheless. Particularly in its implementation. There is little oversight and abuses are becoming more evident. BEE scams are also troublesome in the same vein.

Even President Zuma has noted this without saying as much - just a couple of weeks ago he seemed to be saying it was time to scrap AA.

I would not lament its scrapping because there is little proof over time that it equalizes the workforce.

It is probably more restorative to work on removing race as an identity through democratization and emphasis on human rights.

But that is a long term approach and would probably adversely affect those who still live the consequences of apartheid, i.e., the black and poor majority.