Louise Ferreira says that having ‘friends of color’ is not an achievement. With this I agree wholeheartedly. The rest of her column, however, I cannot hold in any particular high regard. It may not be an achievement to have a racially diverse circle of friends, but it is well on the way of absolving you of being a racist.
As South Africans we do live in an irrefutably racially-charged society. When persons of weak mental strength are given the opportunity, they would racialize any situation or circumstance as a matter of convenience. At our universities, a revolt of the ‘born free’ youth (of all races) is taking place. When a lecturer attempts to further explain a difficult concept in the course material with reference to Afrikaans phrases and terms, the social justice activists come out of the woodwork, declaring ‘racist undertones’. When a university intends to raise its tuition and registration fees, those same activists claim ‘institutionalized racism’. When I once advocated that universities be privatized, I was immediately accused of having a racist agenda.
Yes, our society is racially-charged. However this is not because race is actually relevant in and of itself, but because we have abandoned reason for emotion, mental effort for convenience, and individuality for essentialism.
When a person, usually a white male, is accused of racism by one of these activists, then apparently, they are factually racist. In the tradition of Frantz Fanon, these activists, who are more often than not white themselves, say that if one is accused of racism (especially by a ‘person of color’) he must not get ‘defensive’ or deny it, but rather he must shut up and listen. So too says Ferreira.
Taking a step back, this line of ‘reasoning’ dictates that he must accept the premise of the accusation without further ado, and set out to fix a problem which has not been proven to exist in the first place. He is not afforded the opportunity to defend himself by presenting facts to the contrary. And if he is given this opportunity, none of the evidence in support of his innocence is accepted. Such evidence would include having a diverse circle of friends, or having had a partner of a different race, or appreciating a different culture, or having himself stood up to racism to his own detriment. Simply because he has been accused, he is guilty, and he must subjectively consider himself guilty.
Proof, empirical evidence and sound logical reasoning are byproducts of modernity. Postmodernity, on the other hand, is framed as a ‘challenge’ to these modern ‘structures’ and ‘relationships’. For example, a professor in the United States recently opined that reason is a white construct. The Critical Legal Studies movement claims that objective law which applies equally to all people is intrinsically racist and sexist because this apparent ‘objectivity’ operates to the advantage of white men and to the detriment of ‘the other’. Steve Biko famously attempted to distinguish between a ‘black’ and a ‘non-white’, saying that being black is more than a biological coincidence, but is in fact a mental attitude or outlook. A non-white, he said, is a person who appears to be black but who aspires to be white, thus classifying himself relative to someone else’s whiteness.
These are but some of the examples of postmodern ‘reasoning’. It is not simply silly but it is dangerous. The presumption of innocence has been a fixture in human common sense for a millennia, not only in our legal systems but also as a matter of course in our ordinary relationships and activities. Postmodernity, in one of its perverse manifestations, wants to destroy, or at least substantially modify this presumption to suit the convenience and emotional comfort of its proponents.
An accusation of racism in public can destroy careers, relationships, reputations and lives. In South Africa being considered a racist is progressively becoming more dangerous. We can all celebrate that this is the case for actual racists who either consciously or subconsciously harbor racial prejudices, but it has gone well beyond that.
Ferreira says that if you consider kwaito to be ‘black music’, you are a racist. Some of her ideological comrades say that if you claim to be colorblind and ‘don’t see color’, you are also a racist. She simply attributes it to white privilege.
Have we really reached that stage in our history where someone who is explicitly an individualist, who states that he does not factor the race of the person into his judgment or regard of them, is considered to be a racist? Am I communist when I claim to be and act like a capitalist? Am I selfish when I claim to be and conduct myself in an altruistic fashion? If not, then why is someone who walks and talks like an individualist, slapped with the collectivistic trait of racism? Emotional comfort and convenience.
For a person to be a racist, conscious or subconscious intention must be present. In law we refer to this as the mens rea element. A guilty mind is required. Without mens rea there is no offense. Leon Schuster, a popular Afrikaans actor and producer, often portrays persons of the black or Indian race in the roles he plays. What is his intention here? Does he want to cause offense? Does he want to violate dignity? Probably not. Can offense be caused and dignity violated as a result of what he does? Certainly! But it does not follow that he nor what did was racist. Similarly, a university raising its tuition fees to cover its rising costs of operation cannot in any logical or reasonable context be said to be racist. Nowhere is a conscious or subconscious intention present.
To the Fanonians and Bikoists, this does not matter. Causality, intention and the host of other factors which clearly exclude racism, do not exist. According to them, racism is perceived in the Critical Theory (postmodernist) sense: privilege and power, as another white female Georgina Guedes writes. Prejudice and differentiated treatment are not even primary considerations for these people when it comes to determining whether racism is present.
But it would be intellectually irresponsible to engage with any argument which does not adhere to the rules of logic. The postmodernists reject logic as a concept developed historically by the privileged in society. To reject logic is to reject any engagement. There is no use in engaging when no underlying standard of measure exists. This suits the postmodernists because it allows them to say anything, no matter how patently illogical or unreasonable it may be. They only adhere to the internal ‘logic’ of their own philosophy, i.e. challenge the apparently privileged and elitist structures.
If you have ‘friends of color’, or if you ‘don’t see color’, then congratulations! You have not particularly achieved anything other than being a decent human being and an individualist, as you should be by default. You take every person on their own character – something over which they exercise absolute (but not independent) agency. You probably regard the worth and dignity of every individual human being as valuable in and of itself.
People are not ‘invisible’ to you as Nayyirah Waheed, Ferreira and the Bikosits would have you believe. In fact, people are far more colorful to the colorblind, because you are able to take in the richness (or poverty) of their character without all of that being obscured by something over which they cannot exercise any agency. Every life matters to you. Every individual has a right to exist. Most certainly, if you aren’t already, you are now well on your way to not being a racist.
South Africa had a proud tradition of individualism and respect for individuality during the struggle against Apartheid. In the days after Apartheid ended, individualism in this country was stronger than ever. People would be proud of saying “I am not a racist!” and “I am colorblind!” That tradition has unfortunately faded as the postmodernists have come to the fore. They now dominate the narrative. The individualists, with a few exceptions, have gone silent.
I appeal to you, if you are in fact one us, one of the decent human beings, to drop the silence, and loudly and unequivocally reject the brutish collectivism of our time.