“Non-racialism envisaged a society in which race ceased to matter as a defining identity, but only after substantial equality among the races is achieved.” Feriel Haffajee “White is not the new black”
THE DANGER with predicating non-racialism on an economic struggle — the equality of rands and cents as opposed to a struggle for conscious self-realisation — the liberation from race-based thinking, is that the idea quickly turns into a polite form of eschatology.
A paradise that is promised by the new church but never realised; a socialism that is preached by priests but always avoided; an end-stage in our development that always seems to sanctify all manner of prejudices along the way, on the strange misunderstanding that racism is what got us *here* and more racism perhaps, is what will get us *over there*.
In this weird eschatological but idealised world, in which non-racialism is seen as a practical impossibility (a religion of the past) and racism as the necessary outcome of the present — apartheid becomes sacrosanct (its what got us *here*) while the absence of race-thinking is some kind of holy land assembled out of the future, a legend of our own construction that can never exist like Blake’s Jerusalem.
It is often said of Jerusalem (and Hollywood) that: “there is no there over *there*” in other words, metaphors such as these signify not so much places, but ideas, where one believes oneself to be in the present situation. Unlike Hollywood, South Africa is a state of mind, a mindset that is called into question whenever we confront racism, without tackling its opposite, non-racism. The real question though, is race (or should one say equality) reducible to the size of ones chequebook or bank account?
Rands and cents do not determine mind. IQ is not a factor of employment and intelligence is not the result of education. While poverty in South Africa has become synonymous with race, surely it is a truism to say that poverty is also universal amongst workers and that race played virtually no part in the industrial revolution? Furthermore while some may see economic necessity and BEE behind every “African”, and a banal reactionary obstructionism behind every “white lefty”, this country will fail if it does not create an inclusive “Africanness.”
As Neville Alexander has said: “the struggle is not worth fighting for, if it is not a struggle against racialism and race-based-thinking.” What the left wants therefore is more than simply a handover of power from white to black, or a welfare state that meets the needs of its people, but a new identity based upon a non-racial ideology. As Feriel Haffajee so rightly calculates: “commitment to non-racialism” is all-too-often “slogan-deep”. The challenge undoubtedly, is not simply how to “affirm an African identity that is inclusive and not imposed” but how to concretise our ideals without constantly deferring these goals to a mythical state in the future — a state that continues to oppress its workers and exploit the masses.
If it is the practical realisation of utopia, an ideal, that got us here (not apartheid) then it will be some equal vision, call it non-racialism (or whatever your desires wish to call it), but a vision nevertheless and not merely a chimera that fails to materialise into the “here and now”. Surely that is what we require, non-racialism in our time? Freedom for everybody? Unfortunately, for so many who lived in the apartheid era, the New South Africa was, and still is considered by some to be a kind of “pipe-dream”, a place that will never arrive, along with our rights and freedoms — that time is over.