CONTROVERSIAL advocate of ‘racial fluidity’ and ‘trans-racialism’ is to visit South Africa according to the BBC, to promote her biography, In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World . The arrival of Rachel Dolezal is bound to kick up a storm in the ongoing debate being waged between non-racialists and multi-racialists. The latest round has seen non-racialists being accused of hiding behind a smokescreen of privilege, effectively using the idea to escape responsibility for past injustices.
Non-racialism is the result of successive ideological developments within South African politics, beginning with Robert Sobukwe’s claim at his treason trial: “There is only one race, the human race” and “multiracialism is racism multiplied”; This was followed by Steve Biko’s historic 1971 statement: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation — being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”
The ANC, once a champion of multiracialism, adopted the non-racial agenda after Nelson Mandela was converted to the cause on Robben Island. According to Mandela, ‘race was to be rendered immaterial’, ‘all persons were to enjoy equality before the law’. That the current administration gives such nuances of non-racialism and equality lip-service (both ideas enshrined in the country’s constitution) can be seen in the abundance of one ethnic group in the latest cabinet, all given preferential treatment under the current Kwazula-Natal focused administration of Jacob Zuma — this while race classification issues and the legacy of apartheid continue to dog the regime.
This writer is currently under sanctions by a local court for denying his appointed ‘race category’, following an offensive race-testing probe by an apartheid media firm. Remarkably, critics of Dolezal, appear to judge her case on the basis of special criteria (see below), in the same way that a special clause, known as the Sobukwe clause was added to legislation in order to justify the founder of the PAC’s continued incarceration. It should be remembered the apartheid regime insisted on the existence of discrete racial categories and thus racial bias in a system supported by scientific racism. There is no scientific basis for the assertion that race exists as anything more than an informal taxonomy.
Critics of non-racialism often confuse issues of class exploitation and poverty. While South Africa is an example of a tragic ‘confluence of race and class’, in which persons labelled black are more likely to be poor, (and dramatically so) there is no direct correlation as such, which would make this a universal rule. As science shows, adaptive traits such as hair and skin colour are not indicative of a separation between the species, there is thus no direct correlation between one’s genes and one’s physical appearance, and being wealthy and being poor. In other words historic racism is not the same as institutional racism. Blackness is not the result of a preponderance of African ancestry, if this were so, Native Americans for instance, would be white.
Attempts to define people according to physical features and anatomy have invariably resulted in discrimination. One should thus not mistake the impact of past exploitation on the basis of race criteria, for normality, and in so doing, assert that race criteria is or should be the norm. The ‘racial wealth gap’ is not overcome by resorting to more racism.
That the strange idea persists can be seen by a recent comment this week: “Race is real the way maths is real. It’s something humans created that can be used to our detriment or to our advantage.” The assertion without any evidence, was made by a reporter associated with The Citizen in an online debate on social media on Friday, following the breaking of the Dolezal story, and is consistent with the position of Media24. One can only respond: “There is no ‘maths of race’. The only persons making such statements have been discredited eugenicists.
Another participant in the discussion, was even harsher in her use of irony: “Please come to South Africa and enjoy the full experience which the majority of black woman endure. There are plenty of overworked maid jobs with below the breadline pay …” The various criticisms of Dolezal, that she is effectively ‘trading off the misery of others’, is ‘passing herself off’ as something which she is not, and is ‘guilty of cultural appropriation’, need to be seen within the context of similar criticisms of Mother Teresa and others. The criticism has no basis nor place in human rights law. Cultural appropriation (in whatever form) is a factor of life in a polyglot, globalised society, one remarkably difference from the former colonial empire, based as it was on ideals of racial purity and for which cross-pollination itself was anathema. That Dolezal herself is breaking taboos within the so-called white community from which she sprung, is hardly remarked upon by opinion-makers slamming her membership of the NAACP.
That body presentation and identity issues are par for the course in the 21st Century can be seen by the fact that nobody would think the unthinkable and slam albino model Thandi Hopa for not having enough melanin, and trading off the resulting racial dysphoria. Instead in Rachel’s case, her attempts to deal with her ‘black experience’ , resulted in an obscene racial witch-hunt, and highly public race-probe based upon discredited apartheid race science. Doleza says that “challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness”
Dolezal has an adopted black brother Izaiah , and a black child from a black man. To put this in a nut-shell, Rachel isn’t “pretending to be black”, her life is not a parody as in ‘blackface’, but rather the result of attempting to deal with her existence, in particular her troubling relationship with her brother Ezra. The mix of reactions around the globe is certainly unprecedented, and indicative of a new far-right discourse which has entered the mainstream.
It will be interesting to see how Dolezal presents herself to an audience remarkably different from the one which pilloried her femininity and for which her latest biography is her considered response. Medialternatives therefore takes this opportunity to unreservedly welcome Rachel to South Africa.
Medialternatives has followed the Dolezal story and you can read previous postings here.