IN A VOICE recording taken by a pupil, Asanda Ngoasheng, the principal facilitator of a controversial diversity course held at Fish Hoek High School can be heard saying ‘Black people can be mean, they can be cruel, they can be prejudiced, they can be nasty, but they can never be racist against white people … because racism requires power.’
The contentious idea is apparently part and parcel of a political re-education programme being punted by the Department of Education. All part of a so-called diversity training course, one which facilitator Caiden Lang claims, is predicated on Critical Race Theory (CRT).
Lang writes in The Daily Friend: “To imagine that what happened on Monday at Fish Hoek High was a diversity training session gone wrong is to fundamentally misunderstand what anti-racist education informed by critical race theory is all about. It is to assume that anti-racist education is geared towards social cohesion by teaching people to be less racist, sexist and so on and to help them to coexist.
“This is a mistake.
“Anti-racist education is about being on the right side of history. The discomfort and anger experienced by those kids is an intended first step to becoming ‘anti-racist’. It is a feature, not a bug.”
Unfortunately race typology, the division of society into black and white, and blind obedience to authority, is not what CRT teaches: “CRT is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old,” writes Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week. “The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”
Civil Rights history
As Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the civil rights activist who coined the term put it: “It is a way of seeing, attending to, accounting for, tracing and analyzing the ways that race is produced, the ways that racial inequality is facilitated, and the ways that our history has created these inequalities that now can be almost effortlessly reproduced unless we attend to the existence of these inequalities.”
Though there appears to be some disagreement on the finer points, where CRT was once a theory firmly situated within the discourse of civil rights and thus secular humanism, as a cross-disciplinary subject it has increasingly turned into nothing more than a radical political platform, a campaign gateway by politicos introducing unverifiable concepts such as dialectical materialism (all history is about power) and political notions such as ‘oppressor and oppressed’.
The result is invariably traumatising for young learners, bringing to mind Soviet-era political re-education camps. An affront on ones psychology, and most certainly a violation of a number of clauses in our constitution, including freedom of thought, belief and opinion, academic freedom, right to receive and impart information (in this case, you may receive the Department’s dogma, but don’t talk back or impart), the right to psychological integrity (the Dept seeks to impose discursive sanctions whilst assaulting learner’s mental functioning).
Critics of CRT state that the theory leads to ‘negative dynamics such as a focus on group identity over universal, shared traits; divides people into “oppressed” and “oppressor” groups; and urges intolerance’.
CRT in its current form, as rolled out by the Dept commissars, presents caricature and stereotype instead of facts and information, and appears more applicable to the context of black persons living as an oppressed minority in the USA where “white Americans are the racial and ethnic majority, with non-Hispanic whites representing 57.8% of the population”.
Peter Wood in Where Did We Get the Idea That Only White People Can Be Racist? published by the National Association of Scholars writes “The idea that “black people can’t be racist” is just a meme, not a coherent argument.”
Michelle I. Gao in “Who Can’t be Racist” responds: “This argument’s main point — that minorities can’t be racist because they have no power to act on such antagonism — is also reductive. We shouldn’t have to take stock of each other’s race and relative power in society before making a judgment on an act itself. We shouldn’t have to condone prejudice or discrimination against anyone, for any reason.”
In South Africa where persons who define as black are in the majority and have been part of a black majority government for nearly 30 years, there is an immediate rebuttal. The assertion that ‘black people can’t be racist, ‘because racism requires power’ and ‘blacks have no power’ is only even vaguely reasonable if one believes personal power to always be bound up with economic power, instead of the vote.
It is a tired narrative that our country has one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world, the measure of the gap between rich and poor, and that wealth often correlates with our demographics, which says nothing about the Human Development Index (HDI) where SA ranks relatively well.
Here the debate is rather between the haves and have-nots. Providing learners with intellectual tools, rather than prescriptions and injunctions and avoiding a party-line if you will.
Racialising the issue and dispensing with ‘non-racialism’, presents a unique set of problems since not every person informally categorised as black is ‘poor and underprivileged’. There is no universal truth in stating ‘black persons are always poor, have no economic power and therefore they can never be racists’. Saying this, merely gives credence to another ridiculous proposition, ‘black people can’t be litterbugs’.
In the same way as maintaining apartheid’s many Askaris and turncoats, were not traitors so much as heroes, even though they murdered on behalf of the regime?
Consider the first statement’s corollary, ‘if black people can’t be racists, then whites can never experience racism’.
And Afrikaners can’t be oppressed by the British.
And Jews can never experience Anti-Semitism.
Or ‘white folk’ can never be poor, because, well being poor depends upon … power?
In this jaundiced, reductionist view, those white activists detained, tortured and even murdered by the apartheid regime, were not experiencing racism per se, but merely the brutal instrumentality of the regime. As an activist classified by the apartheid regime as ‘blanke‘, I cannot be spat at, slapped and smeared by right-wing extremists.
The descent from humanism along with its universal truths, the Freedom Charter and its exemplar, our non-racialist Constitution, towards the narrow political objectives and moral absolutism of anti-racism’s pundits, articulated by a radicalised Education platform, is a slippery slope one which invariably ends with denial of the self-same history its zealous advocates profess to teach.
In this jaded current state-of-mind, there were no white people in the civil rights movement as such, nor even the anti-apartheid movement for that matter.
And if there were, such persons like myself, were merely allies at best, or worse, useful idiots.