The Sunday News
The planet has a very big problem. This is a problem that has produced and constructed being black in the world as a curse. Before I go on with this ticklish subject I must address not the power and the strength of race but its fragility and vulnerability.
In 2018 Robin DiAngelo wrote a troubling book titled: White Fragility: Why It’s so hard for White people to talk about racism. That becomes fragile and vulnerable when its works in the world are mentioned, described and condemned. It turns around and wears a jacket of victimhood and misery.
By whiteness I do not refer to the simple colour of the skin but the complex system and structure of power that endorses the inferiorisation and immiseration of non-white and non-European peoples of the world. In that way; there are so many non-white and non-European people that advance and also benefit from whiteness as conspirators with and participants in the inferiorisation of others.
Whiteness as a system and structure of power, and white supremacy as a political ideology, have grown so sophisticated that they appear everyday dressed in black bodies but still advancing anti-black racism and white snobbery. The bad news is that there might be or already there is a Cecil John Rhodes buried in each and every one of us black bodies and souls.
The invention of white as superior and black as inferior was the very definition of conquest. Cecil John Rhodes spoke as a white supremacist when he told fellow British people that: “Remember that you are Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.” It is telling that he addressed his people as “Englishman” because white supremacy and its racism are male and not otherwise. I must state here that there are many of us men that look at women the way Rhodes looked at black people.
So many of us in dominant and majority tribes of Africa look at the tribal minorities the way Rhodes looked at the natives of South Africa. Yes, many of us the nationals look at foreigners that way, and the able-bodied look at those with disabilities in that supremacist and judgemental manner.
That is why I insist that there might after all be a Cecil John Rhodes in each and every one of us in the way we have given superiority to ourselves and inferiority to others on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, social class, and nationality, ability of body and other constructions and classifications.
We might be conquerors and supremacists to others in our daily existence and circulation in society. When we are confronted with that truth we become guilty, fearful, angry, defensive, and denialist, that is fragile and vulnerable. We can even cry victim and claim that we are hated by others that are actually our victims.
Black being and black consciousness
“Black man you are on your own” is a famous quote by Steve Biko the arch-philosopher of black consciousness in apartheid South Africa. That Biko also addressed the “black man” is not an innocent statement. Nationalist and Marxists struggles against colonialism, racism and apartheid in Africa tragically became as male supremacist as white supremacy.
Steve Biko and others might not have realised that in their black reaction to white supremacy in apartheid South Africa they also, like the white supremacist, kept women in the backseats as inferior others not comrades in the struggle. Political reactions to conquest tend to adopt some habits and tendencies of that conquest.
What complicates matters is that it takes some enhanced philosophical sensibility to get us to see our own complicity in conquest and supremacy.
It is so easy and comfortable to point at an enemy out there and not so easy to see ourselves as conquerors and supremacists to others.
In a big way Black Consciousness became a baby of white consciousness that learnt many bad habits from its parent.
It is for that reason that liberation philosophy holds that true liberation struggles are those that destroy both the oppressor and the oppressed to produce survivors and overcomers of a bad history. Both white supremacy and black supremacy are conquest sensibilities that have no place in liberation because they are anger and hate sensibilities whose job is to destroy and not to build.
In that way, white consciousness and black consciousness are not philosophies but ideologies of conquest and the struggle against it. They are both good at war not at peace. They are tools of domination and struggle not foundations of a new order of things. The danger of black supremacy is exactly in that it is founded on a reaction to whiteness not its own legitimate reality.
The prison of race
Stokely Carmichael is remembered addressing whites that supported the civil rights movement in the USA, saying: “If the white man wants to help, he can go home and free his own people.” In rendering black people unfree in the plantations, factories and farms the white supremacists jailed themselves in a prison of whiteness and the dungeon of being oppressors.
In the same manner the man who oppresses a woman, the national who exploits a foreigner, the tribalist that dominates the minorities, the classist who steps upon the poor have all built prisons for themselves from which they need to be freed. Any kind of supremacist and conqueror is an unfree and pathetic personage. Power and privilege that are based on discrimination and injustice are proceeds of crime that put individuals and groups in prisons from which they need to be freed so that others can also be free.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Gezina, Pretoria, in South Africa. Contacts: [email protected]