Saturday, July 5, 2014

Notes on The Non-Racial by Emma Diatz

What is the role and fate of racial identities in unshackling us from a racist future? This is a question to which Achille Mbembe, Adam Habib, and Ahmed Kathrada kept returning in their conversation and that is  taken up again and again in all the different sessions.
One vision of such a future travels under the name of non-racialism. Given that a particular version of non-racialism has come to dominate our critical and political imaginary as though it were the only one conceivable, it is worth acknowledging the possibility that there may in fact be varieties of non-racialism that they are not necessarily equal in their moral and political consequences. 
The possibility and potential of varieties of non-racialism – and why not? – was brought into focus for me through the contrast between the non-racialism that David Theo Goldberg deconstructed in his session on Stuart Hall and the non-racialism that Achille Mbembe constructed in his lecture on "raceless futures." 
The rendition of non-racialism that Goldberg gives us is the one with which most of us are familiar. It is the non-racialism that is frequently, though not exclusively, deployed by white folks to discourage conversations implicating whites in the historical responsibility of racism as its architects, beneficiaries, and, I would argue, its first moral casualties. 
It is the non-racialism that, by removing the conceptual language of race, makes it theoretically impossible for blacks to articulate experiences of racism or for anyone, including whites, to object to or resist racism. 
To describe the non-racialism that Achille offers is a much more difficult exercise. Because non-racialism has so often served racist interests it is hard to imagine its other possibilities. The vision of human relations that seems to me to animate this alternative non-racialism is a vision in which our relations are not determined through a racialized reading of one another’s bodies followed by a racialized and racializing projection of expected concerns, tastes, feelings, moral commitments, desires and so on, onto the other. 
But are there ways in which this vision of the non-racial is divorced from the ongoing social reality of race?

Author Bio: 
Emma Diatz a doctoral student at UCT, writing on the Black Consciousness Movement with a biographical focus on Vuyelwa Mashalaba, who worked closely with Biko but about whom little is written. I have the good fortune to be doing this under the guidance of Xolela Mangcu. Her intellectual interests are animated by a concern for justice and fairness and I am particularly inspired at the moment by thinkers like Richard Pithouse, David Scott, Patrick Chabal, and Rick Turner, among others. 


Image by Naadira Patel. 

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