BY DAN ROODT
Sipho Hlongwane had to reach all the way to Slovenia (a little volkstaat that violently revolted against the nation-building of the old Yugoslavia) to discover the term “postmodern racism” in a tract by Slavoj Zizek (Living in postmodern racism, www.bdlive.co.za, November 11). I remember more than 10 years ago Claudia Braude introduced us to “subliminal racism”, which let her label all media in South Africa racist.
No doubt South Africa harbours a large variety of “racisms”: postmodern, subliminal, imagined, symbolic, public, private, and so on. Like the patient on Sigmund Freud’s couch, the country is in search of a “cure”, which could be either a rugby quota or another huge dose of black economic empowerment. Like a manic depressive, the Democratic Alliance seems to be vacillating on how racist South Africa really is, hence its recent volte face on more draconian affirmative action.
If racism had to end tomorrow, most of our academics would find themselves without jobs, not to mention politicians! So South Africa is married to metaphysical racism forever. Even in those “end times” referred to by Zizek, there will always be racism. Even if the dollar is replaced by Bitcoin and peak oil takes us back to ploughing with oxen, racism will survive as both an explanation of the modern world’s origins and its remaining inequalities.
American Craig Bodeker made a beautiful, minimalistic, black-and-white (in the cinematographic sense) documentary called “A Conversation About Race.” He interviewed people of all races on the streets of Denver, Colorado, asking them whether they thought “racism” was still a big problem in the U S. Of course, everybody thought so. Many of the subjects stated: “Racism is everywhere.”
Few people had any direct experience of racism, but they discerned it in other people’s body language, in their use of euphemisms or being patronised by others. One black man “who dates interracially”, as he described it, was complimented on being “a good dancer” in a club by a white man. He thought it was a racist comment as the man would not have complimented a white man in the same way. So the compliment, like the insult, may be construed as racism.
It seems that racism is the real motor of history, as opposed to Karl Marx’s class struggle or Friedrich Nietzsche’s will to power.
It follows that, like sin, metaphysical racism is insurmountable. It permeates our lives and contaminates our discourse. The radioactive cloud recently released from Pelindaba was much less of a danger than racism, which must explain why almost no one took any notice of it, while every day we agonise about racism.
(Also published as letter in Business Day.)