Thursday, February 5, 2009



Fred Khumalo

Feb 01, 2009

Yes, race matters, but the fight against racism should not be an end in itself
The times they are a-changing — and this might just mean that our stupid obsession with race can make way for a celebration of life

One of my newly acquired friends here in France, a fellow with a quirky sense

of humour who is steadily guiding me through the labyrinths of his native tongue, showed me an intriguing e-mail the other day.

The beauty of the e-mail was that it contained not a lot of words, just this caption: the effects of climate change.

The rest of the space was occupied by two pictures.

Incidentally, a Zimbabwean friend of mine who is based in Nigeria had also shown me the same e-mail. So, to be fair, I cannot vouch for the vintage of said e-mail.

It could have been put together a year ago, but my friend showed it to me within the context of the discussion we were trying to have.

In our limited vocabularies — his limited English and my almost nonexistent French — I was trying to get a sense of a Frenchman’s understanding of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first non-white (that’s a safe tag for now) president of the US.

Instead of waxing lyrical about the subject, my friend opened his laptop and showed me the e-mail about climate change and the pictures.

The first depicts the French soccer squad of 1959 while the second is of the French soccer squad of 2008.

In the first picture, the players are all white, while in the second squad they are almost all black.

My friend’s response was profound.

He was telling me, as he would later try to say in his own words, that the players of the current squad were not selected for their race, but for their abilities, for their patriotism (some of them are newly arrived émigrés in France while others were born there) and the glory that they have bestowed upon their country by doing so well in international soccer.

By implication, therefore, he was saying that the world was moving on, and current developments were rendering obsolete the superficialities of the sad past.

Now, I have written in the past that for some unfortunate reasons many are obsessed with Obama’s race without even considering his intellect and character.

Some have angrily pointed out that it is a distortion of history to claim that Obama is black. He was, after all, raised by the white maternal side of his family, blah-blah.

To which I have countered that while Obama himself has proclaimed his blackness, it is the racial climate, the socially engineered milieu that he grew up in, that defined him as black.

Our own Walter Sisulu, whose father was white, was classified black by this country’s laws. Sisulu, the man who groomed Mandela, wasn’t raised by the white side of his family.

I agree, as the likes of American intellectual, philosopher and civil rights activist Cornell West have pointed out: race matters. It will continue to matter for some time to come, especially both in the US and in our country.

In the US they had Jim Crow laws, in this country we had apartheid. Remarkably, the agents of change in both countries have emerged from the accommodative non-racial discourse, and not from racial exclusivists across the spectrum.

As society evolves, there will be moments in history that will create discomfort and confusion.

Because they may cause confusion, some of these changes need to be treated with due care and sensitivity — even by those who are putting them forward as possible solutions.

One of these turning points was the era of negritude, especially as it manifested itself in literature.

I do not have the luxury of space to explore negritude in any depth here, but at a basic level, it encouraged black writers to celebrate their heritage without necessarily denigrating the heritages of others.

But because it was so deep, negritude also opened itself to abuse — witting or unwitting.

For example, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, to paraphrase him, said the tiger didn’t proclaim its tigritude, it pounced. In the context of writing, he suggested that a writer should write.

His blackness, or his cultural proclivity, or his roots would manifest themselves in the writing without the writer saying: “Ah, wait a minute now. This is serious stuff, I’m gonna write like a black man.”

Of course that was simplistic of Soyinka. But that a man of his intellectual stature could have misunderstood the philosophy tells us that sometimes overtly racially charged philosophies can elicit undesired, and therefore retrogressive, outcomes.

Yes, race matters and will continue to matter, but the fight against racism should not be an end in itself. There should be something beyond.

When Obama took on his new responsibility, he did so as an American. Let’s get it out of our heads that he is doing it for the black race.

There is, of course, the white lunatic fringe in the US which sees the ascendancy of Obama as a betrayal of the white race; that what belongs to them has been taken away and they should therefore fight back.

Which brings us back home: there are those in our country who are labouring under the misconception that cricket and rugby belong to a specific race.

No sporting code belongs to a particular race.

For example, in the sporting world of South Africa in the ’70s, the hottest soccer teams were white: Highlands Park, Durban City, Lusitano, Wits University. In due course, owners of black teams started poaching white players. There was no outcry from the black community that the whites were “taking over” a black sport.

Why is it, then, that some black people have been attacked at rugby stadiums by those who have been reported to have averred that blacks want to take over everything?

Yes, the thinking might represent the lunatic fringe, but that it exists at all is worrisome.

This obsession with race is simply stupid as the Obama and Sisulu examples I have cited above eloquently illustrate.

Good, competent individuals will always defy social engineering and expose it for what it is: an unsustainable, wasteful, morally bankrupt, hateful way of celebrating that which God gave us: life.

Look out! There’s a train coming. It ain’t black or white. It’s a grey blur. The grey blur of change.

On the Button: I leapt at the frog and rabbit
Prior to my current visit to France, I’ve never had the presence of mind to order frogs’ legs.

Possibly this was because I thought they were just a historical fact in French cuisine, and my hosts, the people who gave us Sartre, Thierry Henry and Michel Platini, no longer partook of amphibians.

At Le Skipper restaurant in the northwestern coastal town of Saint-Nazaire the other day, I asked the waitress whether they served frogs’ legs.

She proudly pointed to the menu: cuisses de grenouilles.

I duly ordered them.

At € 9, the frogs’ legs were quite pricey for a starter portion, especially as I was paying from my own pocket.

The guy who pays our bills at the Sunday Times would have given me that funny look of his upon seeing my bill: buying frogs in France.

You see, the man comes from a landlocked kingdom in South Africa where they have a navy — one ship last seen berthed in Mozambique — and the warriors there are known to kill a bull with their bare hands every time the king, who has lost count of his wives and their Benzs, wants to have a braai.

Anyway, I enjoyed my cuisses de grenouilles, merci beaucoup.

For my main course I had médaillon de lapin (that’s rabbit to you), at € 17.50.

Mailbag: Apartheid and the Holocaust

You record quite correctly how important it is to have so many reminders of the Holocaust, in “Deny our history at your peril” (January 25).

I am told by my wife, who is very involved in the Holocaust Centre in Cape Town, that many of the youngsters coming to the centre clearly don’t have an understanding of apartheid.

Presumably, the apartheid museum in Johannesburg has all its photos on disc — and surely every city with the assistance of this material should establish an apartheid museum so that the new generation can learn their history? — Eliot Osrin, Cape Town

You assert that, in order to avoid repeats of atrocities, society should keep apartheid “top of mind”. I remind you that the Holocaust and the worldwide attention it receives did nothing to avert the genocide in Rwanda or in Bosnia and Serbia.

As a white South African, I accept culpability for apartheid and agree wholeheartedly with your opinion regarding those who incorrectly and arrogantly claim innocence, but I don’t see the value in not moving on. — Neal, by e-mail

As a 60-year-old white South African woman, I lived thoughtlessly through the apartheid years, and feel such a strong need to just say “I am so sorry for doing nothing”.— Yvonne Foxcroft, by e-mail

Fred says: Honesty is the balm we need to soothe our collective, wounded psyche. That we have come thus far means we have been somewhere. We therefore can only move on.