(Published - 28 September 2018)
The seminar - chaired by Professor Jaap de Visser, the Director of the Dullah Omar Institute - took place at the District Six Museum on September 26 and featured influential researchers and thought leaders on ‘race’ and racism.
The discussion kicked off with Rustum Kozain, a freelance generalist, who interrogated the manner in which the problematic language of race still dominates public and private discourse in South Africa. He challenged the ‘laziness’ of using racial categories to achieve economic redistribution and essentially concluded that identity politics based on race is a dead end.
This was followed by Asanda Ngoasheng, who lectures journalism at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She shared her experiences in engaging youth in Cape Town on issues surrounding racism. Ngoasheng concluded that too many opportunities are lost to meaningfully engage the youth on ‘race’: “We don't engage our children about what it means to be in the skin they live in”.
Professor Desiree Lewis, a lecturer in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at the University of the Western Cape, examined the shifts - both domestically and globally in the debate around identity. She concluded that the claiming of identity has become the “be all” and “end all” of struggles but that it is not clear what it is expected lead to. She also pointed out that notions of multiculturalism, used in the global north, are often based on notions of a dominant so-called “neutral” culture accepting “backward” and “irrational” cultures.
Angelo Fick, the Director of Research at ASRI, challenged the dominant narrative and language surrounding ‘race’. He likened it to a ghost story that, simply because many believe in it, has real consequences for how society works. He argued that insufficient attention is being paid to 50 years of critical race theory that forcefully rebuts the way politicians practice race-based identify politics. He argued that politicians are the least well-placed to lead the debate about race in a productive way. He also pointed out that criminalising racism might be important but certainly not enough.
A full report back of the seminar will be published shortly.