Dashiki Dialogues: Racists conveniently hate the player

2014-02-19 10:00

There’s an untidy tendency tainting much of our public discourse over the meaning of many black revolutionary leaders.

Almost always, these conversations are spoilt by how we fail to observe the binary divide between their personal faults and intellectual contributions.

In the historic struggle to deracialise the world of knowledge, this tendency to foreground untidy bits of the biographies of these figures is used to discredit their ideas.

This trend comes up in casual chatter as well, not just in the academy.

Many dinner gatherings have been spoilt by the mere mention of any of the three Ms: Marley, Malcolm, Mandela (you can now even include Mamphela.)

I was hosting one of those beer, braai and banter dinner situations with a group of friends.

Now, yours truly keeps a very diverse lot as friends: there are the hip sons of Afrikaners I’ve shared love with since art school on one side, then there are bushy bearded legal geeks with a penchant for berets.

Their pan-Africanist slant always rubs up the sweet unpoliticised clique the wrong way. Albeit very noisy, we are a happy collective all the same.

A conversation about the recent DA-Agang fiasco involving Mamphela Ramphele began with a search for traces of the memory of Steve Biko in Ramphele’s own political project.

Not long after, the contrarian lot started questioning the validity of raising Biko as an exemplary figure.

The obvious attack was his extramarital affair with Ramphele. Naturally, tempers began

to flare. Biko’s martyrdom, along with that of Malcom X, were subject to the contest between personal blunder versus political project.

The latest revelations that Madiba’s love children are fighting to be recognised by his estate also entered the fray, and Madiba’s wandering ways were deployed to avoid discussing the depth of his intellect.

I can’t imagine where world scholarship would be if we dismissed Albert Einstein’s ideas simply because he had half a dozen girlfriends and told his wife they showered him with “unwanted” affection.

Our discussions about Karl Marx’s ideas are never mixed with facts of his biography.

It’s tacitly understood these are immaterial details. It’s also none of our business. The facts of

his life are kept apart from the validity of his thinking.

It’s very conveniently racist to use details of how Miles Davis unbuttoned his dashiki to mute his dialogues with the world’s musical heritage.

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