Race can no longer define our future


Where Professor Itumeleng Mosala sees failure (Black Pain is Still Black Pain, City Press, September 25 2016), I choose to see, in addition, constrained success out of purposeful effort.

There is much about institutions and those within them that is beyond their control, despite their best efforts.

In such contexts, leaders make their contributions and move on. Claiming total failure is as unreal as claiming total success.

Where he sees “black pain”, I choose to see significant strides in human reclamation in a country where the norm in human presence is “black” and the spread of its agency irreversible as it extends its purpose, day by day, across every aspect of South African society.

When Professor Mosala asserts that “blackness should be enough”, I choose to assert that “being human is enough”, and that such a perspective is an imperative of our times.

I will no longer allow the story of “white” racism in the world and in South Africa to occupy centre stage in the expression and description of my identity in a country where the human presence of those I look like is the norm.

Being human in that norm is the essential condition of my freedom, and my greatest challenge is to give personal, social and environmental character to that norm for the general good.

It is against the challenge of that norm that creative and formative work continues to be done by countless numbers of free “black” citizens each day.

There are also countless numbers of “white” citizens reorientating their sensibilities in the direction of that norm as a sign of their recognition and acceptance of it.

I believe that there are millions of reorientations occurring in the state of the human condition across the land. I am inspired by the sense of being a part of
it all.

When Professor Mosala expresses the “wish for a frank and intellectually honest conversation” with me – yet, in the same breath, he asserts that “blackness should be enough” – I see the end of dialogue and the cessation of ideas.

Silence is what he will reap if, by the contradiction he invokes between expansive inquiry and constrictive declaration, he rejects out of hand the notion that freedom is the fundamental basis of dialogue and conversation between human beings.

I also feel impelled by him to ask further:

Did I wrongly assume that he and I have been “frank and honest” with each other all along, across the decades?

If I were indeed wrong in that regard, then the ethical underpinnings of any conversation between us suddenly look shaky.

Shaken to the core is the mutual responsibility and care for close reading and listening, and the suspension of judgement in thoughtful conversation.

The value of positive mutuality in the reclamation of human value is a vital antidote to the brutality of the history that invented “whiteness” and its concomitant “blackness” as categories of human experience.

When he says, “There is no chance for a new society”, I choose to say we are already in it, creating that society every day, even when we seem to be destroying so many parts of it.

Who else but ourselves will have to rebuild it?

Being in a new society is not only to be in it when it looks perfect. We are in it also when we are engaged in our struggles to achieve our perfect image of it.

And when Professor Mosala finally says there is “nothing to lose but the chains of colonial education”, I choose to say “colonial education” has been pushed back, albeit with constrained success.

And there is so much that has already been gained in the unfolding history of being human and free in South Africa. The space for the conversation he wishes for is one such gain since 1994.

I had assumed that, between us, we had that space well before 1994. Then, it did not enjoy the backing of state legitimacy. Today it does.

That space has since been expanded to enhance “frank and honest” conversation to take place by default, not only between us, but also between all people in our country.

Our country is the reclaimed physical space in which we can continue to strive to rebuild communities, where our homes and our livelihoods can thrive once more in human history.

It is that kind of world that I choose to strive for and ultimately live in.

Through the entire body of my fiction and expository prose I have explored “black” agency as the normative value in the creation of culture, despite the long night of oppression.

From that perspective, I continue to see more opportunities today in distancing myself from some mentalities of that oppression.

I see the prospects of a greater world for those once “black” not only in the offing, but in the immediacy of each day.

I respect the world of Professor Mosala’s “black” identity, as he continues to see it against the fullness of its history, and his choice to proclaim it in perpetuity according to the dictates of his conscience and convictions.

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