The Rainbow Hypothesis

2012-07-17 20:26

‘…we are not multiracialist, we are nonracialist. We are fighting for a society where people will cease thinking in terms of colour…It’s not a question of race; it’s a question of ideas’.  Nelson Mandela.

One of the pillars of Mandela’s moral code lies in the ideal of non-racialism. In a country where race was used as the rationale for (in)action and the basis upon which national and moral objectives were carved, non-racialism means a break from what was and what could be. This ideal is enveloped by ideas of tolerance, compassion, empathy and mutual respect.

My conception of non-racialism is perhaps not about dismissing difference but about not having pre-meditated categorisations of difference when fusing it with Archbishop Desmond Tutu's rainbow notion. It is essentially about shattering generalisations and seeing people as they are and not trying to re-create them into mythical figures of history which perhaps never existed as they are painted by history's general and simplistic lazy eye. Is this a future that can and should be attained? Is the human being genuinely and without doubt able to transcend a generalised reality?

There is, I think, in principle, nothing flawed about non-racialism. However, I think it is possible to notice colour, cultural and linguistic differences, varied values and morality without prejudice and a mistrust of those you do not fully share a view of the world. There could be something about papering over difference, which suffocates the world of its vibrancy, its colour, its rainbow. Of course it is but a short step from recognising difference to inviting prejudice and condescension and changing expectations and codes of conduct when among those of a different colour. Colour, in itself, is not the carrier of injustice but historically derived generalisations of colour bankrupt a rich individuality non-racialism can deny.

Generalisations are a way to understand our world and each other. Generalisations can simultaneously solidify divisions, rationalise inequality and create narrow conceptions of race and difference, which separate us from our commonalities. Difference can be recognised without essentialising it.

Sure, race is not a natural categorisation but constructed by people. Just as race is a construct and was(is) used as a powerful tool of division, it can be reconstructed and freed from its entrenched meaning. Race is certainly not a dying categorisation but it must be freed from history, hierarchy and its attendant notions of power.

There should be no expectations tied to race. Without expectations people come closer to understanding one another and creating an environment where empathy and mutual respect can thrive. I stand for the results of what Mandela's non-racialism stands for though I believe accepting difference does not necessarily have to dilute an outcome favouring justice, deeper integration as opposed to indifferent cohabitation, equality and respect. There is nothing wrong with seeing colour as long as you see the person's individuality behind the colour.


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