Monday, 16 December 2019

Redefining Race: It’s Collaboration That Counts

Posted by Sifiso Mkhonto
Historically, under the category of race, White colonisers of Africa used race for greed and exploitation, enslaving the continent's Black races for innumerable reasons, such as labour, land, resources, pleasure, etc.
While it is true that Arab races exploited Black races, and Black exploited Arab – and Black exploited Black, and so on – a mere cursory look at the colonial map of Africa reveals that most Black races were dominated by White colonisers, and as a result were exploited by them. There were (arguably) just two exceptions: Ethiopia and Liberia.

While the colonial era now lies behind us in Africa – at least in its overt forms – racial prejudice continues to be a major issue. As we approach the 20s of the 20s decade in the Common Era, we come to realise that racial superiority, if not domination, has continued in the form of individualism.

I propose that collaboration is the true opposite of racism, while a failure to collaborate is its chief characteristic.

Race, like all the causes of prejudice, is merely a classificatory term, a social construct, rather than a genuine biological category. It indicates a group which is characterised by closeness of common descent, and some shared physical distinctiveness such as colour of skin – but can this still be relevant when one speaks in terms of collaboration?  Collaboration is concrete.  It advances beyond the theoretical constructs of race, and gives us a measurable and meaningful term.  It is a concept we can work with.

Presently, in Africa, including my own nation South Africa, the category of race is used as a tool for redress. However, we find a failure to measure its success. This begs the question – is the concept of race effective, or is it a hindrance to progress?  If there is one thing about race, it is that your individual fortunes can be turned in the direction you wish – if you know how to bargain with it – and those who know how to bargain with it use it to lay a solid foundation for their fortunes.

It is great to admire the beauty of your ethnicity, but to do it at the expense of diminishing another uncovers insecurities about your own successes and failures. The agenda which puts Black races on their own should be torn to shreds, because the truth is that everyone is on their own. The only difference between each ethnicity is collaboration.  This is the level where true non-racialism is measured.

It seems as if real interracial collaboration faded with the struggle for independence and self-determination. The chances of having a genuine partnership for empowerment, or to fight a system of oppression with a person of your opposite race, was higher during the tough times, compared to the present. Times are still tough economically, politically, and socially, but behind the curtain of some delusionary interracial collaborations, we find terms and conditions that do not move us forward.

In his book of 1725, Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth, Isaac Watts says,
‘Do not always imagine that there are ideas wheresoever there are names; for though mankind hath so many millions of ideas more than they have of names, yet so foolish and lavish are we, that too often we use some words in mere waste, and have no ideas for them; or at least our ideas are so exceedingly scattered and confused, broken and blended, various and unsettled, that they can signify nothing toward the improvement of the understanding.’
Race is an issue – along with other forms of prejudice – where concepts are used ‘in mere waste’. We attach a lot of ideas to mere words. Some of these words have no real definition which belongs to them. What then are the concepts which really matter? In the case of ‘racism’, it is about collaboration, above all.

This is how we should define the issue going forward. This is the true opposite of racial prejudice. In everything we do, from day to day, we should keep this first and foremost.

7 comments:

Frances Bean Jardine said...


Such an interesting way of looking at it - I’ve never thought about collaboration as the opposite of racism. Although if you mean collaboration in terms of fostering relationships between individuals and within community I definitely agree.
You haven’t said much on what you think collaboration looks like practically though. Could you give your thoughts on how we can each put it into practice on a day to day basis?

Keith said...

To my mind, Sifiso, racism remains endemic and systemic — with an ugly root system stretching around the world. Racism, I would argue, has complex origins in history, sociology, psychology, economics, culture, and anthropology. Muddied by a toxic sludge of raw emotions and bogus reasoning: from fear to hate, supremacism, power, insecurity, blame, hubris, control, and more. Racism has defied cookie-cutter solutions. We've come nowhere near solving it. Agreed, racism ‘is about collaboration’ — well, partially so, anyway. But by what means and to what ends? As feel-good as ‘collaboration’ may sound, likely it’s just a small part of the story: The persistent, systemic nature of racism leads one to believe there’s more to understanding and remedying it. As for where the world is today, I’m of mixed minds — for every circle in which I see racism retreat, there’s a circle in which I see racism harden. I’m not sure of the net result.

Thomas Scarborough said...

Yes I think it is an interesting way of looking at it, and if it were a conscious pursuit, this could really make a difference. Christian B. Miller, who has led a lot of research into human character, found that if we are more mindful about what constitutes good behaviour, it changes our behaviour.

I would both agree and disagree that race is an empty concept. Strictly, it is. Yet different races tend to have different ways, and for some, the flexibility this requires is just too much. To use a term which emerged around the 1940s, people experience culture shock, or transition shock.

docmartincohen said...

Myself, I agree with Frances Bean Jardin, that this is a very good way to look at racism, viz" "The only difference between each ethnicity is collaboration. This is the level where true non-racialism is measured."

My particular perspective is that this week I was in the UK (the opposite end of the World from South Africa!) for the country's election. This was one in which the ruling party chose to highlight the issue of whether the UK would continue to be part of the European Union - or not.

People voted 'not', or at least enough of them did for the ruling party to be returned with a 'landslide'. They voted precisely to NOT have cross-border, cross-cultural mixing and collaboration. For 50 years cooperation between the peoples of the European Union had been the unremarked norm in everyday practical life in the UK - with the result that companies based themselves there and many people of European (meaning non-UK) origins spent all or parts of their lives contributing to UK business - and social and cultural - life.

But then someone decided to draw lines between 'British' and 'non-British'. The lines were not directly drawn by reference to 'race', but they certainly were indirectly. How people spoke, colour, and bureaucratic status became much more important than the contributions to the community - what Sifiso, I think, means by 'collaboration' - that people brought.

The achitects of the EU also explicitly linked this idea of the collaboration of nations as the means to supress the promptings of racism. Alas, collaboration seems to be the weaker social force.

Thomas Scarborough said...

How would one distinguish between collaboration and control?

Sifiso Mkhonto said...

Frances Bean Jardine thank you for posing that question, in practicality there is no single way of collaborating but the essence is collaborating across racial groups, this in turn yields results of hearing less about 'black excellence' and just simply 'excellence'. To detach color or race from excellence or just simply living in any condition.

Sifiso Mkhonto said...

Thank you for that comment Keith. I agree with you. There is no one solution to ending racism. Collaboration happens to be one of many tools that can be exercised.

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