Pathways to antiracism
Dr Caryn Abrahams
Date of publication: 1 July 2017
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There is an apparent resurgence of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination on the basis of ethnicity in South Africa. In this context careful policy-focused analytical work is critical to advance the constitutional values of non-racialism and equality. Pathways to antiracism, GCRO’s fifth Research Report, builds on GCRO’s ongoing research into race dynamics in the Gauteng City-Region, and aims to inform and provoke discussion around pathways towards social change. The study results from a long-standing partnership between the GCRO and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF) on the meaning and interpretations of non-racialism in contemporary South Africa.
Pathways to antiracism consists of three substantive papers: ‘Antiracism in post-apartheid South Africa by Kira Erwin; ‘Doing antiracism work: Seeing through racial subjectivities’ by Caryn Abrahams; and ‘Global antiracism strategies and practice’, also by Kira Erwin. These papers are interspersed with photo essays, poetry and other short contributions.
Antiracism in post-apartheid South Africa. This paper examines the contested nature of the concept of antiracism, and reviews selected strategies and practices by the state and various civil society and faith-based organisations to address racism in South Africa after 1994. Since antiracism is a less frequently used concept in South Africa than non-racialism, the paper starts with an overview of antiracism theories from within and outside the country. Against this theoretical backdrop, the paper then analyses interview data from selected South African organisations that have undertaken strategies and projects to address racism. Many of these initiatives are directed at the micro level of institutions and communities. They provide valuable learnings that suggest meaningful change within project participants and in specific sites, as well as sophisticated practices that acknowledge how race is interwoven with other forms of social difference, including class, culture, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. However, these projects do not collectively add up to a national success story of reversing racism. In its conclusion the paper makes a case for thinking about how we may best move these isolated pockets of practice into a broader national antiracism strategy. One key suggestion is to create a space for collaboration and collectivity between civil society organisations, as well as between government and civil society. This shared knowledge project may potentially leverage the strengths of existing strategies and facilitate the co-design of new strategies, in turn offering exciting possibilities for a national South African dialogue around plural rather than purist notions of antiracism that engages directly with many of the theoretical debates globally and locally.
Doing antiracism work: seeing through racial subjectivities. This paper considers the way activists and others approach antiracism work. It begins with an explanation of the various ways people think through race, highlighting three typical subjectivities that shape racialised perspectives. The first, race essentialism, encompasses crass racism where there are assertions of superiority or inferiority. The second, race evasiveness, is when people distance themselves from accusations of racism by couching exclusion in other terms. The third, race cognisance, is when people acknowledge how race and racialised histories have shaped their ways of being and acting. The paper draws out these ways of seeing race, or acting in racialised ways, by looking at two recent examples that captured the public imagination, and demonstrates the complexities of race cognisance by capturing the voices of activists. The paper concludes that in this current conjuncture in South Africa, the challenge for activists is to teach people to be critical of their own race evasiveness, and, more generally, to think through ways to get beyond the struggle between race evasiveness, essentialism and awareness.
Global antiracism strategies and practice. In 2001 South Africa signed the United Nation’s Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. One of the commitments in the DDPA was the development of a national action plan (NAP) against racism, xenophobia and related intolerances. Fifteen years after the conference, South Africa has now developed a draft NAP. While very few countries have produced monitoring and evaluation reports on their action plans, where these are available (for example, Canada and Ireland) some lessons can be drawn on what did not work and why. This paper examines NAPs within an international context, and outlines some of the key lessons South African policymakers could learn from the experiences of other countries that have implemented NAPs. It includes a discussion on some of the inherent tensions between NAPs and international compliance, and more specifically how South Africa may want to start thinking about these during the further development and implementation of such a plan. The paper’s conclusion also raises some critical questions on whether NAPs work and what is needed if they are to move beyond an exercise in international compliance.