- Response to Zimitri Erasmus
Zimitri Erasmus’ editorial essay follows from the position paper (Erasmus 2010a) she presented at the ‘Revisiting Apartheid Race Categories’ colloquium, at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2010. This essay largely complements her position paper and is ideally read alongside the latter. Given this, I respond to key elements in both pieces.
Erasmus (this volume) interrogates continued administrative use of ‘race’ categories developed and institutionalised during apartheid. Her integrative overview of and framework for contributions to this special issue skilfully knits together these substantively diverse contributions without diluting the complexity of the topic and of the individual articles. En passant, this ensemble of articles provides a fructuous point of reference for on-going discussions about the functions and desirability of the continued employ of apartheid racial taxonomies in post-apartheid South Africa.
Significantly, Erasmus (this volume) provides a timely engagement with the paradox of the current deployment of racial categories as a means of undoing the profound problems and inequalities engendered by the racism of apartheid racial categorisation. Some scholars (for example, Adam, in Lefko-Everett, this issue) argue for harnessing these categories to redress the strongly racialised configurations of privilege and exclusions institutionalised during apartheid. However, their continued use, as many authors in recent years have reminded us (for example, Alexander, in Lefko-Everett, this issue, Stevens et al 2006), could easily re-inscribe and further sediment these apartheid categories and their underlying assumptions, and also reuse them in new articulations of social occlusion and exclusion.
Several insights in the two pieces to which I respond here are useful for deepening current debates on the continued use of the old racial typologies virtually naturalised during the apartheid period. First, Erasmus correctly suggests that seeking to identify and offer easy solutions for the paradox [End Page 12] referred to above and its attendant problems is a fraught endeavour. Julian Rappaport, the community psychologist, argues, complex problems, such as those related to ‘race’ and ‘race’ thinking, call for equally complex solutions. In his seminal text, ‘In praise of paradox’, Rappaport (1981) observes that while social problems in contemporary society have complex causes and manifestations, the social sciences misguidedly tend to seek convergent rather than divergent solutions for these problems. Noting the futility of this tendency, he appeals (as does Erasmus in this volume) for greater creativity in attempts to solve social and political problems such as those related to ‘race’ (also see Erwin, in this issue). Furthermore, Rappaport argues that truly creative and ultimately effective solutions to extant social problems such as the ‘race’ conundrum have to engage with ways in which people most affected by these problems attempt to deal with them. In other words, effective solutions cannot simply be a function of theoretical ponderings and deliberations.
Second, of particular value is Erasmus’ (this volume) expressed commitment to venturing beyond orthodox social science’s explanatory frameworks and political explanations routinely trotted out in defence of, in opposition to, or to account for the continued deployment of ‘race’ as a social or administrative category. She challenges the reader to start thinking differently about ways of engaging with the paradoxes and ideological and social tensions posed by this practice. Third, also valuable is her implicit commitment, not simply to tackling the notion of ‘race’ but also to imagining (in much the same way as Frantz Fanon did in his Black Skin, White Masks) a future society in which ‘race’ can no longer perpetuate and mask social, economic and other forms of inequality to the extent that it currently does; a society in which a new humanity is possible (Fanon 1952). Fourth, Erasmus’s presentation of a critical-race-standpoint as a means of engaging with the effects of ‘race’ on people’s lived reality is critical to current debates on the on-going administrative use of race categories. This standpoint which draws on the precepts of critical race theory (Erasmus 2010b) argues for ‘resistance to both the effects of race and [within the context of the aforementioned colloquium] to the use of apartheid race categories for administrative purposes’ (pp9,11). We should seek to challenge notions of race not simply because of the ways the...