- Race Otherwise: Forging a New Humanism for South Africa by Zimitri Erasmus
Zimitri Erasmus. Johannesburg:
Wits University Press, 2017.
Paper, 195 pages. $30.00.
In a succinct summary of her project at the beginning of Race Otherwise, Zimitri Erasmus states, “Race matters. It matters because of the meanings we give to it. How and why race has come to matter, and how and why we continue to make race matter, has to do with ways in which history, power and politics shape the frames within which meaning is made, contested and renegotiated” (xxii). Even so, she acknowledges that her book is more about the normative meanings that we ascribe to race, how we come to know race and the meanings that it carries, than it is about “racism as a structure of power” (xxiii). Each chapter informs the reader about the different ways in which race is given meaning depending on the circumstances. By the end of the book, Erasmus offers a challenge to her readers when she invites them to think that “these ways of coming to know engage conditions of possibility for challenging racialisation” (146).
Race Otherwise is indispensable for anyone wanting to know the state of conversations about race in South Africa. For this reason it deserves a larger readership outside the confines of the academy. Erasmus articulates the concept of race with history and personal anecdotes that echo how the “personal is always political.” As readers we come to understand Erasmus’s conceptualization of non-racialism through her personal narratives. It is a [End Page 218] style designed to make her readers more empathetic to her racial politics. By the end of the book the reader is once again reminded of the different ways in which we come to know race and how those meanings change depending on one’s geographical location, education, class, and gender. This is noted in four anecdotes that she shares: “reclassified Caucasian; defending the spelling of ‘coloured’; unclassified; and lived anti-racialism” (18–22). These anecdotes help to explain why Erasmus argues for humanism. She states that this project requires the defiance of “reductionism, the violence and the reliance on a foundational Otherness of both Eurocentrism and nativism as modes of knowing and being. It implies ‘not just . . . changing the contents but the very terms of the conversation, in so doing shifting the terrain for argumentation” (26).1
Erasmus ends the book with a radical call toward understanding race through a radical form of love defined as eros. She writes, “Love adds to the world. It does not take from it (Bauman 2010: 9). Love invites beginning, and beginning again, in relation. ‘Not yet’ is a space in which to reconfigure the world. A space in which to reconfigure subjectivity, resistance, learning living and doing. ‘Not yet’ is the future in the present. You and I need not wait. We can grow the future for our time” (146). This radical love is much needed, but it is a pity that the author does not spend enough time outlining what this radical form of love would look like in practice. While it is clear that eros can only work when both individuals in any relation Black or white need to have a level of self-love and self-actualization, the idea of eros seems unattainable in a country like South Africa when most of the individuals who experience racism in any form are the poor working class (often Black). Erasmus offers us a romantic notion of love as a way forward, one that does not consider the everyday realities of race in South Africa. There is an attempt to articulate how eros works in practical ways, anchored in aimance, which is defined as “a composite of friendship, imaginative co-creativity, care for the Other and transformative politics ushered in as a consequence of lived experiences of domination” (141). However, the idea of aimance leaves one wondering how this is fostered and who in the relationship has to do the work. Is it the Other? More importantly, what good is this relation if it will...