COMMENT Prof. Dr Thoko Kaime 01 May 2021
Throughout May 2021, the Chair of African Legal Studies focuses on anti-racism through its dedicated blog at africalegalstudies.blog. In this short comment which prefaces the series, I reflect on how I see the place of black people and people of colour in this most important of struggles going forward.
To build an anti-racist world, it goes without saying that the voices of those upon whom racial violence has been unleashed must be heard. This might sound like a cliché but we have been here before: a moment with so much promise yet fragile nonetheless. The current struggle for an anti-racist world, powered an insurgent and urgent cry for equality and racial justice is directly related to and echoes the anticolonial struggles of the past and their fervent calls for independence. I think it is critical to learn from these connected histories.
Colonialism perpetuated the myths of metropolitan superiority of the colonisers with the aim of subjugating the natives; an insidious narrative of status that continues to haunt many postcolonial attempts at nation-making. Despite colonialism being wrought upon the peoples of the south by white colonialist hordes, the terms of its inevitable dismemberment were set by the very same agents who worked so hard to subjugate black and other people of colour. Bargains on what postcolonial legal and political cultures could be, were in many cases hammered out in darkened hallowed halls in the colonisers’ lands: the oppressor promptly took on the role of adviser on what a good republic could be and has never relinquished that title yet.
The result? There has not been a moment of independence. Instead, decolonisation is an ongoing reordering of the past in order to realise the future, with moments of true independence only realised when the shackles of false postcolonial cooperation are thrown aside. As Patrice Lumumba and Thomas Sankara showed us, we must be proud in the possibility of a future free from imperialism and of our ability to speak for ourselves. This idea, speaking for oneself, is key in the anti-colonial fight. So too, must it be in our reimagining of an anti-racist world. The lessons on agency and ownership must not be lost.
In the current struggle for an anti-racist world, itself intimately connected to anticolonial struggle; racist modes of thinking try to subvert the future by denying black and brown people not only the ability to make and live a future that they themselves create; but they also rob them of their most important worth: their agency. In trying to dismantle this edifice, some allies step in to represent the oppressed on account of such allies familiarity with the structures that have oppressed black and people of colour for many a season; others suggest a toning down of the rhetoric on account that it is too radical or too offensive or that it does not build bridges. The message? Be nice. Well, doing anti-racism work properly is radical stuff and those engaged in deconstructing racist pasts and their claim to our futures cannot afford to be nice. Nice for what?
True allyship does not seek to mask or moderate. True allyship does not seek to explain the racism of others or undermine racism by wrapping it in a bow of mere ignorance. True allyship steps aside and allows the victims of racism to dictate the kind of discourse and deconstruction that they will pursue. Unless there is true ownership of the struggle for antiracism by the oppressed, we can only look forward to moments of antiracism in the future. As our postcolonial history has demonstrated, this is totally unsatisfactory and must be completely rejected. Yet, a world free of racism is still possible but the struggle for it must be led by those who suffer under this insidious yoke.