Saturday, December 1, 2007

Race-Ryland Fischer

Former editor of the Cape Times, Ryland Fisher's, recent publication simply named "Race" is indeed "a timely and highly readable book" (backcover). Being a journalist his style of writing does not only cater for the academic audience, but in itself opens up the possibility for a broad based dialogue on matters that have gone underground. In his Foreword, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, concludes, "Ultimately, this book is but a starting point for a much-needed discusion on race. Read it and let's start talking" (2007:xi). How does Fisher do this ? He starts this book by the provocative Introduction qouting the well known disclaimer: " I am not a racist, but ....". Whilst nobody else dare owning up to being a racist, he however confess in these opening sentences ".....I believe I am a racist... Moreover, I believe that most people in South Africa are racists.". Well, its always risky to speak on behalf of "most people in South Africa", but Fisher seemingly aim to substantiate this claim in the way he treats these conversation(s). In this book he presents a glimps into these conversations with a mixture of various (prominent and not so prominent) South Africans, amongst them young people, young professional South Africans as well as our current Minister of Education Me Naledi Pandor. This methodology, I think, adds to the value of this book, as we simply hear a cross-section of South Africans talking about their experiences and opinions about various themes relating to race. These conversational themes he shares in 13 chapters focusing on "Race in the not-so-new SA", "Who are we?", "What is racism?", "The after-effects of apartheid", "Is racism a South African problem?", "Xenophobia", "Can racism ever be eliminated?", "Language and race", "Racism in the media", "Criticising government: Is this racism", "Is there still need for exclusively black ( or white) organisations?", "How do we explain apartheid to our youth?" and "The future". Fisher engage on these conversations from a particular perspective and every chapter includes a general introduction to the theme as well as in some, the setting, and later (not as conclusions!) his own (subjective) thoughts linking it to the next theme. The particular perspective is his own journey, as a coloured South African with the social constructedness of race. He writes about this jounrey, so poignent, "Recently, however, I have noticed that people who used to acccept me as black now refer to me as coloured, and by that action, exclude me and others who may or may not look like me from the majority of South Africans again.(2007:5)This is a key thread to make sense of the various voices. The book however does not claim to cover all the voices, but also it does not give neat recipe-type answers to the problem of identity formation in a postcolonial context. Maybe this was not his intention at the beginning. This book however does take the dialogue on these complext matters from under the table to try to bravely square up to it. I think it shows brilliantly the complexity of this dialogue, but also the continued relevancy and salience of race, currently.

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