It’s Writer Wednesday, friends, and this week I’m taking a look at Professor Neville Alexander’s Thoughts on The New South Africa.
One of the great democratic strengths of the new South Africa is the fact that matters such as ‘race’ and gender continue to be discussed in public and openly, often with great passion, in many gatherings and in the media.
The title for today’s post, Rainbow vs. Garieb, comes from one of the late Dr. Alexander’s ideas: that a rainbow, though diverse, is still divided into separate colors, but Garieb (alt. spelling is ‘Gariep’, the original name for the Orange River) represents multiple entities flowing together to become something larger, in unity; a new whole that is greater than its individual parts.
This analogy reminds me of an argument once held in an English writing course I took at the University of Pittsburgh, about whether it’s better to consider America a “melting pot” or a “tossed salad.” The professor argued that the better analogy is a “tossed salad” because it retains all the flavor and texture of its original components. I understood his point that by each culture retaining its separate identities, it enriches the diversity of society as a whole. But I argued that separation doesn’t guarantee enrichment, and that enrichment still occurs in blending, like fusion food, where a traditional dish becomes better from the addition of exotic spices.
I asserted that if we don’t allow the true melting process to occur, those separate identities continually cause conflict via race and culture clashes. I asserted that America is a country in which blending creates more harmony than separation.
We can, to put it briefly and bluntly, carry out justifiable affirmative action policies without entrenching racial stereotypes and racial consciousness…what has to be addressed is disadvantage, not ‘race.’
And whether or not my argument for “melting pot” over “tossed salad” is valid, America is not South Africa, and as Dr. Alexander asserts (and I paraphrase poorly, I’m sure), South Africa must create its own society, not based on the models working for America or Britain or anywhere else, but what works for its own particular blend of traditional African societies and post-colonial infusion.
are we building a new historical community?…are we using the historic opportunity that the 1990s made available to us for creating another South Africa, one where race thinking and racial discrimination will eventually become as anachronistic and as pitiable as the belief in witches?
While the book is heady and academic, it has a lot of thought-provoking material that I am sharing in quotes strewn throughout today’s post. I am not a proponent of either Communism or Socialism, whose ideals the late Dr. Alexander seemed to promote. I believe that any system of government (however idealized, constructed and implemented) is subject to human weakness, the worst of which corrupt any system of government. And as my regular readers know, I’m pretty much an optimist, so I don’t make that statement lightly or as a blasé cynic.
…we have to ensure that affirmative action and related measures do not have the unintended consequence of entrenching racial (and other) stereotypes in the consciousness of the people… stereotyping is humanity’s natural way of coping with the complexity of the world out there.
…if one does not command the language(s) of production, exchange and distribution, one is automatically excluded from and disempowered within a social system.
But I do believe in charity, equal rights and equal opportunity, and I strongly believe that the imperialism and globalization of the English language harms culture, exchange and growth as much as it is said to aid capitalism. To this end, and even to the points I don’t agree with, Dr. Alexander’s book gave me a lot to think about.
…few people realise how alien much of modern technology is to people who are forced to engage with it only through the medium of a foreign language.
I do wish Dr. Alexander had a writing style that was comfortable for the average reader, because the book itself is a series of well-considered arguments that warrant discussion in more than merely the educated, academic minority. True persuasion takes not only valid argument, but the ability to communicate effectively to the appropriate audience, and I think this is the area where he missed the mark. But maybe one of his avid followers with a more colloquial style will take it upon herself to recreate Dr. Alexander’s arguments for the masses.
South Africa is the one country in the world where, for historical and cultural reasons, it is possible to demonstrate that a raceless society is possible, a society where, if we return to the sources of our Garieb nation, we can fill the notion of ubuntu with humanistic, as opposed to mere folkloristic, content.
In the meantime, I hope you’ve also been given something to think about from Dr. Alexander’s quotes in today’s post, and more importantly, I hope you can take the time to read his book for yourself.
Happy Over-the-Hump Day!