Reflections on Race from a Global Perspective

A meditation on the difficult issues of race and racism.

by Dr Litheko Modisane
Author of award-winning  Renegade Reels: The Making & Public Lives of Black-centred Films

Is  it not disturbing that blackness as a state of being is perpetually on the run?

It is forever suspended between captivity and freedom – yes both in the sense of the fear of bondage and uncertainty about freedom as well as the vulnerable disposition to being domesticated by the hegemony of whiteness and capital, two sides of the same coin.

Runaway slaves are always looking over their shoulder.

I know this reference to slavery is bound to birth murmurs of protest, but be that as it may—the abolition of slavery does not mean the abolition of slave-relations on another level—that of the mutually reinforcing psychic recognition of power and powerlessness between whites and blacks in which black people are neatly fitted into the latter even as the immediate evidence points to their empowerment.

Those whose slavery was never promulgated and never for a day were bound in chains somehow remain beholden to slavery as a threatening memory of our existential condition.

To us slavery might be un-known as experience, but as a condition of life it’s memory is etched on our bodies and the resisting, even insurgent psyches. This is thanks to constant reminders of a history that is yet to pass, and the very over-determining property of our colour–thanks to Fanon.

When ‘blackness is free’ it is so to prove a point not to just be; when it is not free, it yearns not just for formally arranged structures of protection against capture in the form of democracy, the state, etc., but for something beyond the very limits that such arrangements tend to impose on it.

This explains why to be black can never be an individual reality in the strictest sense, it is always predetermined and conditioned by particular ways of being, chief of which is belonging to an almost always anxious collectivity—the party, the body of protests (Eg: Service delivery protests, #BlackLivesMatter), the church—something for its affirmation and protection.

But even these are not averse to being captured in the grammar of whiteness as hordes, mob, black on black violence, mental lack and bodily excess. Whiteness on the other hand doesn’t have much to worry about as it sets the tone and tempo of planetary reality, except its power and its maintenance.

However it too does not seem to escape the violence of its originary moment–born as it was by a binary contrast with blackness that at the same time it seeks to banish from the earth. Given this suspension between captivity and freedom, this lingering threat of banishment, even annihilation: how shall blackness eschew the very terms by which it is defined, how shall it take off the running shoes and just be?§

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