Some reflections on post-racialism

Black Woman Vector

Starting with the words of Indian professor Homi K Bhabha who said:

Our existence today is marked by a tenebrous sense of survival, living on the borderlines of the ‘present’, for which there seems to be no proper name other than the current and controversial shiftiness of the prefix ‘post': postmodernism, postcolonialism, postfeminism…

Another post-prefix that feels marked by this shiftiness is ‘post-racial’. Like most other ‘posts’ it is premature in a childish world that is in fact polarized often dichotomously. North-South. Man-Woman. Straight-Gay. White-Black. Etcetera. Binaries that furthermore contain inegalitarian power structures and that can’t quite explain pluralities like mixed-race and intersex.

Of course, there is something appealing about hyper-futuristic terms. For example, post-racialism seems to understand that race is a fictional political invention. However, racism is a reality. So if we stop speaking of racial categories how can we address their offspring especially in regions of the world that haven’t forgotten, like in South Africa, where the socio-economic order is a kind of apartheid under another name, or, in the US where not too long ago an event like hurricane Katrina was not so post-racially dealt with? Such ordeals demonstrate the complexity of wanting to live in some new world, of a desire to move on, to see beyond race,  to quite frankly want to ignore how scandalously unfinished reconciliatory projects such as the TRC are.

What we need to do is to find new ways of using language that doesn’t distort or deny the past nor contradict the present. Not in a Michael Jackson it-don’t-matter-if-you’re-black-or-white way but rather with language that examines the many layers of what it means to be black (or white, male, modern and so on) without validating the propagandist fallacy that race is nor overemphasizing differences the way the Black Power movement (necessarily at its height) did.

Afropolitanism, says Cameroonian professor Achille Mbembe as you can read on my page archiving the Afropolitan, could be part of such a new language. It is post-racial in the sense that you don’t have to be of African heritage to be Afropolitan. It is post-feminist (or masculist for that matter) in that it has not produced a canon of gendered imagery (check out for example some photos from Delphine Fawundu-Buford’s upcoming exhibition to get a feel of Afropolitan aesthetic). It takes into consideration ideas about Africa, race, ethnicity, migration, colonialism, culture, regional and global cosmopolitanism and other very real pillars around which we build our identities without being squashed by them. It allows those things that make us human, like fluidity and hybridity.

Any thoughts?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Vectorportal

  • Nat Turner

    This is an interesting article.

    I agree entirely that people’s thoughts and ideals are influenced by the language that is banded around in popular culture and media. M/o, far from being an exemption, racial attitudes are probably a prime example of how our thoughts are influenced by the imagery portrayed in the words we use. However, I think there are definitely two sides to this coin and we ought to recognise (with humility) that language is also extremely reflective of current cultural attitudes and society’s inner thoughts and as the saying goes – you can’t hate the mirror because your face is ugly!

    Because of this, though I’d welcome the motive, I’d be sceptical about the idea of embarking on a crusade to sterilising the language of the day to achieve something that, though is more palatable to the racially conscious ear, is completely artificial. I don’t say this is not to tread underfoot a good initiative but rather I’d like to show awareness that all over the world, from South Africa to Southall we simply may need an cleansing of people’s thoughts and actions *before* we have a cleansing of people’s words…

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for your comment. Agree on many levels. But do you think postracial language is our mirror image or is it a future projection or maybe some actually are living postracially, is that possible all considering?