Let’s talk about nonracialism as well as Black Lives Matter - Businesslive

26 July 2020 - Is sustaining the problem of race more useful and easier to exploit than grappling with other ways of thinking that challenge the dogged orthodoxy? This is especially pertinent in the face of the persuasive, global reach of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Michael Morris

A lot of people don’t want to talk about problems, Gareth Cliff observed last week, in case someone comes up with a solution. Where the problem itself is more useful, the rationale goes, what good are solutions if they make the problem go away?

A telling case in point is the subject of nonracialism. Is sustaining the problem of race more useful and easier to exploit than grappling with other ways of thinking that challenge the dogged orthodoxy? This is especially pertinent in the face of the persuasive, global reach of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

To be able to address the subject at all — as the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) did last week in colleague Gabriel Crouse’s comprehensive report, “Because #BlackLivesMatter, What Institutions Need to Know About the BLM Global Network” — appears to be regarded as a risk, judging by the bulk of the media’s reluctance to go near it.

One might wonder if there is a fear that merely airing an alternative view to BLM is enough to attract public shaming and accusations of racism. It appears that even among those who surely count on a nonracial argument to justify their jobs and their status — commentators, politicians, sports stars, school principals — there is an unmistakable distaste for confronting the problem of race and racism.

It puts one in mind of EL Doctorow’s writing in his engrossing novel, Ragtime, of former US president Teddy Roosevelt’s view of the later incumbent Woodrow Wilson’s “abhorrence of war” that “[he] thought Wilson had the prim renunciatory mouth of someone who had eaten fish with bones in it”.

Too often the displeased reaction to suggesting that nonracialism might well be the answer to racism implies that it is simply beyond unpalatable, and has no claim to be on the political menu. But the irony of taking the path of least risk, and avoiding talking about it, is not only that it provides the best cover for, and, perversely, even stimulates racist sentiments, but that it means avoiding confronting the lasting consequences of racial thinking in our midst.

And, as Crouse points out, one of the duties of inquiry is precisely to examine a movement that is exerting considerable, but unquestioned influence. He writes: “Given BLM’s indifference to facts, its demonstrably horrific effects and its 19th-century German ideology of inhumanism, its animus to wealth, and its call for total social upheaval, one may wonder why SA private institutions would throw their endorsement BLM’s way.”

As a slogan, he argues, #BLM is “sound” in acknowledging the rights to dignity and equality of all who fall within the black “subset” of people, that it can draw “special attention to such people wherever the contrary seems to be the case”, and that merely “weaponising” the counter-slogan of “All Lives Matter” is not the answer.

The real challenge is “to help people think clearly about how they can contribute to a better, freer society and to nonracialism around the world”. Where BLM argues for “more racism, but of a different kind”, the fundamental deficiency is “judging people on the basis of race in the first place”. Nonracialism, on the other hand, “has proved to be the most potent means of tackling problems … the basis of a productive society that is reason-sensitive to what really matters”.

As long as the response remains a default “Just don’t go there”, the problems of racialised history, and thinking, not only persist but worsen, especially for those who are among its most obvious victims.

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2020-07-26-michael-morris-lets-talk-about-nonracialism-as-well-as-black-lives-matter/

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