Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Constructive Confrontation: The case of Henry Louis Gates

In Africa, Domestic Politics on April 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Our times are extremely interesting–in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse. We have so much going on that there is ample opportunity for the likes of Rahm Emmanuel not to let this crisis go to waste. As we have come to chant, when the President came to office he faced two wars, the great recession, a crisis in health financing, climate change and the burden of a dysfunctional financial system among other things. And yet amid all of this, the key issue of our decade may be the ongoing challenge of racial reconciliation. In this grand spectacle, no figure other than the President himself has loomed as large as Henry Louis Gates. In Gates, we have one of the best examples of how ideas and their makers have consequences–in this case for the good.

Not only was Gates in the center of a public drama now known as the beer summit, which I believe was one of the major facilitators of the ethno-racial dimension of the Tea Party movement, but today he has published an op-ed in the New York Times that is only astonishing for the fact of its publication. His confrontation with Officer Crowley has helped to surface residual ethno-political tensions that we now have a chance to engage head-on to expose racially biased misconceptions, while in today’s confrontation with history, we find Gates engaging what must be one of the most contentious topics in the American record, namely responsibility for African slavery, with a balanced and historical view on how the practice developed.

In Gates’ story, there is excess blame to go around for the sins of the peculiar institution. We find the usual deserving suspects implicated, but we also find here a eerie tale of inter-ethic opportunism among Africans themselves. It is said that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, but the reality is often the reverse. The fathers of the tragedy of institutionalized racism that we are only now beginning to extirpate are more numerous than we typically suppose. Similarly Read the rest of this entry »

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Farm (R)aid: The collective memory of the Boer

In Africa, Media and Politics on March 31, 2010 at 9:51 am

You take my pride and throw it up against the wall…You take my name and you scandalize it on the street. Oh anything you want to do, I say its alright by me.

John Cougar Mellencamp

There are few better examples of conflict resolution than South Africa. When I was young this was the last remaining symbol of old school racist colonization, and the struggle for freedom, symbolized by Nelson Mandela’s long incarceration, was among the most celebrated of progressive causes. I remember watching Mandela’s release from prison as many from earlier generations remember Kennedy’s assassination. I was sick in bed with the flu and stuck watching TV all day. The euphoria attending the event was well justified because Mandela seems to have been one of those incomparable leaders who can forgive in pursuit of their vision. That is the transformative potential of conflict resolution. The inspiring part of this story is that it happened and could happen again. The worrying part is that it may depend integrally on the quality and character of the leadership of particular individuals. There is a fear that Nixon was right: politics is not a science.

Here we are, just over twenty years from Mandela’s release and the signs from South Africa are positive with clear signs of strain. You see, the core of the claims in recognition struggles, like those against racism, is usually not recognition itself but something more foundational to liberalism like formal liberty or the equalization of life chances–i.e. class. What is troubling about most successful resolutions is that they move forward in baby steps by moving toward equalization of life chances, but not by achieving it outright. As Read the rest of this entry »