What are the burdens of race and who carries them?
Maggots fattened off rotting flesh as a frenzy of flickering flies hovered hungrily pecking at the corpse impaled on the wall on a Jesus Christ fashioned crucifix. Her eyes had been gouged out and in their place stubbed syringes filled with congealed blood. Crude phallic like instruments screamed sexual assault from the recesses of her vagina. The pungent smell of death chocked the air. Whoever had committed this impalement had mastered all darkness from the deep recesses of their souls.
In this torrid scene of psychological illness mixed with brutal finality, Dr Thando Ximshange had met her death. She had stood firm in the face of many death threats as she continued to work on what she had called the” vaccine” that would obliterate socially and politically etched racial categories and identifications. Her work attracted many detractors and haters who were not too keen on a de-racialized, equitable global world order.
She had to be eliminated along with her dangerous ideas that threatened the current naturalized and normalized white supremacist systemic biopower. In death as in life, she continued to bear the weight of race. “Race is heavy” (Goldberg, pg 214, 2009).
Laden with century-filled layers of difference, othering, guilt-tripping, subjugating, categorizing, oppressing, raping, plundering, shaming, horror, blood and grit. Goldberg argues for the” white man’s burden” born in the political and social crucible of dominating and painting the world in whiteness. In justifying imperial conquests the European settlers and rulers took the mission of civilising the ‘natives and savages’ of the new world as a burden to be “borne exclusively upon those sagging shoulders of Charles Atlas” (Goldberg, pg 216, 2009).
Propounding the idea of a Racial Contract, Mills talks of global whiteness ‘as a particular power structure of formal or informal rule, socioeconomic privilege, and norms for the differential distribution of material wealth and opportunities, benefits and burdens, rights and duties’ (pg3, 1997).
The idea that the burden of race is borne by whiteness is in itself “an agreement to misinterpret the world” (Mills, pg18, 1997). Mills argues that the Racial Contract created “an inverted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance…producing the ironic outcome that whites will, in general, be unable to understand the world they themselves made” (Mills, pg18, 1997).
Race formalization and codification gave it an assumed naturalness which hid in plain sight the conceptual, material, political, legal and social work it took to construct and reproduce this powerful political system (Goldberg, pg 212, 2009).
As the white supremacist juggernaut globally expanded it insidiously obliterated, disenfranchised, invisiblized, infantilized and minimized the contribution and commission of non-whites in the construction of whiteness’ universalism. George Fredrickson suggests that racism necessarily requires the presumption of inequality or inferiority of the part of those whose assumed difference is deemed intrinsic or unchangeable (Goldberg, pg 214, 2009).
The mark of racist expression or belief then is not simply the claim of inferiority of the racially different. It is more broadly that racial difference warrants exclusion of those so characterized from elevation into the realm of protection, privilege, property, or profit.
I argue that the burdens of race are born by those who toil to create and sweat to construct the luxury of whiteness but do not enjoy any of the benefits of property, protection or profit accrued. The weight of race is truly borne in alterity, by the “others”, the dominated and subjugated, and the non-whites who are not privy to the Racial Contract.
The acceptance of bearing the weight of race is explained in Bourdieu and Wacquants concept of symbolic violence as a “violence which is exercised upon a social agent with his or her complicity”(Bourdieu & Waquant, pg 272, 2004)
Inferiorities and inequalities become internalised and coherently justified as natural therefore acceptable. In Swartz’s critique of youth belonging in post-Apartheid South Africa the research respondents do not connect their poor material conditions, hunger, illness, structural violence and injustice, access to acceptable living conditions, joblessness to the colour of their skin used as marker for exclusion. Paul Farmer describes “structural violence as the institutionalization of social processes that differentially cause suffering through organizing unequal access to social resources, such as rights, security, capital and bodily and mental integrity, based on markers of difference”(Swartz, pg 30, 2012).
One young man degenerates black people for using past reference to Apartheid as an excuse for continued failure despite the legal and political end of the white supremacist system (Swartz et al, pg 31, 2012). “Racism is about exclusion through devaluation, intrinsic or instrumental, timeless or time-bound” (Goldberg, pg 214, 2009).
The ends of course are varied – exploitation or extermination, use and abuse, assertion and order. In short, violence and property, profit and power, instrumentally but also for their own sakes. Race feeds, fuels and funnels violence, property, profit and power, but can also be modes of expression, the forms in which they manifest (Goldberg, pg 214, 2009).
The “other” bears the burden of race while stripped of sovereignty – a capacity for “self-institution and self-limitation” (Mbembe, pg13, 2003). Gilmore defines racism as “the production of premature death of those individuals and groups subjected to the debilitating terms and conditions of racist configurations and exclusions”( Goldberg, pg 229, 2009).The macro conception of racism is not meant to disparage what Mahmood Mamdani called “racial branding” which guiltlessly renders particular groups vulnerable to abhorrent treatment and primed for extermination”( Goldberg, pg 229, 2009).
The colour of your skin becomes the tag, the marker of whether you live or die. Foucault explains this racist phenomena in he what he calls the formulation of bipower which divides people into those who must live and who can die (Mbembe, pg17, 2003). Various movements throughout history; the anti- segregationist, anti-colonial, anti- apartheid have fought to reestablish the sovereignty , human and legal rights of those that were deemed less human therefore dispensable. Antiracist mobilization sought to end the “immobilizing and terrorizing conditions racist order had made manifest and maintained, manufactured and managed” ”( Goldberg, pg 226, 2009). Antiracialism, however, is denialism of the recollection and memory of a racially constructed system so redress or repatriations of the dehumanized and disenfranchised are minimized.
It becomes impossible to think of race without linking it to the production of terror and death (Goldberg, pg 228, 2009). “Born again racism” or “raceless racism” (pg 227, 2009) as Goldberg calls it, maintains the implicit structures of explicit racial classification calmly and insidiously continuing to pile the heavy burden of race on the powerless and disenfranchised.
Bourdieu, P. And L. Wacquant. 2004. Symbolic Violence. In Violence in war and peace, ed. N. ScheperHughes and P. Bourgois, 272275. Oxford: Blackwell. Goldberg, D. T. 2009. The Threat of Race, Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism. Oxford Wiley Blackwell Mbembe, J. A., & Meintjes, Swartz, S . L. (2003). Necropolitics, Public culture, 15(1), 1140. , Harding, J.H. & De Lannoy, A. 2012. ‘ Ikasi style and the quiet violence of dreams: a critique of youth belonging in post Mills , C. W. 1997. Apartheid South Africa.’ Comparative Education, 48(1):27 The Racial Contract . New York: Cornell University Press –- 40 introduction & chapter 1 (pade 141) 755131 4