Istry of higher education, science and innovations of the republic of uzbekistan andizhan state institute of foreign languages

W. E. B. Du Bois: From Race Consciousness to Colour Consciousness

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3. W. E. B. Du Bois: From Race Consciousness to Colour Consciousness
In 1903 the American civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, sociologist and historian W. E. B. Du Bois declared: ‘the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line’ [4.15].
With hindsight we might confirm that Du Bois’s assertion proved to be accurate. However, his belief that the problem of the colour line would be solved in the twentieth century proved not to be the case. The identities of citizens in the United States of America and elsewhere continue to be defined in terms of race.
Two decades after the dismantling of legal apartheid race continues to define
and divide South Africans. Race has come to take on a unique form in South Africa – it has become reinserted, entrenched and naturalised in complex ways in post apartheid South Africa. As Soudien so aptly puts it: Whether it is by design, conspiracy, presumption, or even sheer naïveté, racial assumption circulates inside of, is beneath, on top of, and around what people have to say and how they behave to such a degree that there is little that is not covered over and determined by it. Extra-ordinary about it is its naturalisation within the interstices of everyday. It fills every vacant space. It infects these to the point where its contagion is experienced, narrated and analysed as a kind of base-line ontology.
As South Africans, we inevitably are both the objects and subjects of racial categorisation. The different spaces we inhabit/occupy engender complex and often contradictory encounters with the construct ‘race’. I am no exception. As a ‘black’ academic I, for example, do not want to be stigmatised and would not want to be appointed to any position in a university if racial classification played any role. Yet, when I serve on the appointments committee of my university, in the interest of a greater public good, I support decisions to appoint black and women staff with potential, so as to diversify the institution’s staff complement (which remains overwhelmingly white) and afford such persons access to careers in higher education. In the case of the appointment of ‘black’ staff, the situation gets complicated because in my view such appointments should occur only at the lower-level academic ranks, and that one should not, for example, appoint someone to a full professorship based on potential – in this case, evidence of scholarly achievement should be the primary criterion for appointment to a full professorship.
My argument is that if black and women professors are to serve as role models to all students, then there should be no doubt about their scholarly prowess. And so I differ from some of my colleagues on the university’s appointments committees who, through various means impede the diversification of academic staff, and also from other colleagues who might downplay scholarly achievement for the sake of appointing black or women staff to full professorships.
In the set of papers produced by the University of Cape Town (UCT) scholars, the key concern, however, is with how race is taken up in public policy. The parts in this work have been produced as outcomes of a process conducted by a task team to ascertain whether ‘race’ should continue to be used as a surrogate for ‘disadvantage’ in the university’s admission policy. In my response I shall make some reference to Crain Soudien’s article entitled ‘Some issues in affirmative action in higher education in South Africa’. In presenting my ideas I shall argue for a need to shift the angle of vision from ‘race consciousness’ to ‘colour consciousness’ in public policy.
In this part of my course paper Soudien identifies two discourses which offer an explanation for the racial assumptions that engulf South African society, and which have penetrated the academy. The fixation with race, he argues, profoundly limits the horizons of what South Africans can see and imagine.
The first discourse is that the university is a mirror of society. Holding this view, different groups, including those in power, argue that the university should reflect their interests and be made in their image. Soudien points to evidence of this during apartheid with the Extension of Universities Act of 1959, which instituted racialised universities, intended to reflect the segregated character of South African society. In post-apartheid South Africa a key focus of the transformation of higher education is that universities should reflect the new South Africa – that those who populate the university should mirror the demographics of South African society.
Mechanisms such as affirmative action with associated equity targets should be applied so as to expedite universities’ transformation. He shows how this discourse is located in various published works on South African higher education in recent years.
The second discourse is that the South African university is a global institution that ‘arises out of an international framework – a universalism – against which it finds its most important source of legitimacy’. This view holds that the university is not a legitimate university if it does not measure up to standards of excellence of the global community. In the South African context academics are subjected to international peer-review processes such as the NRF rating system – universities are also measured by the same yardstick and placed in positions on international ranking lists, and so on. Soudien (2010, 233) argues that in the second
view the university is not constituted by the rules of society but by the ‘habit-forming discourses of the disciplines which constitute the university’. He argues that the citizens of this idea of the university are above the citizens of the everyday world, and that its internal rules of formation have shielded its citizens from the world of race and racism.
These two views of the university are in tension: the first holds that just as society must become deracialised, so too must the university. The second view holds that the university should enjoy autonomy from society (including the state) and that its role is to change society, not to be changed by it. Soudien (2010) argues that both views are inadequate in that they do not capture the ever-changing role of the university as a supercomplex and rapidly transforming environment, that is, both views are unable to recognise the unforeseen events that penetrate our processes of meaning making.
In response, Soudien presents an argument for a new space, a new discourse – one that develops ‘a social criticism that is profoundly alert to the shifting relationship between cultural difference, social authority and political discrimination and that can deal with the dominant rationalisations of self and other’ [19.54].
This will involve a critical reflection on the ways in which hegemonies of race and class become reinserted into the university and the opening up of alternative ways in which difference might be understood.
How do we move beyond our fixation on race in South Africa so as to imagine a deracialised South Africa? I would suggest that this would begin with conducting intelligent conversations/debates about race. This volume and the papers of UCT colleagues offers an encouraging and significant contribution. My intention is to
add to the discussion in this brief response. My first argument is that we need to
dismiss the very idea of race – to shelve the very idea that there are different races.
But let me clarify what I mean by race. I refer here to ‘race’ as it was employed in
the colonial period and by intellectual and political elites in the United States and
United Kingdom throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In a very detailed discussion of the nexus between race, class and identity Appiah (1996) dismisses the ideational view of race and argues that the referential view of race might have relevance to population genetics (with respect to isolated populations of plants and animals), but can certainly not be extended to human beings. His conclusion is that there is no scientific evidence that racial designations in the United States account for any meaningful physical, intellectual or moral differences among those who fall within these categories.
The same is the case for South Africa. The racial designations of African, Coloured, Indian and White do not capture any meaningful physical, intellectual and moral differences among these social groups.
These groups are also not culturally monolithic. For example, those designated coloured do not hold or have an understanding of uniquely ‘shared beliefs, values, signs, and symbols’ [19.155].
Rejecting the notion of race involves rejecting the idea of ascribing either negative or positive characteristics to skin colour (or other phenotypical features). The danger of making race a central feature of identity is the risk of replacing the tyranny of racism with the tyranny of racial expectations. This in a sense relates to the problem of the first view that Soudien outlines – how ascribing positive and negative characteristics to social groups during the apartheid era produced a segregated higher education system. In post-apartheid South Africa one might argue that ‘black pride’ can produce expectations in the sense, that ‘because I am black, I am entitled to have access to higher education’. But does this justify the colour blindness of the second view that Soudien outlines? I would argue not. The central concern of the debate is a matter of justice, not of the intellectual and moral
essences that social groups may possess by virtue of phenotypical features. Justice fairness requires of us to embrace contingent colour consciousness in policies such
as university admissions in non-ideal societies.
The concern here is essentially not about personal and social relations, but rather about what is good for public policy. Few would disagree that colour-blindness should be a feature of an ideal society, that is, that the burdens and benefits of society should be shared equally by all citizens. But in non-ideal societies this cannot apply.
Gutman (1996) argues that in non-ideal societies the fundamental principle of justice by which public policy should be judged is fairness, not colour-blindness. Fairness in the case of university admission policies would mean that one cannot simply apply the same criteria for admitting advantaged and disadvantaged students. [12.24]
The implication is that, in a country which has experienced decades of legal discrimination based on race, and where legacies of disadvantage remain, colour consciousness in public policies is crucial for a certain period of time. What is important to bear in mind is that colour consciousness is not reverse racism – the argument is not to promote race consciousness, but to provide members of social groups who have been disadvantaged as a result of the racist public policies of the past with life chances that they as citizens deserve.
The other reason that Gutman offers as to why public policy should be colour conscious is the social purposes of certain institutions. For example, the social purpose of universities is to develop leaders who can serve as role models for all citizens. This is a point that Soudien misses in his argument. Sure, universities should not simply mirror society, and yes, they are sites of knowledge
production, but we can’t deny that they have a social purpose and in serving this purpose in South Africa, colour is a legitimate credential for university admission.
This is a kind of approach in which minorities can espouse a hyphenated identity, contribute and participate equally but not necessarily uniformly. This would not only produce a better America but the ‘better and truer self’ Du Bois thought possible. At the same time, and although Du Bois implies the eventual resolution of this paradox of a divided self in time, much of what he writes simultaneously suggests that African- Americans should accept – and embrace – this contradiction arising from double consciousness. This is because ‘living in two worlds at once’ cultivates powers to see what the majority are blind to and so, through ‘second sight’, adds something to the equation of diversity in the way Parekh would later describe as an expansion of horizons of thought and human fulfilment.

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