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The Conversation Essays

Why Does Racism Prevail? Leading Scholars Apply Their Minds

by Nina Jablonski and Barney Pityana (July 2, 2020)

All people belong to one biological species and there are no human “races”. So why does belief in race persist? It may be a scientific misconception, but it is real. It defines the lived experience of many people and determines how governments act and how people treat one another. How did race come to have this power and this durability?



How the Dimensions of Human Inequality Affect Who and What We Are

by Goran Therborn (July 8, 2020)

What does it mean to be human today? It is an excellent starting point for thinking about human inequality.

To be human, in an elementary sense, means three things.

First, you are a sexed living organism, capable of feeling pain and pleasure and of reproduction, with a delimited lifespan of development and decay, subject to vicissitudes of health and illness.

Secondly, you are a person, with a self and a reflexive capacity, flourishing or suffering in social environments.

Thirdly, you are a creative, goal-oriented actor, collective as well as individual, endowed with resources of varying size and kind.



We Need To Unpack the Word 'Race' and Find New Language

by Nina Jablonski and George Chaplin (August 2, 2020)

Race-thinking has been discredited for decades. But it is still with us. Yet race is a historical contingency, not a state of nature. One of the most sinister things about race is that its sibling, racism, not only lasts, but continues to grow. Race has so co-opted our consciousness and language that any attempt to deal with the effects of racism has been very difficult.

The language of race was one of the questions that occupied us, a group of academics, during the course of a multi-year series of discussions that constituted the Effects of Race project at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study.



What Young People Have To Say About Race and Inequality in South Africa

by Kira Erwin and Kathryn Pillay (August 25, 2020)

Meritocracy is the belief that holding power or success should be judged on people’s individual ability, rather than on wealth or social connections. At first glance, this appears to be a reasonable proposition. But the focus on individual merit becomes harder to fathom as one enters the messy world of structural inequality and discrimination.

As our research shows, ideologies of meritocracy and individualism create obstacles for collective action towards a more equal and just society. Our findings were published in the book Race in Education, the outcome of a thinktank on the effects of race at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study.



South Africa needs a fresh national imagination: Here are some ideas

by Njabulo S. Ndebele, October 18, 2020

Imagine that during the COVID-19 lockdown South Africans woke up one morning to TV shows, radio broadcasts and pamphlets announcing a declaration by “white” South Africans: “WE ARE NO LONGER WHITE!”

In their statement they explain why.

They have come to a realisation that South Africa was the only real home they ever had. That they now felt at home in a country and continent where over a billion people have had to carry the devastatingly false label “black”. All because technologically advanced European nations from the 15th century onwards began to violently acquire, for their exclusive benefit, countries all over the world and the people who lived and worked on their lands. Forthwith, such conquered people existed for Europe.

Buoyed by successful seasons of repeated conquests around the world, Europeans – and where they were in the Americas – finally chose to embody the entire value of their humanity in a colour: “white”. “White” South Africans have been among the vital parts of this violent history.

“No more!” they had now declared. “We are signing out of ‘global whiteness’ and throwing out a false label that never had any human substance to it!”

Unlikely as such a miraculous event might be, it could be a useful reflective metaphor for giving expression to a significant unfolding shift in South African “white” sentiment towards the contemporary human environment in the country. Two historic events may be deemed to have contributed significantly towards signs of what looks like a far more committed unfolding.