In July 2014, the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC) and the Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory (SECT) of the University of California at Irvine convened on the theme of Archives of the Non- Racial. Beginning in Johannesburg, speakers and participants undertook a two week long bus journey across South Africa as they travelled through and lingered in sites dense with anti-apartheid histories. The works below offer diverse meditations on the encounters that took place on and off the bus, as participants grappled with the implications of the non-racial in South Africa and beyond. There is also an archive of all the talks kindly hosted on the UCHRI YouTube Channel.
The concept of a "mobile workshop" was first articulated by Leigh-Ann Naidoo. Drawn partly from her ongoing research on the politics of pedagogy in the works of Steve Biko, Paulo Freire and various movements dedicated to disentangling the power/knowledge knot, she earnestly strove to translate it into a viable intellectual program. In this quest, "the bus" acquired a particular valency both as a metaphor for a form of knowledge-in-motion and as a creative device that speaks to historical experiences of displacement (the ship during the Middle Passage; the freedom ride bus during the Civil Rights movement in the United States).
Following Michael Warner, we can also think of the bus as a moving public; a mobile, enunciative space that unsettles and synthesises the physical and discursive terrains it traverses. In light of this, we have conceived of this Volume as an Exhibition, which has allowed us to suggest the genealogies, strategies and futures of the non-racial as "entry", "interpellation" and "circulation". Some of the works presented here are intimate reflections in the form of diary entries and poems, others draw on the potency of the image, while still others seek to frame the debates in essayistic terms. Guided by the curatorship of SA Smythe, the works collected here affirm our engagement with the non-racial as both intellectual, political and affective.
This Volume is dedicated to Leigh-Ann Naidoo.
Preface and This Volume
Achille Mbembe and Megan Jones
This volume of The Salon is an attempt to capture some of the spirit of “Archives of the Non-Racial”, the Mobile Workshop organized in 2014 by The Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (WISER- University of the Witwatersrand) and the Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory (SECT – University of California at Irvine).
Race has been a powerful, if destructive, force in the making of the modern world. It has separated masters from slaves, colonizers from colonized, settlers from natives, citizens from subjects. In response, historical struggles against racism and white supremacy have contributed to a deepening of the key normative pillars of the modern international order.
One of the most powerful evocations of depth over and against surface that anti-racism has at its disposal is the claim that ‘we’ share a ‘common’ ‘humanity’. The profusion of inverted commas here is admittedly a little absurd, but there seems no better way to indicate that, while this phrase has an enormously important philosophical and political history, it carries with it an array of problems that cannot go unmarked. What sort of community is envisioned by the first-person plural ‘we?’ What do ‘we’ within this community hold in ‘common’ and how is that holding-in-‘common’ socially and politically organized? And what is meant by ‘humanity’ and its corollaries: ‘the human,’ ‘humanism,’ ‘humane?’
Reading the Quest for "The Human" in John Berger: scattered notes from the back of the magic bus
John Berger wrote his novel G in 1972. This book traveled with me to South Africa during the summer of 2014, having actually become part of my library in the winter of 2012 after the recommendation of a good friend who had obtained a master’s degree in English Literature. For no other reason I chose it as my bus reading.
Border-situations: Historical Memories of Apartheid-era Swaziland
Swaziland has a shadowed post-colonial history of race, bound up in intricate ways with culture. Writing a racial history of Swaziland represents a relatively new historiography (Nyeko 2005), one that is complicated but not impossible. Contemporary perceptions of ordinary Swazi citizens do not overtly register an enduring violent history of white racist colonial domination, especially in comparison to powder-keg cases like South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Kenya. Yet, like Jemima Pierre shows in her study of race in Ghana (2013), immaterial and profoundly transnational forms of race play out in everyday life in post-colonial places like Swaziland even if they are not always readily acknowledged or laid out in claims for global political and economic inclusion.
This essay is a meditation on race, prompted by the lectures and experiences we had on The Bus, and drawing from the gifts given by busmembers on our journey.
Ebhalweni ongaphansi kuvela namazwi acashuniwe encwadini eyisichazamazwi solimi lwesiZulu ngesiNgisi, ibhalwe nguBambatha kaMshini (Benedict Wallet Vilakazi) no Clement M Doke.
"My Political Life has been Informed by the Struggle in South Africa" - Angela Davis
Ainehi Edoro interviews Angela Davis
American political thinker and activist, Angela Davis, travelled through South Africa with the JWTC mobile conference. During our stop at Ginsberg, I had a chance to chat with her at the Steve Biko Center. She reflects on how the South African anti-racist struggle informs her political work and comments on the place of women in political struggle.
Angela Davis addressing JWTC participants on the Bus. (c) Tana Nolethu Forrest
Fourteen days, fifty-eight people from twenty-five countries, twenty-four public events in five towns/cities, twelve venues, three thousand kilometers, twenty-eight restaurants, two support vehicles and a sixty-seater bus. This was the infrastructure that formed the basis for an experimental conversation about contemporary racism and strategies for its overcoming. In each place along the journey, lectures, performances, panel discussions, parties, exhibitions, planned to accord with the questions that the theme elicited from the histories of each place. Two years of conceptualisation, planning and preparation.
3 July 2014: JWTC participants dance the night away at the Prawn Shack in Dokodweni Beach, KZN en route from Swaziland to Durban. Photo, Melissa Wrapp
Ian Baucom writes about listening as an integral part of Frantz Fanon’s textual practices. He notes that, “as a writer, he [Fanon] produced texts that frequently function as transcripts of his diverse acts of listening.” It has become the common impulse in critical histories of race and racism, and in Postcolonial studies more broadly, to approach the visuality, or the optics of race, without attention to how race is registered through other sensorial modes. And indeed we owe much to Fanon for his interrogation of the ways in which race/racism operates through the construction of what Achille Mbembe refers to as an “image ontology,” that is, “a scopic regime” in which the face – in the Levinasian sense – is de-privileged in exchange for the preeminence of the “surface.”
“I’m not going into definitions with academics. Making resolutions and policy is one thing. These things evolve.” Ahmed Kathrada
He made it sound too easy! As if he, Sisulu, Mandela and the others had just sailed into a non-racial ANC. Building on the Congress Movement, it was they who made it such through their lived work. Brought to life with integrity, discipline, trust, humour, love. Practicing (non-racial) freedom, dignity and equal- ity here and now, continually. And of course having a shared radical political project: not non-racialism for its own sake but as a method of struggle for national liberation. These things evolve.
(Note: One night in Swaziland my young bus sis, Tana, who is doing important work on people of mixed race ancestry in South Africa, told me she experiences the question, “What are you?” as an act of violence. Over the next few days I reflected on how after 40+ years of being asked the question myself, I’d be a worthless pile of bloody pulp if I experienced the question in the same way. It made me think back to this one woman show I wrote in my 20’s when I started playing with the idea of the comic vs tragic mulatta...so by the time we got to Ginsberg I called up the first monologue from the show at the Biko Center and dedicated it to Tana.)
The movement started after three days in Johannesburg. The slowness of the exhaustion of getting there became an experimental choreography of going somewhere else. We get off the bus. We walk in the same direc- tions, a mix of individual detours and small gatherings. We walk together, and get on the bus again.
“You know and understand too much to be going about looking for rainbows.” - Richard Wright, The Outsider (1954)
“God gave Noah the rainbow sign,/ No more water, the fire next time.” – Spiritual, “Mary Don’t You Weep” (19th C.) via James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)
“Happy 20 Years to Our Rainbow Nation” – Coca Cola advertisement, billboard on exterior 20+ story build- ing, downtown Johannesburg, South Africa (2014)
“I’m Not a Racist, I’m a Realist”: the archive of the non-racial, Africa and the Southern Atlantic
How do we get beneath the skin?
This seemed to me the objective of the theme, ar-
chives of the non-racial, yet in almost two weeks on the bus, the importance of skin was overwhelmingly re- turned to, overwhelmingly emphasized. That it should have been so is no surprise given the context of our discussion, a journey through a place marked over- whelmingly by epidermal scars – both of history and of those present. Unlike certain philosophical tropes or mathematical formulae, one cannot speak about race in a way that is neutral because simply by being seen one is marked. Yet ultimately there is a risk in this of repetitive dialogue that reaffirms again and again what one knows to be true.
DOCUMENTARY VIDEO - Archives of the Non-Racial: A Mobile Workshop
This documentary video recollects some of the statements by the participants of the JWTC mobile workshop during our travel through South Africa, on the importance of speaking about archives of the non-racial in relation to our political struggles for social change.
My notebook became a holding-space for a lot of thought and emotion. Often this was written around, rather than across, the page. I don’t do well with lines, but it also helped to capture the explosive thought processes, and then also connected things that found themselves on the same page, accidentally but interestingly. Often, though, I noted things I found beautiful or painful. Occasionally flow-lines that sometimes became hearts helped fill the spaces before I found the words I wanted to keep.
Strange fruits, forbidden fruits, and abject fruits. Metaphors of racialization and sexuality in the Americas
The poem “Strange Fruit” written by Abel Meeropol in 1937, inspired by this photograph, and made famous as a song by Billie Holiday, became an emblem of the fight against racism in the United States, and a memorial for the countless victims of lynching in the American south. Through the disturbing metaphor of the “strange fruit” the poet and singer were able to speak openly about this extreme form of racist violence.
rainbow room drunken poetry presents sarah caterpillarwings godsell and danai d-mu mupotsa on a poem-tree
sarah caterpillarwings godsell and danai d-mu mupotsa
DISCLAIMER: we feel unending waves of shame - drunk people should not share poems so full of the word nipple with people they recently met. We can only hope the poem is received in the spirit of Audre Lorde's commandments. Read us gently.
Well, I did it. I got off first in Durban, and then after a lot of hemming and hawing, a month later in Joburg. Like others on it, I saw the bus transform from a con- tainer, a vector of intense conversation and a field day for the common cold, into a metaphor for a longer jour- ney, a detour through uncomfortable places and unpal- atable pasts, a time machine, as Neo Muyanga proph- esied, for travel to possible futures.
The video archive of the 2014 mobile workshop is kindly hosted by UCHRI. Talks by Achille Mbembe, Angela Davis, David Theo Goldberg, Gina Dent and Neo Muyanga, Siba Grovogui, Philomena Essed, Dilip Menon, Kelly Gillespie, Francoise Verges, Xolela Mangcu, Zimitri Erasmus, Premesh Lalu, Ciraj Rasool, Alex Lichtenstein, Keith Breckenridge, Ashwin Desai, Michael Keith, and more.