UNDERSTANDING WHITENESS IN SOUTH AFRICA
WITH SPECIFIC REFERENCE TO THE ART OF BRETT
By ROSS P. PASSMOOR
‘“People make race. Differences in skin colour and other physical attributes exist, but on a spectrum rather than in neatly apportioned categories” (Samson 2005: 3). The idea that people make race is a core assumption in the critical study of race as a sociological phenomenon. However in order to understand this fully, a discussion of race and what is involved in its making will be addressed. Ratcliffe maintains that much of the world’s population regards race as an empirical truth. However, “To some, it may be little more than a convenient set of descriptors; to others it represents something considerably more sinister. It is away of ordering groups hierarchically and deterministically, that is the inferiorization of certain groups is deemed to apply in all places and for all time” (Ratcliffe 2004: 27). The term race is essentially a generalization, referring to a phenotypically distinct group of people regarded as similar. As a term it is used by theorists and racists alike, the only difference being that modern theorists generalize in order to shed light on the effects of a racialized social order, while racists perpetuate racial hierarchies in order to secure positions of power. Debra Naills maintains that although individuals can be conscious of their racialized existence, “a race (like a state) can be severally conscious of the existence of the whole but has no distinct consciousness of its own” (Naills in Valls 2005: 64). For the purposes of this dissertation, race will not refer to the genetically based reality of phenotypical differences, but instead to the symbolic meanings attached to those bodily differences (Brunsma & Rockquemore, 2002.
p340). Thus, “the fact that a person is born with “white” skin does not necessarily mean that s/he will think, act, and write in the “white” ways I’ve described. Nor does the fact that a person has “brown” or “black” skin automatically guarantee that s/he will not think, act, and write in “white” ways” (Keating, 1995: 907).’