In the United States, the National Basketball Association cancelled matches in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting by the police, while in South Africa the BlackLivesMatter (BLM) debate rages on. Who benefits and what are the costs?
Jeremy Daniel’s biography of Siya Kolisi, Against All Odds, resurfaced in light of the Springbok captain’s BLM speech. In the speech, Kolisi claimed that he ‘felt my life didn’t matter’ all the way ‘since birth’, because of race.
And yet Daniel’s biography includes quotes from Kolisi’s Emsengeni primary school teachers, his first coach, his Grey High coach, and various others to indicate that Kolisi was a very poor but very popular boy, cared for by friends, guardians and family.
Rachel is not the first critic of Daniel’s book. Last year, journalist Kamva Somdyala argued that the book should not have been published without Siya’s permission, but also conceded that the text is ‘well-crafted’, ‘well-researched’ and based on ‘factual’ interviews.
None of this matters to Rachel for a simple reason: race. However accurate the biography, Daniel is white and Kolisi is black. According to Rachel, that disqualifies Daniel from writing about her husband.
Rachel wrote about the biography: ‘I would appreciate your help on calling this out for what it is. WHITE MEN benefiting off the back of a BLACK MAN.’
Rachel’s view is hard to reconcile with Siya’s career. Every time the loose forward secures a ruck or steals the ball from the opposition, white players in the Springbok backline might benefit. Coach Rassie Erasmus has benefited from Kolisi’s work too, as have millions of South Africans who love the game and were delighted to watch him play so well en route to victory.
Did not pay him
Maybe Rachel believes that rugby has one set of rules, biographies another. After all, Siya gets paid to play rugby, but Daniel did not pay him for the right to mention Siya’s name or to interview his connections. That was not for a lack of trying; it was reported that ‘substantial offer [was] on the table but this was dismissed’. So the book was published as an ‘unauthorised biography’.
To Rachel this is a miscarriage of justice, because Daniel is ‘WHITE’.
‘Siya has not benefited from this unauthorized biography in ANYWAY’, she writes. As it happens, Rachel has not made any money out of Daniel’s work either.
Rachel’s claim that black professionals should exclusively be allowed to publish stories about black individuals is nothing new. White painters have been denounced for painting black subjects, white South Africans have been denounced for singing in traditionally black languages, and white writers have been slammed for doing what Daniel did before. The technical name of this accusation is ‘cultural appropriation’.
Where did the idea come from that races own ideas, in the form of stories, dances, music, or cultural artefacts?
In his 2018 book about social identity politics, The Lies that Bind, NYU philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah provides a startling insight: the belief that races own intellectual property (IP) comes right out of Renaissance Europe.
Half a millennium ago Venetians made dazzling beads of a certain type, but to ‘keep their commercial advantage, the Venetian state forbade glassmakers from leaving with their secrets’. The beads were supposed to be Venetian and Venetian only; if the secret slipped out the penalty was death.
Attempt to prohibit ‘appropriation’
Unsurprisingly this attempt to prohibit ‘appropriation’ did not work. Malians discovered the ‘cultural secrets’ anyway, spreading them to Ghana and beyond.
Appiah rhetorically asks: ‘What sorts of progress would have been advanced by insisting that the Venetians owned the idea of glass beads, and policing their claim?’ You know the answer.
‘To accept the notion of cultural appropriation is to buy into (a) regime…where corporate entities acting as cultural guardians “own” a treasury of IP, extracting a toll when they allow others to make use of it.’
This is exactly what Rachel aims to do, extract a toll every time a ‘WHITE’ writer or commentator says Kolisi’s name or describes something about his life. If she could enforce this toll, Rachel would become even richer than she already is.
Legally, Rachel knows she has ‘no foot to stand on’. But that IP should be owned within and by races is a bad old colonial idea. This is terrifically ironic since Rachel is trying so hard to distance herself from that idea.
Rachel is not the first white South African to raise the dregs of European zombie ideologies and hawk them as social justice elixirs. Fallism was grounded in Marxism, French deconstructivism and a European form of cultural relativism.
Both Rachel and the Fallists would benefit from ‘decolonising’ their own minds before trying to police others.
Unlike with Rachel Kolisi, it is hard to imagine Steve Hofmeyr trying to force a publisher’s retraction merely because he deems the author of a text about himself merely to be the ‘wrong colour’.
Addressing Kolisi and others, Hofmeyr humanely and correctly said ‘you have so much to be proud of’, while deploring the tragedy of hard-won success being redefined by ‘resentment’.
Yet Hofmeyr has his problems too. In concluding his BLM speech, Hofmeyr said that ‘if you ever extend this condescending hand’ that pats the heads of self-flagellating victims ‘to my people we will slap it away with the contempt it deserves’.
Sadly, in Hofmeyr’s case, this is far from true. Hofmeyr is probably the most famous South African to talk up ‘genocide’ against white Afrikaners.
In 2012 he said: ‘It’s very easy to get rid of my group because they’re so small…If your nation is five people strong and I take two away it is genocide. You can’t tell me two is not genocide. In this case two is genocide.’
If two in every five members of a race or ethnic group (40%) were murdered that might very well qualify as a ‘genocidal’ proportion. And yet the proportion of farm murders in South Africa is orders of magnitude less than that. But Hofmeyr keeps talking up ‘genocide’ on Twitter, exaggerating a real problem into something easily dismissed as lunacy.
Few people know better than Ernst Roets, CEO of AfriForum, how badly talk of ‘white genocide’ has obstructed attempts to draw attention to real issues (murders, race-baiting and the erosion of property rights). He has repeatedly and diligently denied the genocide claim while assuring the public that even though there is no genocide does not mean there is no problem.
Still, Steve Hofmeyr’s earlier attempts to exaggerate the problem of farm murders continues to be energetically used to discredit the movement needed to secure order through equality before the law and an end to race-baiting politics.
Hofmeyr has not ‘slapped away’ the condescending hands that reward talk of ‘white genocide’, but has embraced them instead.
Who else talks about ‘genocide’? Julius Malema, who supports BLM because there is ‘black genocide’ in his description. This exaggeration is also the opposite of helpful.
A common trait
Rachel Kolisi, Steve Hofmeyr, and many prominent BLM activists all share a common trait. They all begin by noticing real victims of real adversity and are motivated by the admirable desire to make things right by drawing attention to what is wrong.
But then they use exaggeration and siloed thinking to draw maximum attention, which ends up turning victimhood into a glorified status. However good the initial intention, they end up undermining the very causes they hope to champion.