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Change the world

15/05/2023

“One of the central questions for us at the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at Nelson Mandela University is how to achieve sustainable societies that are more inclusive and equal. In particular, this requires addressing racial injustice,” says CANRAD Associate Professor, Christi van der Westhuizen.

“Whiteness is at its best when it turns into a myth. It is the most corrosive and the most lethal when it makes us believe that it is everywhere; that everything originates from it and it has no outside.” – Professor Achille Mbembe, 2015. Decolonising Knowledge and the Question of the Archive – online lecture.

As part of this research, in 2022 Prof van der Westhuizen and Dr Shona Hunter from the Centre for Race Education and Decoloniality, Leeds Beckett University, UK, edited the Routledge International Handbook of Critical Studies in Whiteness, a major work in the renowned Routledge International Handbook series.

In their opening essay, “Viral whiteness: Twenty-first century global colonialities”, the authors argue for a struggle that “refuses race as the way of organising and defining the human. This refusal is in concurrence with Mbembe’s opposition to the mythologisation of whiteness.”

They define whiteness as “a dynamic, shifting, but durable system of domination through, under, against and within which people live, work, and relate”.

Whiteness is analysed in the book in relation to class, nationality, gender and sexuality, looking at widely differing countries, including Japan, Austria, Sweden, Zimbabwe and the US. “Chapters look at the problem of race and racism globally, transnationally as well as nationally,” Prof Van der Westhuizen explains. South Africa features in a number of chapters.

“We have the structural legacies of apartheid and colonialism sustaining a racial hierarchy in South Africa that is socio-economically based. At the individual level, everyday racism continues to be a serious problem.”

The book further examines the radical white right. “White supremacism is a backlash against the advances of racial justice because the hierarchy where white people are positioned as superior is being destroyed,” says Prof Van der Westhuizen.

Democracy is in serious danger

CANRAD turned 10 in 2020, but because of the pandemic, its tenth anniversary international online conference was held in 2021. The conference title was “The state we’re in: democracy’s fractures, fixes and features”, and it was attended by 328 people from 19 countries across the world.

“Democracy worldwide is under massive pressure because of rising populism. You see a mobilisation of differences, such as race, ethnicity and nationality, to advance the power of a particular leader or party, including patriarchal power, at the expense of democracy. Putin personifies this, as does the reversal of Roe v. Wade (the right to safe abortion services) in the US which has ramifications for women’s human rights globally. A book will be published soon with selected papers from the conference, including on deepening and entrenching democracy as the best system we have for inclusive representation.”

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057
debbie.derry@mandela.ac.za