On the #ColourBlind campaign

Martin van Staden says that, in a society crippled by race consciousness, the initiative is a welcome one

In response to much of the racialist tension on South African university campuses, a group of students at the University of Pretoria founded a #ColourBlind campaign, which, as expected, has already created some controversy.

For me, this comes as a breath of fresh air in a society where the importance of race is continuously emphasised, while the dignity of the individual human being is constantly shoved to a secondary consideration. The abstract 'group' is emphasised over the actual individual. For others, however, colourblindness is not only seen as 'ignorant', but amusing enough, racist; due to the apparent 'realities' of South African society. This is nonsense of the highest order. Only the pseudo-scientific and professional manipulators of this world, can construe the fixed polar opposite of racism, as racist in and of itself.

Being colourblind does not mean you are unable to appreciate the individual for all that he represents - including his history. In fact, colourblindness amplifies the colour and richness of the individual's character. This includes the 'institutional' oppression he may have suffered. But it is not determinist.

It does not take from the mere circumstance of race a rule and apply it wholesale to everyone who shares that exclusive trait. Indeed, to do so would be to violate human dignity. Rather than seeing the individual as black or white, the colourblind see individuals as representative of millions of traits, characteristics, lived experiences, views, and desires.

The racialists ignore the richness of the individual, but worst of all, they deny agency. As Matthew Kruger from the Helen Suzman Foundation writes:

"They [the racialists] reject the notion that the humanity of individuals is partly contingent on the choices that they freely and willingly make. In short, all individuals are produced by forces external to their free wills—by the structures of class, race, gender, etc.

These various beliefs explain why we hear so much about the pervasive, all-consuming and inescapable forces of capitalism, neo-liberalism, institutional racism, problematic language, and whiteness—but, so little about individuals and their particular beliefs and actions. For ultimately the individual does not matter. As products of class, race and gender, they are not concerned with our identities as unique and distinct individuals. What matters is the group. As mere members of groups, individuals are in the final analysis irrelevant—dispensable."

To deny agency is to deny that which separates individuals from computers. To the racialists, we are preprogrammed by the circumstances of our birth. This is why they must deny our individuality and only have regard to the 'group'. The 'group' by its nature has no agency, no ability to accept responsibility, and no ability to act.

'Racialism' is an ostensibly justified form of racism in contemporary South Africa. They believe can redefine racism to exclude themselves from its ambit, however, this is simply sophistry. Racialists are racists. They are determinists: whereas we don't believe that you are by default racist, if you are white; they do. While we don't believe that you are by default going to fail in life, if you are black; they do.

We should resist their inevitable assaults. 'I am Stellenbosch' was what appeared to be a colourblind counter-narrative to the collectivist-racialist 'Open Stellenbosch', was heckled to its ultimate demise. What we will be told is that if we "do not see" the race of a person, we "do not see" that person. Resist this level of emotional manipulation.

By refusing to allow the color of their skin to influence your judgment of them, you are affording them a fair and justice opportunity to be someone to you. #ColourBlind and the University of Pretoria students behind it should not suffer the same fate as I am Stellenbosch.

To the colourblind: we have a long and treacherous journey ahead of us. We will be continuously accused of ignorance and ignoring the reality of South African life. But always know that we are the only ones who truly appreciate our fellow South Africans as individuals in their own right.

We recognise their right to exist without condition. Many of us have endured this uphill battle for years - indeed, the individualist tradition predates Apartheid; having opposed colonialism, Apartheid, and contemporary racialism - but this individualism is such a foundational principle in our political, social, and economic worldviews that we cannot, and will not, simply abandon it due to the inconvenience of the racists who will oppose us. It is central to our humanity, and therefore must be continuously asserted and reasserted in the face of opposition.

Every good idea started with the support of a minority. We certainly are a minority among the politically and socially conscious in South Africa. Don't let this get you down. With persistence and determination can we create a real Rainbow Nation: not one of 4 colors representing the major racial groupings of South Africa, but one of over 55 million colors, representing every individual who shares this country with us. We are the true revolutionaries.

Martin van Staden is a law student at the University of Pretoria, and the Southern African Regional Director of African Students For Liberty.

This article first appeared on the Rational Standard website here.