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On Vanessa Hartley calling black people animals 

By BO Staff Writer

“blackness is the lower emotions, the baser inclinations, the dark side of the soul.” Frantz Fanon

It is necessary to equate blacks to animals – to render them subhuman beings – in a racist society, so as to maintain, perpetuate and consolidate the white power project. South Africa needs blacks to understand clearly their racialised positionality – that is, blacks are located outside the  civilized world of whiteness!

Black people have known since the beginning of white supremacy that deeply rooted negative attitudes toward them are widely held. White supremacy (which informs these attitudes) provides the justification for the black body to be regarded as being always available for gratuitous  violence.

From early colonial times blacks have been regarded as being  the “evolutionary link between orangutans and humans.”  This association of blacks with primates, as indicated in the colonial theory of race, was based on the “great chain of being” in relation to which human “races” were deliberately arranged in terms of a hierarchical structure. This structure indicates the levels (from most superior to most inferior) as follows : God, white people, and then an arrangement of the rest of the people, with blacks at the lowest level.

Charles White depicts this hierarchical structure in  “An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Different Animals and Vegetables (1799)” and to this end points out: “In whatever respect the African differs from the European, the particularity brings him nearer to the ape.”

Another racist, Carolus Linneaus, is said to have established the classification system in respect of living things. In “Systema Naturae (1758)” he suggested that the aspects differentiating apes from humans were insignificant.

From around the nineteenth century the strong sentiment among white academics was that apes were indeed very similar to blacks. Robert Knox in “The Races of Men (1851)” used the slant of the brow to draw the link  between the “Negro” and the “Oran Outan” and by extension the differences between the two groups and white people. Another colonial source linking apes with blacks evolutionarily is  “The Evolution of Man (1874 edition)” by  Ernst Haeckel. It was around this time that blacks were caged in zoos together with animals.

Today the “great chain of being” is still used as a  tool to politically erase blacks – the current case of racism involving Vanessa Hartley is on point. Hartley made racist utterances on social media when she complained about there being “too many Africans flocking to Hout Bay” and that “[t]hey like stupid animals‚ we should tie them to a rope”. She further urges that they  “[d]raw up a petition” and warns that “[s]oon there will be nothing left of Houtbay”.


Yes we must oppose the systematic normalization of violence against blacks! Yes we must oppose the association of blacks with primates in terms of a colonial “chain of being” – an association aimed at dehumanizing blacks!  Yes we must in general oppose prejudice!

But precisely because the logic of racism is not just intended to cause prejudice but to also enforce prejudice, the problem of Hartley’s conduct cannot be resolved individually with her by simply punishing or educating her regarding racism. It’s too big a problem.

The root of the problem – anti-black or structural racism – is part of the entire fabric of societal practices. The problem of racism is created by white supremacy.

Can the resolution of the race question really reach its fullest appreciation in the suffocated bourgeois electoral arena? To elaborate, can racism truly be addressed via parliament in the context of the limitations of the racist power structure?

It would certainly require a revolutionary movement (that locates the black liberation project at the core of it’s efforts) to lead the people into engaging in real struggle in this respect. The black colonial condition  indicates at every turn that the problem is first and foremost not one of changing practices. It is a problem of changing meaning, of changing structure. It is a systemic problem! Nothing less!

Omar Ricks in “The Problem of Black Lives Mattering” puts it like this:

“…the central problem is not a swirling morass of practices to be altered. It is a structure. These problems of anti-black racism are not simply problems of individual or institutional practice or prejudice because they are repeated across widely disparate individuals and institutions with the same independent results. The psyche of anti-black racism is not individual or institutional. Both the psyche and the institution are networked together as part of one dynamic, fluid, and massive structure. The psyche, like the institution, is a structure. The problems of Black life mattering are hence fundamentally problems of structural power.”

Trying to eradicate the practice of prejudice such as that displayed by Hartley’s conduct, without locating these prejudices in the ways that racism draws from structural racism is an exercise in futility. It is only through a thorough going revolution, using any means necessary (including using a combination of means like mass action and the court processes etcetera), to completely end the structure of racism that prejudices as displayed by Hartley can be uprooted via the reconstruction of society along black centered socialist lines.

Currently, the three main political parties in SA, the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), have reached consensus to criminalize racism via legislation. As pointed out before by Black First Land First (BLF), all three parties have no understanding of what racism is. Consequently, blacks run the real risk of being at the receiving end of this legislation and accordingly prosecuted for racism.

Individual acts of racism such as that manifested in the conduct of Hartley are enabled by institutional racism which in turn is founded on colonial land dispossession that created white power. Racism shall only end with the destruction of institutional racism and the dismantling of white power.

The legitimate call right now is that before criminalizing racism any law in this regard must be guided by the following basic principles:

1. Return the land to the black people Now!

2. Adopt the principle of “blacks can’t be racist”.

3. Anti-racism struggle must be led by blacks only.

These three demands are the absolute pre-conditions to prevent the proposed law from being used against blacks by racists. Criminalization of racism without decolonising society will only lead to the criminalization of blacks.


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