Decolonising ‘Decolonisation’ With Mphahlele

Es’kia Mphahlele – Ills.:

Es’kia Mphahlele was a writer, activist, organiser and teacher committed to the view that ‘Afrikan humanness’ is the real key to our freedom.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of Es’kia Mphahlele’s death.

Mphahlele (1919-2008) was a writer of fiction, a journalist, a cultural activist, an organiser and, above all, a teacher. The main aim of his fiction and non-fiction work was dealing with what he characterised as the “first exile” – from home culture and ways of understanding the world – from which victims of colonisation suffered. Mphahlele argued that colonised people should begin by overcoming “first exile” if they are to develop decolonising theories and practices. In an era in which the decolonisation of politics and knowledge has captured the imagination of many people, we would do well to recall Mphahlele’s work.

The focus on “first exile” is important because the ultimate aim of colonisation is to separate colonised people from their sources of economic autonomy, ways of understanding the world, and, ultimately, from themselves. The primary “spiritual striving” of victims of colonisation, not just colonialism, is a striving against what the great African-American intellectual WEB du Bois called double consciousness. Similar ideas were developed closer to home. Writing in the 1940s, HIE Dhlomo explained that successfully colonised individuals are ‘neither-nor’ characters who “are neither wholly African nor fully Europeanised”. Dhlomo showed that the double consciousness of these characters was evident in their use of “European measuring rods for success, culture, goodness, greatness”.

In a settler colonial context, the work of colonisation would be achieved when leaders of the colonised people calibrate their demands to Western-style multiparty democracy, civil rights and, therefore, the integration of the elite layer of the colonised people into the historically white world. In such a context, the world and privileges of the settler minority are legitimised and guaranteed, while ‘uncivilised’ people, the majority of the population, continue to exist on the underside of the new society.

When the ‘decolonial’ is fundamentally shaped by the colonial
But not all projects of self-determination take the lived experiences and ideas of this majority seriously. Some are attached to colonialist ideas or obsessed with whiteness, leading to ‘radical’ projects that recenter what they aim to challenge.

In the first case, seemingly decolonial projects repeat colonialist ideas about the inherent differences between black and white; the uniqueness of ‘black culture’ and its supposedly essential traits; and the need to retrieve ‘native’ discourses; forgetting that ‘the native’ comes into being only when the settler arrives and that ‘native’ discourse is constituted by what Congolese philosopher VY Mudimbe calls the “colonial library” – colonial experts of various kinds.

In the second case, the black radical’s ‘colonial mentality’ manifests in projects whose main aim is to shame historical colonisers by constantly repeating anti-black discourses that the black man is not human and cannot coexist with humanity. This trend can be seen in certain strands of Afro-pessimism.

The important point here is that decolonisation often needs to be decolonised itself. In South Africa, no other thinker grappled with this dilemma more than Mphahlele. Read more

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The Life And Times Of Es’kia Mphahlele

A wonderful documentary about one of South Africa’s greatest authors, Es’kia Mphahlele, who was one of the first writers to leave for exile in the 1950s and write about apartheid as it was unfolding in South Africa. His novel “Down Second Avenue” became an international sensation and was based on his personal struggles of being raised in poverty, getting an education and leaving the country. Es’kia eventually returned to South Africa in August 1977, during a tumultuous period one year after the June 16, 1976 Soweto riots and less than a month before the death of Steve Bantu Biko. Despite opposition from the South African government, he was offered a position at the University of Witwatersrand and he became an influential cultural leader, revered for his ideas on education and African Humanism.

Part 2 of a wonderful documentary about one of South Africa’s greatest authors, Es’kia Mphahlele, who was one of the first writers to leave for exile in the 1950s and write about apartheid as it was unfolding in South Africa. His novel “Down Second Avenue” became an international sensation and was based on his personal struggles of being raised in poverty, getting an education and leaving the country. Es’kia eventually returned to South Africa in August 1977, during a tumultuous period one year after the June 16, 1976 Soweto riots and less than a month before the death of Steve Bantu Biko. Despite opposition from the South African government, he was offered a position at the University of Witwatersrand and he became an influential cultural leader, revered for his ideas on education and African Humanism.

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Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy

Welcome to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP), which as of March 2018, has nearly 1600 entries online. From its inception, the SEP was designed so that each entry is maintained and kept up-to-date by an expert or group of experts in the field. All entries and substantive updates are refereed by the members of a distinguished Editorial Board before they are made public. Consequently, our dynamic reference work maintains academic standards while evolving and adapting in response to new research. You can cite fixed editions that are created on a quarterly basis and stored in our Archives (every entry contains a link to its complete archival history, identifying the fixed edition the reader should cite). The Table of Contents lists entries that are published or assigned. The Projected Table of Contents also lists entries which are currently unassigned but nevertheless projected.

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F-Site – Lesmateriaal over vrouwen uit de geschiedenis

F-site biedt geschiedenisdocenten lesmateriaal over vrouwen uit de geschiedenis, toegespitst op de tien tijdvakken uit het geschiedenisonderwijs. Het kan tevens als bron dienen voor leerlingen die een spreekbeurt of werkstuk over een historische vrouw willen geven. Natuurlijk is F-site er ook voor iedereen die meer wil weten over vrouwen uit de geschiedenis: van de prehistorie tot nu.

Alle historische vrouwen op F-site worden uitgelicht aan de hand van een biografie, facts, quotes en een opdracht voor in het voortgezet onderwijs. Deze opdracht is een handreiking en biedt inspiratie voor hoe je de historische vrouwen meer zichtbaar kunt maken voor leerlingen. Bij het maken van het materiaal is er rekening gehouden met de kenmerkende aspecten en begrippen uit de huidige geschiedenismethodes.

De vijftig vrouwen op F-site zijn slechts een begin. F-site is een platform dat steeds verder wordt aangevuld met nieuwe verhalen en lesmateriaal. Schrijf je hieronder in voor de nieuwsbrief en volg ons op social media om op de hoogte blijven.

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The Dutch Black School: They Are Not Us

Lammert de Jong – Being Dutch. More or less. In a comparative Perspective of USA and Caribbean Practices Rozenberg Publishers 2010. ISBN 978 90 3610 210 0 – The complete book will be online soon. 

‘An Inconvenient Truth’
In the Netherlands, black’ is not black; it is ‘non-western’, including Moroccan, Turkish, and people of Caribbean origin, lumped together as allochtons. In government statistics, schools with more than 70% allochton pupils are generally classified as a black school; schools with less than 20% allochton pupils are graded as white. The black school concept is also used in relation to the surrounding neighborhood. Schools with more pupils of non-western origin than expected in view of the composition of the neighborhood are labeled blacker or, in the case of an over-representation of white pupils, whiter. A deviation of 20% or more between neighborhood and school population classifies a school as too white or too black (Forum, 2007). The number of primary schools with more than 70% allochton pupils is increasing; in Dutch nomenclature: the schools are becoming blacker.

The Dutch black school is a perfidious contraption that locks in children of non-western origin, while its black label flags an underlying apartheid syndrome to underscore for the True Dutch – intentionally or not – how different these allochtons are. Yet the black school touches an open nerve in the Netherlands, a sensitive reality that surpasses its statistical definition. On the one hand the black school reeks of apartheid, which the Dutch so bravely contest when occurring elsewhere in the world. On the other hand the True Dutch are well aware that their entitlement and unencumbered access to white schools is at stake when school segregation is tackled in earnest. So far Dutch counteraction is limited to research and some experimental desegregation projects.

The Dutch black school is embedded in the particular Dutch school system that funds public-secular as well as private-denominational schools. Once, the Dutch school system was driven by the accommodation of different beliefs. On the strength of their belief – church-religion or secular ideology – parents wanted a school for their children that adhered to the values, doctrines, and rules of their faith, and paid for by the state. [Note: In 2009 the Netherlands’ Council of State pointed out that publicly financed orthodox religion-based schools may refuse teachers who identify with a particular gay life style. The fact that a teacher is gay is not sufficient to deny a position, but if he or she is in a same sex relation and married in church or city hall, that may suffice, as such contravenes the orthodox rule that marriage is a holy sacrament between one man and one woman]

Denominational and non-religious schools emphasized particularity, a distinctiveness that corresponded with religious doctrines or ideological orientations. The principle of Freedom of Education (Onderwijsvrijheid) is enshrined in the Netherlands Constitution, art. 23. Over the years parents have come to believe that they are entitled to choose a specific school for their children, which is a travesty of the freedom to choose a particular type of school, based on denominational or secular definition.

Dutch politics wavers when coming to grips with the effects the black school brings – quite literally – home. Most parents don’t set out intending to discriminate, which makes a noble difference, and legally enforced segregation is not on the books. Nonetheless a segregated white-black educational system has become a reality, with most True Dutch children in better schools and having better school careers, and children of allochtons at the other end. And that with long lasting effects after the school years have come to an end. This type of school segregation stigmatizes New Dutch children for life, while reinforcing an allochton footprint that will divide the nation for years to come. Although most political parties assert that integration is the major social issue of our time, they fail to confront the black school with a sense of urgency. Dutch politics still has to acknowledge that the black school emblematizes the allochton population in the Netherlands with an explicit signature: They are not Us.

Black schools are a common feature in most major Dutch cities. So far the black school does not stand out in Dutch politics as a problem that must be solved urgently by law, regulation or in the courts. The black school seems more of an inconvenient truth than a critical social or political issue. To an outsider this must be surprising, given that the Netherlands is known for its rock-solid liberal reputation. How come then that the Netherlands has become a segregated nation? And do they discriminate against people of color? Do the Dutch not know how to handle the ethnic complexities of today’s multi-cultural society? Or is it a lack of compassion for those who do not belong to the white Dutch tribe: Discrimination or not, my children first. Or is it merely a matter of social-economic stratification, a distinction between advantaged and disadvantaged children, so that the Dutch black school is just a myth (Vink, 2010)?

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Herinnering aan André Köbben (1925-2019)


19 augustus 2019. Op 13 augustus, vorige week dus, overleed André Köbben. Hij was mijn leermeester, in allerlei opzichten. Ik ben vier jaar zijn assistent geweest in de jaren zestig van de vorige eeuw, ik ben in 1974 bij hem gepromoveerd. Vandaag wordt hij gecremeerd, in Leiden, waar hij woonde. Er is veel over hem te vertellen, en ik vermoed dat ik dat op deze plaats ook nog wel zal doen. Maar ter herinnering aan hem druk ik op deze dag een ‘gesprek’ met hem af. Ik voerde dat begin 2012, ruim zeven jaar geleden dus, voor een tijdschrift: Tijdschrift over Cultuur en Criminologie, waarin het later dat jaar (het septembernummer) werd geplaatst.

Een gesprek voor het Tijdschrift over Cultuur & Criminaliteit? Je bent van harte welkom, zegt André Köbben aan de telefoon, maar hij geeft me huiswerk op. Hij stuurt me de tekst toe van Bedrog in de wetenschap, die hij begin januari (2012) heeft voorgedragen bij de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen. Ook vraagt hij me de nieuwe bundel met criminologische opstellen van Frank Bovenkerk door te nemen: Een gevoel van dreiging. Het ging hem niet om het motto van de bundel, ontleend aan Köbben zelf en met karakteristieke köbbiaanse ironie verwoord:Zelfs zou ik mij willen verstouten u, lezer, de vaderlijke raad mee te geven: in uw eigen belang en dat van anderen, waag u nóóit aan echte voorspellingen. Nee, ik moet lezen wat Bovenkerk heeft geschreven over de Noorse massamoordenaar Anders Breivik, de politieke moorden op Pim Fortuyn en Theo van Gogh, de spray shooting in Alphen aan den Rijn en de aanslag op de koninklijke familie in Apeldoorn in 2009.

De overeenkomsten tussen beide onderwerpen dringen niet meteen tot me door, maar na een kort college zie ik de analogie. André Köbben en ik ontmoeten elkaar bij hem thuis, in zijn gerieflijke Leidse studeerkamer. Opvallend netjes opgeruimd voor een werkkamer, maar wel met overal stapels boeken en notities – een onderzoeker aan het werk. Begin februari. Buiten is het heftig vriesweer en schijnt een oogverblindende zon. In de jaren 1960 ben ik vier jaar zijn assistent geweest en hebben we vaak zo tegenover elkaar gezeten, op zijn kamer in de Amsterdamse Spinhuissteeg, later aan de Keizersgracht; boeken, tijdschriften, blocnotes en losse papieren tussen ons in. Het voelt vertrouwd en eigenlijk volstrekt gewoon, zo hoort het – André aan het woord, ik met een aantekeningenboekje. Nu tutoyeren we elkaar, dat was destijds ondenkbaar. Ook hij heeft zich voorbereid, er ligt een cv voor me klaar, knipsels, tijdschriftartikelen.

In zijn lezing over bedrog valt Köbben met de deur in huis: ‘Op 8 september 2011 kwam het bedrog van Diederik Stapel in de openbaarheid. Het kwam voor iedereen als een donderslag bij heldere hemel.’ Velen denken dat het gaat om een uitzonderlijk geval en sommigen, onder wie de rapporteur over de zaak Stapel, beweren zelfs dat er sprake is van het ‘omvangrijkste bedrog ooit’. Köbben laat zien dat dit niet waar is, maar wat hem boeit is het stereotiepe karakter van zulke reacties. Net als het feit dat je allerlei commentatoren op ziet duiken die onmiddellijk menen te weten wat de oorzaak zou zijn geweest van Stapels bedrog. De gedachte erachter is dat je zulke incidenten eigenlijk zou moeten kunnen voorkomen, dat er maatregelen getroffen zouden kunnen worden om bedrog in de wetenschap uit te roeien. Daar zit een bepaalde logica achter en wel de ‘logica van de risicosamenleving’ – de term wordt gebruikt door Frank Bovenkerk en hij bespreekt het begrip in zijn bundel. De zin van het huiswerk begint te dagen. Als er een gruwelijke aanslag zoals die in Noorwegen gepleegd wordt – heel letterlijk: een donderslag bij heldere hemel – klinken er meteen stemmen die de overheid verantwoordelijk stellen: we hadden die Breivik toch wel eerder kunnen ontmaskeren als gewetenloze killer? De werkelijkheid is ingewikkeld, de misdaadbevorderende factoren die in het leven van Anders Breivik kunnen worden aangewezen, vind je ook bij duizenden anderen en daar gaat het blijkbaar niet mis. Toch wordt er een commissie ingesteld die één of een paar veronderstelde oorzaken belicht waar snel iets aan kan worden gedaan. Helaas is het onduidelijk hoeveel rampen in de toekomst kunnen worden voorkomen door zulke ad-hocmaatregelen. Bovenkerk zegt gelaten: ‘Het wachten is op de volgende calamiteit.’ Read more

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