Maverick Interview: #ColourBlind
- Greg Nicolson
- South Africa
- 25 Feb 2016 12:07 (South Africa)
On Monday, after racial clashes at the University of Pretoria, Juan-Pierre van der Walt created #ColourBlind on Facebook. A group of students were tired of classes being cancelled when discussions on the university’s language policy turned into “a violent racial outburst”, he wrote. To protest racism, the group called on students to “take a picture of themselves, with a person of another race”. The #ColourBlind page is full of images of diversity, smiles, and declarations of friendship across races. But the campaign has been criticised for ignoring racial inequalities and distracting attention from transformation struggles. GREG NICOLSON speaks to Van der Walt.
Greg Nicolson: Why did you launch this campaign and what are you trying to achieve?
Juan-Pierre van der Walt: The ColourBlind movement was launched because of the sincere need students of the University of Pretoria had for a banner under which they could unite irrespective of their background, race, sexuality, gender or any other aspect of who they are. This was particularly necessary in a time where they perceived major polarisation and negativity in the student community.
GN: Who are the organisers of the campaign?
JPVDW: ColourBlind was initiated by a couple of students that formed part of the CRC congregation. The movement took off from there mainly driven by the students and now by public contribution through the social media campaign.
GN: Do you believe the recent demonstrations at universities are promoting racism?
JPVDW: The current demonstrations are promoting division and the breakdown of unity. Racism forms but one of many aspects of division that the violent protests have sparked during the last few days.
GN: What does it mean to be colour-blind?
JPVDW: One cannot be “colour-blind”; the hashtag does not refer to a state of being. It by no means aims to imply that we should ignore our diversity. Following this movement merely means that you as a student or someone in support of the student community wishes to unite under the banner of acceptance and hope in a time where students are bombarded by negative and violent factors.
GN: If we adopt a colour-blind approach, how do we at the same time acknowledge and rectify past and current racial inequalities caused by white people and inflicted on black people?
JPVDW: In the description of this movement we made it very clear that this movement is not aimed at ignoring race or nationality or any other factors. The intent of the ColourBlind movement is not to ignore the pertinent questions that deserve crucial conversations. The movement is focused on unity. If anything this movement aims to show people that the discussion on issues of the past as well as moving forward into the future cannot be done on a polarised platform, these issues belong to all of us and should be conversed on and solved together.
GN: How will being colour-blind overcome racism? Mustn't we first take race into account?
JPVDW: ColourBlind doesn’t go out from the point of view that racism doesn’t exist or that it is something that can be ignored. ColourBlind moves to creating a united platform from which students can take hands and approach the many issues we have in our country together rather than looking at challenges as segregated factions.
GN: Many student demonstrators have been adamant they are fighting against the ongoing academic, financial and cultural exclusion of black citizens. Doesn't colour-blindness avoid talking about ongoing systems of white privilege and black exclusion?
JPVDW: ColourBlind is not a movement that attempts to silence the issues, figuratively sweeping them under the rug and pretending that they are not there. ColourBlind as a movement encourages students to take part in the conversations. The movement would however like to provide students with the understanding that these issues can only be faced as a united South Africa where we can converse on challenges and overcome them regardless of the affiliation or race or any other aspects.
GN: Is this campaign an attempt to make white South Africans feel more comfortable at a time when Afrikaans is being challenged as a medium of instruction at universities and students are saying "fuck white people"?
JPVDW: The movement attempts to unite people in hope. Hope needn’t be comfortable, the issues that have to be dealt with will never be comfortable, but when these challenges are accepted with the understanding that they affect all South Africans and that the responsibility thus lies with all South Africans to face and overcome these challenges together there is hope for a country united in our diversity.
GN: After receiving both positive and negative feedback, what have you learnt from the public reaction?
JPVDW: The tag we use has proven to be one of contention because of the specific phrase. It’s unfortunate that this phrase does not necessarily make the intention of the movement clear on first glance allowing personal interpretation and thus resulting in misinterpretation. This being said, I have also learned that students need hope in this difficult time and that united we are stronger and more capable of listening to one another, which in my opinion will set the stage for the much needed crucial conversations in hopes of a transformed and united South Africa. DM
Photo: Steve Erasmus and friends, via Facebook #ColourBlind.