Black Power? Is that like White Power, but better?I haven’t weighed in on the noise about the Forum of Black Journalists, whose racist admission policy was recently declared unconstitutional by the Human Rights Commission.

Since the story broke days after my rant about white racists exploded into a raging inferno, I had been toying with the idea of using the FBJ issue to make a similar argument against black racists. But I admit, I was weak. I felt swamped by — and tired of — the subject of racism.

Another reason I desisted is expressed well in this excellent editorial on the reaction to the ruling, by political analyst Prince Mashele.

What both whites and blacks in our country seem incapable of, however, is to subject racial questions to rational thought. And unfortunately, this failure leads to an automatic expectation of racially solidaristic approaches to issues of race. As a result, simplistic formulas take the place of dispassionate analysis — so commentary on racial questions becomes predictable and a platform to parade racial correctness.

Whenever race issues arise, one can easily tell whether it is a white or black person commenting, not on the basis of accent or style of writing, but based on their unconcealed preference for racial solidarity over sound argument.

It’s this kind of approach that has made blacks who dared to raise critical questions about the FBJ’s racial policy to be quickly labelled “coconuts”. In the same vein, a white person expressing sympathy with black people is generally interpreted as a buyer of favour. Is there nothing like a race-neutral mind?

This question makes me sorry I didn’t post my position on the FBJ. In my view, as a white journalist, it has every right to exist, and every right to exclude whites. Why should I care? I feel the same about white racist groups. If they want to congregate and burn crosses and do what white supremacists do, that’s their problem. In their case, I’d only object when they start committing crimes. When it becomes harassment, assault or murder, we have a problem, but that problem does not affect the right to freedom of association or freedom of expression.

Similarly with the FBJ. If it feels the need to have a racially exclusive club because it prefers to think in terms of race and solve problems based on racial analysis, that’s its loss, not mine. I think it’s rich of people who support such organisations to claim racism in others, but that’s also their loss, not mine.

Here’s my objection to the FBJ, though. I have a serious problem that a senior political figure agreed to meet the forum in a closed, off-the-record session. If you’re going to have discussions with exclusive groups, by all means do so. The FBJ wouldn’t be the first group of limited membership and special interests to meet the government or the ANC. But then disclose what was discussed.

You see, there’s an important feature of the Constitution that is often overlooked. The function of a constitution is to bind the government and protect citizens. The Constitution explicitly says so, making only specific provisions, “where applicable”, binding on other persons. For binding citizens, we have the statute books — regular law — that serve essentially the opposite function.

So while the FBJ has a clear right, in my view, to associate however it wishes, that Jacob Zuma meets behind closed doors with an explicitly racist body strikes me as unconstitutional discrimination on the part of Zuma. Especially since, at the time, he was refusing to grant interviews to most other journalists. His argument might be that he was acting in his capacity as ANC president, not as an agent of government, but that seems like a weak defence.

Zuma’s meeting with it, not its existence or constitution, is my main problem with the Forum of Black Journalists. And I disagree with the Human Rights Commission’s ruling.

Is that point racially neutral enough?

(First published on my own blog.)


  • Ivo Vegter writes and argues for fun and profit. He is a columnist, magazine journalist and apprentice model shipwright. In his spare time, he helps run a research company. He specialises in the tech and telecoms industries, but keeps a blog on politics, economics and other curiosities on the spike


Ivo Vegter

Ivo Vegter writes and argues for fun and profit. He is a columnist, magazine journalist and apprentice model shipwright. In his spare time, he helps run a

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