Monthly Archives: January 2012


1920s South Africa

Where did the British go? What happened to their civilizing mission and the ‘Hottentot Identity’ British missionaries psychologically achieved? The idea could not be expressed more aptly than by Sol Plaatje when he lamented that South African policy was “pacing backwards to pre-Union days, going back, back, and still further backward, to the conditions which prevailed in the old Republics, and (if a check is not applied) we shall steadily drift back to the days of the old Dutch East Indian administration” (Plaatje 5). Though why the steady progression in reverse? South Africans, both black and white, were consumed by the unrealistic—albeit strange—theory of Social Darwinism (Worden 73). The mental subjugation the British forced upon the Xhosa, Khoi, Twsana, Sotho, Zulu, and other native South African tribes reemerged with a more hierarchal “customary rule” that fed into the festering white supremacy of the Afrikaners. Politics became black and white, and the white population sought to cage their black laborers. The British won the war from a military/ capitalist perspective; however the Afrikaners won social domination as the British capitulated to the Boers because of Transvaal gold.


In light of the Afrikaners, ‘Mcfene’ comes to mind. A literal crushing of black South Africans politically, economically, and socially. Afrikaners were ruthless. In Singing Away the Hunger ‘Agnes,’ described the Boer policemen as a “nightmare” that made her physically shake (Singing 14).  The daily press served as propaganda and an extension of Union politics; a daily reminder that black South Africans, even women, needed passes to navigate out of unscheduled areas (Plaatje “Womens Passes…”). This super exploitation created what Peter Abraham’s character Leah tried to explain to Xuma, “…I come from my people, but I am no longer of my people. It is so in the city and I have been here many years. And the city makes you strange to the ways of your people…” (Abraham 10). An urban black working class emerged; juxtaposing the starving native Africans in crowded scheduled areas. The middle class became ‘elite’ when in their ‘homelands,’ as demonstrated by Agnes’ mother when she returned to her local church (Singing 22). Unfortunately, the non-elite, the impoverished, were viewed as disgusting and inappropriate (Singing 20). Though the British socially imposed those views, there was a significant gap between migrant workers, urban black workers, and rural natives. From a “white” standpoint, rural culture had no place in the burgeoning capitalist industries.

As the period of reconstruction after the Anglo-Boer war ended and the twentieth century dawned upon the Union of South Africa, one can feel the suffocating tension by simply reading documents like “Native Life in South Africa,” and novels like Mine Boy or Singing Away the Hunger. Everything happened all at once. The British procured their mine investments in the Transvaal after the civil war with the Boers. The Boers transformed into Afrikaners in the power vacuum left by the British. And the authoritarian Afrikaners treated all of the ‘natives’ like something other than human as they starved, wore sacks, died in the mines, and lost all rights as citizens by 1913. Unfortunately, black South Africans could not be culturally defeated with the Native Affair’s agenda during the 1920s. They would not be crushed completely. Not with men like Sol. T. Plaatje.


a quick note on Thomas Jefferson

In Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson subordinated blacks scientifically while calling for their emancipation as slaves. With a systematic approach, he compared his study of blacks to the scientific classification of animals. As a proponent of natural rights and human equality, his categorization was shocking. Jefferson, though, was a product of his time. He was greatly influenced by the Enlightenment and its philosophers like John Locke and Adam Smith. Within Notes, Jefferson touted his intellectual prowess as a “lover of natural history” and clearly presented his knowledge to a decidedly European audience. Although he offered his scientifically racist notions to a broader audience, Jefferson struggled with the implications of his argument.

The European Enlightenment created an intellectual elite, whose members used reason-based philosophical discourse to improve their own state and, in a larger sense, the world (ImHof 162). Enlightenment philosophers, inspired by political and social issues within their own states, endeavored a practical application of knowledge. Montesquieu outlined the historical evolution of the European legal system (163). Voltaire, through literature and satire, traced the history of the world, and Rousseau contemplated the inequality of the human race (164). Pierre Bayle, as he responded to the political hierarchy in France, underscored a predominant 18th century enlightenment ideal: “I am a citizen of the world, I am not in the service of the emperor of the king of France, I am in the service of the truth” (98). Enlightenment proponents translated the complex language of the “great thinkers” of Greece and Rome so that philosophy itself was no longer purely elitist or scholastic but, instead, a “fashionable ideology” (164). Jefferson used this ideology to contemplate the scientific gradations of the human race “with the eye of philosophy” (Gallay 161). This ideology became the foundation for law, medicine, and science (165).

Enlightened Europeans agreed upon the inferiority of black Africans, but they could not agree on the origins of their subordinates. Jefferson found that blacks “are inferior to whites in the endowments of both body and mind,” but could not decide whether they constituted a distinct race (Gallay 161). Most 18th century philosophers—including Montesquieu, Kant and Rousseau—proposed monogenesis, or the belief that all humankind descended from a common ancestor. (In the religious sense, the common ancestors were Adam and Eve). If white men and “inferior” black Africans had a common origin, then one must champion Hugo Grotius’ assumption that the development of human culture could stagnate and even regress (Tiainen-Anttila 43). Montesquieu thought Africans were undeveloped because of their environment and its isolated nature (79) but believed they existed in Hobbes’ natural state (81). He argued, “nature and climate had an obstructing effect on cultural development in African heat…because blacks avoided efforts and sank into apathy” (81). Kant supported the monogenesis view and thought whit Europeans and black Africans were members of the same species since they could procreate (116).

In Inhumane Bondage, David Brion Davis suggests that slaves, from the time of antiquity, were subjected to common stereotypes that persisted regardless of race. Drawing upon Aristotle’s use of the term “barbarian” one can infer that his Hellenistic culture was inherently xenophobic. Thus slaves were foreign, not necessarily black (Davis 50). In 18th century Russia, slaves and serfs were considered “childlike…and incapable of life without authoritative direction” (50). In fact, Davis suggests some Russian noblemen tried to fabricate a separate historical origin for serfs (50), just as some European Enlightenment thinkers had attempted to classify Africans. According to Orlando Patterson, the “sambo” stereotype of the slave as a “degraded man-child” pioneered by Stanley Elkins in 1959, universally defined slavery through out time (51). One might conclude, though, that the “sambo” stereotype oversimplified the adaptability of the slave in Jefferson’s American South.

Though enlightenment thinkers tried to classify black Africans in a rational sense, it seems as though these Europeans, as well as Jefferson, were creating their own superior identity in relation to “the other.”


a quick note on Angela Merkel

Angela Dorothea Kasner was born on July 17, 1954 in Hamburg, West Germany to Herlind and Horst Kasner. When Merkel was still an infant, her father moved the family to East Germany where he took a position in the Lutheran Church.

Horst Kasner’s idealistic nature propelled him into Communist East Germany where in 2005 he told New York Times journalist Judy Dempsey, “It was my mission to go there.” Ironically, East German politics marginalized Herlind and Angela because they were Christians, noted Gale Biography In Context.

Merkel’s pragmatism and work ethic blossomed under the scrutiny of her perfectionist father, and she excelled in her studies. She graduated from the University of Leipzig in 1978, and finished her doctorate in 1986. In 1990, Merkel assumed a position as a quantum chemist at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry and the Science Academy in Berlin.

When Eastern Europe fell and Germany unified in 1990, Merkel joined the Christian Democratic Party where she served as a minister for women and young people from 1991-1994. Her male counterparts, at first, would not take her seriously; however, in time they admired her intelligence and practical work ethic, explained Biography In Context.

Her political ascension began in 1994 when former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl replaced Minister of the Environment Klaus Topfer with Merkel. In 1999, she broke away from Kohl’s scandal-ridden administration. Kohl had hidden financial regularities, a slush fund, and secret bank accounts.

In 2002, Merkel ran for the position of chancellor, but she was defeated by fellow conservative candidate Edmund Stroiber even though “Germany [was] ready for a new political style whereby democracy finally becomes politics for people by people rather than self-interest and technocracy,” Klaus-Peter Schoppner of the Emnid polling institute told the Irish Times. The German public championed Merkel as a political outsider, but current Chancellor Gerhard Schroder would lose his position to neither her Merkel nor Stroiber in the 2002 elections.

In 2005, Germany elected Angela Merkel as the first female chancellor and the first East German to hold that position. After the election Merkel underwent a personal makeover. Her popularity soared as a new haircut and more stylish clothing downplayed her lack of charisma. Her platforms included the need to strengthen relations with the United States, separation from Russian politics, and economic reforms like job creation.

The divided nature of Germany’s coalition government, stagnated by the Social Democratic Party’s unwillingness to compromise, eroded Merkel’s public approval. Social Democrats accused her of weak leadership concerning the behemoth health care system in 2006.

In 2008 Merkel hosted the G8 summit, thereby garnering a comparison to England’s “iron lady,” Margaret Thatcher. Merkel’s decision to send troops to Afghanistan in 2007 and the global economic downturn in 2008 further decreased her popularity on the domestic front, and she barely won re-election in 2009.

Merkel’s problem-solver attitude backfired in 2011, and her public standing in Germany plummeted. After witnessing Japan’s nuclear catastrophe in March 2011, Merkel reevaluated Germany’s nuclear policy and suspended the operation of seven nuclear power plants. Energy giants like RWE and E.on were considering filing lawsuits against the federal government, and members of her own party objected to her “rash decision.”

Joachim Pfeiffer, economic policy spokesman of the Christian Democratic Coalition suggested electricity prices will increase and the country “cannot afford to let the energy-intensive industries leave Germany.”

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah The Golden Haggadah, c. 1320

Homosexuality in Medieval Europe

The European aversion to “homosexuality” first appeared in literary sources of the 10th and 11th centuries, and must be contextualized with the reinvigoration of the papacy in the 11th century. At this time, the Catholic Church attempted to separate itself from the secular aspects of the Roman Empire and eradicate pagan rituals.[i] Goodich found “the 11th century witnessed a transformation in the church’s attitude toward private moral behavior and an attempt to realize the rigid sexual code implied, but not enforced, in pre-Gregorian Christian Europe.” [ii] Goodich further surmised the Church’s moral transformation signified the “stresses of urbanization” as Europe expanded in the 11th through 13th centuries.[iii]

In the 11th century, the Catholic Church recognized the need to create a uniform penitential code based on acceptable precedents that would ultimately result in Canon Law.[iv] The church began by instituting doctrines of celibacy for clerical members.[v] Subsequently, Canon law was largely derived from 4th century conceptions of morality as derived from Gratian’s Decretum (c. 1140), in which St Augustine’s Confessions laid the groundwork. In Confessions Augustine found that “crimes against nature are to be everywhere and at all times detested and punished; such as those of the men of Sodom were…”[vi] To understand Augustine’s crimes against nature, with respect to “the men of Sodom” one must first examine the Biblical representation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

According to Bailey, the medieval European reaction to secular pagan rituals, and the resulting view of “homosexuality” originates with Sodom and Gomorrah in the biblical book of Genesis and the “Holiness Code” prescribed by the book of Leviticus.[vii] In the Bible, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah maintains that two angels visited Abraham’s brother, Lot, and he welcomed them into his house. The sodomites (citizens of Sodom) demanded that Lot give them the visitors so that they might “know them.” Lot offers his daughters instead, but the mob does not relent. Eventually the angels smote the crowd, and the next day God burned the city to the ground.[viii]

The “homosexuality” of this story depends on the meaning of to “know” them. In 1942, Dr. Otto Piper suggested that “to know” (yadha in Hebrew) in the Old Testament refers to coitus, but does not differentiate coitus as between a man and a woman or between members of the same sex.  Conversely, Dr. G. A. Barton suggests “to know” simply means to “get acquainted with,” [ix] and Bailey seems to agree that the Biblical recounting of Sodom and Gomorrah “does not in the least demand the assumption that the sin of Sodom was sexual, let alone homosexual.”[x] In fact, Bailey maintains the story does not garner a “homosexual” context until the New Testament reassess Sodom and Gomorrah in the books of 2 Peter and Jude.[xi] However, there is a passage in the “Holiness Code” of Leviticus that discusses same-sexual relations. Leviticus 18:22 states, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination (ebhah).[xii] Regardless of the historical interpretation of the “homosexuality” of Sodom, the fact that Cathollic religious doctrine, or Canon Law, derived its notions of sins against nature from Augustine’s interpretation of the sin of Sodom is evident. Though one must be careful not to substitute sodomy with homosexuality, or vice versa.

[i] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 1-23

[ii] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 39

[iii] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 16

[iv] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 34

[v] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 23

[vi] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 32

[vii] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (London: Longmans, Green, 1955), 1.

[viii] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 2

[ix] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 3

[x] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 5

[xi] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 10

[xii] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 27


a quick note on Steve Biko

Steve Biko was a pivotal figure in history whose awareness of himself and his world uniquely rose above the illusion fabricated by his oppressors in 1970s Apartheid South Africa. His was a new voice that, it seemed, for the first time stepped outside the South African political system to establish an authentic African identity. Biko utilized examples from the American civil rights movement of the 1960s as well as the decolonization of surrounding nation states as a platform for his new voice of “Black Consciousness.” He desperately saw the “urgent need for the reawakening of the sleeping masses” and believed three hundred years of white domination over blacks had resulted in a massive inferiority complex that explained why ANC and PAC movements of the 1950s and early 1960s had failed to produce a massive resistance. He lamented “all in all, the black man has become a shell, a shadow of a man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity.” Social engineering had created African robots that continued to function within the system with alarming acceptance.

Black Consciousness filled the vacuum left by the exiled ANC and PAC organizations, and Steve Biko had new ideas for restructuring the black freedom movement. Firstly, black South Africans had to rid themselves of the fear of government retaliation that made it “impossible for them [blacks] to behave like people.” Then there was the structuring of SASO, specifically so that ties to NUSAS were only functional in nature. SASO was Biko’s grass-roots student movement that excluded all white South Africans, including liberals, democrats, and other sympathizers of the black liberation movements. Biko was finished with whites giving blacks their voice; the Dutch did so with the VOC, the British with their missionaries, and now the liberals who opposed apartheid because of a guilty conscience. Biko claimed that liberals “maintained that if you stood for a principle of non-racialism you could not in any way adopt what they described as racist policies.” SASO was deemed racist and separatist; however, were these reactions unjustifiable?

Biko seemed to think that blacks needed to put aside their imposed tribal fragmentations, muster some courage, and form a group based in African pride “in order to feature well in the game of power politics.” Biko saw the unmet need of black South Africans during the 1960s and 70s. He gave them the tenants of language necessary to fight back by accessing “Universities” hindered by the Bantu Education Act. Biko’s argument was refreshing amidst the delusional propaganda spouted by the South African government, and the pseudo identities imposed by the violence of colonization and exploitation.