Confronting Racism

Exploring our Shared Origins

In part 6 of a series of podcasts, Koketso Sachane focuses on two crucial aspects of tackling racism in our society; the need to work as a collective and exploring our shared origins. Koketso is joined by guests Sean Moodley of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and national chairperson ARNSA (Anti-Racism Network of South Africa) and Professor Robert Bloomenshine, chief scientist of the Paleontological Scientific Trust (P.A.S.T).

We have been exploring the issue of racism and how it has been effecting all those living in South Africa, what is also important is to look at other aspects that could be effecting how we relate to each other and how as South Africans we need to look at these aspects.

The All From One campaign developed by PAST explored the idea of our shared origin:

All from one is a simple idea, with powerful consequences, that we all have the shared origins, we come from the same place. We share a long period of common ancestry here in Africa; everyone no matter where they come from in the world has their roots in Africa and it is here on this continent that all aspects of humanity developed...

Professor Robert Bloomenshine, P.A.S.T

What this project, and P.A.S.T can contribute to the discussion of racism in society today is the scientific perspective which is based upon firm facts from fossils. This work provides us with an opportunity to understand how while we are unique we do share strong bonds of commonality. We do know that what divides us is how we see each other., but we often do not dwell on how similar we are.

So how similar are we in fact?

If we compare any two people in the world no matter where they come from, on a genetic level, and specifically at the sequence of the 3.2 billion chemical building blocks that make up our DNA, our whole genome, if we compare that sequence between two people we see that the sequence is 99.9% alike., It doesn't matter where the two people come from.

Professor Robert Bloomenshine, P.A.S.T

The differences, physical and otherwise, that have historically been used to divide us, are a very minor part of what we are as a species.

An important conversation that we do need to have; but while it is easy for us to say we should acknowledge our common origin as a people,there is a process and journey to walk in reaching that destination. Through the programmes that P.A.S.T runs, their is a set plan as to how to do this. To reach the largest number of people and the broadest audience, the organisation has developed a digital campaign driven by social media, where people can go to the P.A.S.T site and not only learn about the concepts of shared origins but where people can also commit to the notions of tolerance and unity. Through social media people can begin to engage in conversations with each other.

Their exhibition All From One, which opened last year, provides some of the very basic scientific concepts that underline the need to tolerate and unite. The organisation also works closely with the Walking Tall Educational Theater project- using physical theater to explain topics like biology of skin colour and Africa as the birthplace of humankind.

We fully agree that giving this message to youth is very essential for after all these notions of race are notions that we are conditioned to talk about; we are conditioned to think about human diversity literally in black and white terms, which completely overlooks the rich diversity that we actually have.

Professor Robert Bloomenshine, P.A.S.T

Sean Moodley of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, and national chairperson of ARNSA (Anti Racism Network of South Africa), joins Koketso to speak about Anti Racism week which concluded on Human Rights Day, 21 March. It is not simply about being active during weeks dedicated to the topic, but,as Sean urges, it is vital for us to do four things, even after these weeks:

Learn about it; what it is, how does it manifest itself, where does it come from...just learn. Talk about it; we have to learn how to talk about it, because reality is with Apartheid is we couldn't talk about it. We have to learn to speak to speak out against it; and lastly, if it is necessary we need to act. There are avenues such as the Human Rights Commission, there are equality courts, and now there is ARNSA, who deal with complaints directly.

As we interact with different sectors of our community, everybody wants to work together, or wants to do stuff and they want to address the issue of racism, but nobody knows how.

Sean Moodley, Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and National Chairperson for ARNSA

We almost have this inability to tackle- perhaps because pf the limitations of our own history and psyche, Anti Racism week is pushing that #ColourShouldNeverDivideUs. Skin colour is determined by a tiny handful of the 20 000 genes that make up the human genome; they have nothing to do with an individual's capabilities or character.

The whole conditioning that has taken place in this country... Apartheid conditioned us to a point where we were conditioned to see people as they told us. It was a system that divided us and ruled us and in our little boxes we were conditioned, and so instead of coming out of our boxes we started boxed others.

Sean Moodley, Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and National Chairperson for ARNSA

Unfortunately we have ended up boxing ourselves and boxing others based on colours- we have limited our spatial movemebets, our choices. We are struggling to move outside of these boxes.

There is homework for us as Africans with this journey as we continue to confront racism; we see the need to interrogate and immerse ourselves in what both organisations are offering to us.

To learn more about the P.A.S.T campaign _All From One _visit their website www.past.org.za/allfromone or their Facebook page.

To learn more about ARNSA visit their website http://www.arnsa.org.za/takeonracism or their Facebook page.

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