An Eradication of Innocence

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Boesak is of the view that post-apartheid South Africa is still deeply plagued by a racist legacy of moral-political "innocence". I explore the validity of Boesak's position from the perspective of his fundamental claim that the philosophy of Black Consciousness represents a legitimate framework for addressing the legacy of "innocence", construed by him as an epistemic condition that refuses to engage with the historical "truth" of race thinking.

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The struggle for political and economic freedom in South Africa has, over the years, been inseparably associated with a moral struggle for the recognition of the humanity of Black people in the face of White oppression under colonial-apartheid rule. Implicit in the moral struggle for recognition has been the fundamental idea of human equality as a principle of universal significance.

While the politically organised anti-apartheid movement was primarily concerned with the removal of the historically repressive practices, structures and institutions of White supremacist rule in South Africa, the moral struggle for recognition of the denied, distorted and devalued humanity of the oppressed Black South African people has always been - and remains to this day - an extremely difficult challenge. The normative question of the humanity of the oppressed, Black communities seems to be incapable of meaningful articulation beyond the racialised identities of the colonial-apartheid regimes of the past, a seemingly unavoidable consequence of the differential historical experiences of antiBlack racism and White supremacy within the different Black communities of South Africa.

In post-apartheid South Africa, the normalisation of apartheid categories of classification such as "African", "Coloured", "Indian", and "White", now openly paraded under the placatory banner of "previously disadvantaged" and 'previously advantaged' categories of social identification, within government institutions, civil society and the business world, has done very little to stem the rising tide of racist hostility and racial suspicion in the country. The struggle for alternative, non-racial, emancipatory social identities, capable of transcending the restrictions and impact of the racial categories of apartheid, has been systematically undermined by the African National Congress ANC -led government's pivotal role as the sole creator and custodian of identity in the "new" South Africa.

The institutionalisation of "ethnicity from above" has thus resulted in. It [has] also suppressed and distorted identity to the extent that it [has] excluded and suppressed all constituents of identity except race and ethnicity Zegeye et al. In the late s and s, the moral struggle for recognition of the humanity of the historically oppressed Black communities in South Africa became the central focus of the philosophy of Black Consciousness. The existential self-awareness of being-Black-in-the-world has been a central thematic concern of the tradition of African philosophy, associated most notably with the work of the American philosopher, Lewis R.

Gordon Ramose , Mabogo P. More , and Adam Small has, over the years, succeeded in establishing a normative and conceptual link between "Black" theology, on the one hand, and 'Black'liberation philosophy, on the other. From this perspective, the suffering of Black people has represented a common point of departure, a common source for their various reflections and common engagement with the apartheid regime. These reflections and that engagement were also directed against the apologetics of the majority of White theologians and church leaders, especially within the ranks of the Dutch Reformed Church of the White Afrikaner community.

These reflections and that engagement arose within a specific historical context that spoke to the specificity of the suffering of Black people in apartheid South Africa. According to Moore ,. Black [t]heology Thus it starts with [B] lack people in the South African situation facing the strangling problems of oppression, fear, hunger, insult, and dehumanisation.

It tries to understand as clearly as possible who these people are, what their life experiences are, and the nature and cause of their suffering. This is an indispensable datum of Black [t]heology. As a Black Christian theologian, political activist, community leader, and "accidental politician", Allan Boesak has, over many years, distinguished himself as a leading voice in the South African liberation struggle.

Along with many others, most notably, the anti-apartheid activists, civic and student leaders, as well as theologians associated with the United Democratic Front UDF - Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Catholic Archbishop of Durban, Dennis Hurley, and respected activists from the s such as Albertina Sisulu, Helen Joseph and Oscar Mpetha, Boesak sought to apply the main ideas, principles and values of Black theology and the liberation philosophy of the Black Consciousness Movement BCM , to the oppressive political, social, and economic conditions of apartheid South Africa.

While he accepted that the existential "truth" of the philosophy of Black Consciousness ultimately resides in the possibility of establishing its resonance with the existential "truths" of the Black experience in South Africa, Boesak was always quick to point out that the existential fact of blackness in South Africa - and the rest of the world -must always be understood from the perspective of the revelatory force of the Word of God:. The [B]lack situation is the situation within which reflection and action takes place, but is the Word of God which illuminates the reflection and guides the action Boesak It should be noted that, for Boesak, the normative foundation of Black Consciousness philosophy was not much different to the founding principles associated with the Belhar Confession, formally adopted by the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church DRMC in , which proclaimed as a matter of confession that.

A key component of the Belhar Confession is the moral imperative for unity and reconciliation within a United later, Uniting Reformed Church, beyond the racially separated Reform churches of apartheid South Africa. The emphasis that the philosophy of Black Consciousness places on the idea of Black solidarity, Black unity, and Black agency has inspired Boesak to explore the conditions for the possibility of an authentic reconciliation and social justice in South Africa. To date, the question regarding the nature and significance of his contribution to the liberation struggle has focused primarily on "the political", and rightly so.

As a Christian leader committed to the moral principles of liberation theology, Boesak soon came to realise the inescapable nature and impact of "the political". Boesak lived for "the political", in all of its highs and lows, but his political vision was also deeply inspired by a profound interest in the human mind as an expression of human spirituality that has sought, over many centuries, to express itself in the liberatory languages of the Black-African experience.

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From this perspective, Boesak speaks of the Black church's historical struggle as a struggle for truth:. In this struggle, two theologies were fighting for supremacy within its ranks. On the one hand, there has been the theology we inherited from Western Christianity: the theology of accommodation and acquiescence. It engendered an individualistic, other-worldly spirituality that has no interest in the realities of this world except to proclaim the existing order as the God-ordained order On the other hand, there was a theology of refusal; a theology that refuses to accept that God was just another word for the status quo; a theology that understood that the God of the Bible is a God who takes sides with the oppressed and who calls persons.

Guilty until proven innocent

Boesak is of the view that the path of Black liberation is premised on the possibility of overcoming the "slave mentality" induced in the minds of Black people over many centuries of White supremacist rule, with the complicity, in many respects, of Black people themselves:. Our minds might have been colonized, but we were not innocent. We actively participated in our own oppression. We help[ed] forge the chains of our slavery Boesak An important idea associated with the struggle for Black liberation is the possibility of a radical transformation of the hegemonic Eurocentric epistemological paradigm the Western philosophical text that has largely gone unchallenged within current academic discourse.

A major consequence of this unfortunate situation has been the perpetuation of the racist myth that the "Western mind" is the exclusive, privileged centre of human knowledge, reason and rationality. The imposition of the European colonial system of education on the minds of the indigenous, colonised African people is a direct consequence of Western philosophical racism, which denies the non-Western Other, in general, and the African, in particular, the inclination and the ability to reason philosophically. An acknowledgement of the right to reason would necessarily entail the further acknowledgement that the non-Western Other is also a human being, equal in status to all other human beings.

The struggle for reason in Africa, as Ramose has argued, is also a struggle for the liberation of the denied humanity of the indigenous, conquered African peoples, which is the fundamental condition of the possibility of racism. Within this context, Boesak also claimed that. There was no field of Western academic endeavour since the seventeenth century, whether science, philosophy, literature, art, and especially theology in which the dehumanization of the African did not become the acid test of the superiority of both Western man and Western culture.

In this article, I focus on Boesak's deep concern about the self- conscious perpetuation of "race thinking" in post-apartheid South Africa. In this regard, I explore the validity of his position from the perspective of his fundamental claim that the philosophy of Black Consciousness represents a legitimate alternative to the "innocence" of "race" and ethnicity as the primary markers of personal and social identity. Boesak's approach to the question of 'race' and personal and social identity has consistently been shaped within the normative context of Black Consciousness thinking:.

There are things that seem to be unique to my generation, and yet continue to plague South Africans as we wrestle with becoming a nation. One of these is the persistent matter of race and identity My thinking on these matters has irrevocably been shaped by the philosophy of Black Consciousness. My generation, in that most formative of times the late sixties and seventies learnt to overcome the consciousness of race and ethnicity like no generation before Boesak Implicit in his account of the philosophy of Black Consciousness is a basic epistemic claim, namely that, without the unifying moral potential of Black Consciousness thinking, post-apartheid South Africa is without vision.

In this article, I seek to analyse the significance of that claim. The epistemic category of "innocence" has played a constitutive role in Boesak's conception of liberation theology. The category of innocence was of such importance to his epistemological approach that it featured prominently in the title of his published doctoral thesis, Farewell to innocence: A socio-ethical study of Black theology and Black power Boesak conceptualises innocence as a function of Western theology's deliberate and systematic ignorance of the realities on which liberation theology is based, namely "realities of rich and poor, of [W]hite and [B]lack, of oppressors and oppressed, of oppression and liberation from oppression" Boesak He proceeds to assert that these realities.

As a form of "racial thinking", innocence provides the condition for the possibility not only of White power and privilege in colonial-apartheid South Africa, but also the violent conquest of the mind, the land, and the life of the pre-colonial indigenous African people. The conquest of the African mind through colonisation and enslavement has resulted not only in the genocidal violation of the African person's right to life, but also in the loss of self-confidence and profound scepticism with regard to the epistemological relevance, validity, and moral significance of pre-colonial African indigenous systems of thought.

As a project of colonial conquest, Western modernity has sought the assistance of its leading philosophers of the Enlightenment movement, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G. Hegel - to mention but a few - to legitimise its economic and cultural agenda of European global imperialism. To this end, Western modernity has identified human reason and rationality as the exclusive, privileged possession of the Western mind, and the uncontested proof of Western civilisational superiority Serequeberhan ; Eze In mainstream academic programmes and curricula, epistemology is conceptualised as the branch of philosophy that is primarily focused on the question of knowledge, the justification and validation of knowledge claims, the relevant scope and limits of human knowledge.

From this perspective, epistemology is projected as a fundamental challenge to the belief that ignorance is bliss. The purpose of knowledge is to seek "truth" as the only condition and desideratum for overcoming the unwanted condition of ignorance. The recognition of ignorance is, therefore, a first step in the noble pursuit of knowledge.

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Thus, we witness, for example in Plato's famous allegory of the cave, the ascent of the philosopher from a condition of ignorance and self- deception, conveyed by images of darkness, shadows, prison chains, and a generally unpleasant life deep below the earth's surface, to the bright white light of knowledge and reason, metaphorically associated with the sun as the original source of all light and all life on earth Republic, Bk VII. Plato's epistemology thus views ignorance as a deficit, an accident, a mistake, an oversight that can, in principle, be remedied under the correct guidance and supervision of the philosopher as teacher.

The possibility of knowledge thus ultimately resides in the absolute overcoming of the condition of ignorance, which Plato associates with a morally debased and inferior mode of existence Plato [ BC]. Plato's Socrates' radical questioning of the accepted truths and conventions, his so-called "ignorance" is a consequence of a struggle for truth in the face of the almost unshakeable epistemic weight of public opinion popular belief, prejudice and tradition , on the one hand, and a fundamental critique of knowledge in the service of power disguised in the Sophistic form of rhetoric and excellence of speech , on the other Plato [ BC].

The fact that Socrates hailed from a relatively poor economic background made him even more suspicious of the popular association of wealth social prestige with knowledge wisdom , thus implying that wisdom can also reside among the poor and the less privileged. Socrates' philosophy of radical questioning, in the struggle for truth, invites comparison with Jesus' radical questioning of religious truth or authority-thinking during his lifetime, based on an unshakeable conviction that the only epistemic authority worth accepting is the authority of truth itself.

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As Nolan puts it:. Jesus was unique among the men [sic] of his time in his ability to overcome all forms of authority-thinking. The only authority which Jesus might be said to have appealed to, was the authority of truth itself. He did not make authority his truth, he made truth his authority. The Socratic epistemology of ignorance, like Jesus' epistemology of truth, is clearly at odds with the hegemonic epistemic structures of their day, which basically served the interests of the rich and powerful the elite - to the exclusion of the 'others': ordinary people and slaves, in the case of Socrates; "sinners" in the case of Jesus.

The radical-questioning epistemologist often calls for an epistemological break, that is, a radical rejection of hegemonic epistemologies. This rejection is based on the belief that the existing epistemic models cannot be improved upon or "fixed" from within. From the epistemological perspective of the excluded and marginalised, the devastating consequences of the hegemonic theories of "truth" should never be construed as a "mistake" that can be remedied, nor should they be viewed as the product of an innocent oversight or misunderstanding.

In this regard, the significance and relevance of Bosch's comments below exceed the disciplinary parameters of contextual theology:.

In recent times, the epistemology of modernity has been construed "from below" as epistemological project based on the racist ideology of White supremacy. From this perspective, modern Western epistemology is viewed as a deliberate and systematic attempt to disregard and dismiss the decisive influence of non-European philosophical influences on the origins of European philosophy Bernal ; Park The devaluation and dismissal of non-European sources of philosophical thinking were undertaken in order to absolutise and privilege the European "mind" as the exclusive and universal source of authentic philosophical thinking.

From the perspective of those "from below", the modern epistemological tradition is inextricably structured around an epistemic core of racism, which can only be overcome by means of a radical epistemological break. Sometimes what we do not know is not a mere gap in knowledge, the accidental result of an epistemological oversight. Especially in the case of racial oppression, a lack of knowledge or an unlearning of something previously known often is actively produced for purposes of domination and exploitation.

At times this takes the form of those in the center refusing to allow the marginalized to know: witness the nineteenth-century prohibition against [B]lack slaves' literacy.

Other times it can take the form of the center's own ignorance of injustice, cruelty, and suffering, such as contemporary [W]hite people's obliviousness to racism and [W]hite domination. Sometimes these "unknowledges" are consciously produced, while at other times they are unconsciously generated and supported. In a similar vein, Mills makes an important contribution to our understanding of the epistemic status and role of "White ignorance" as an actively, systematically produced form of non-knowledge, by arguing that White supremacist thinking is a logical consequence of the radical inversion of the Platonic epistemological paradigm.

Mills argues:.


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One could say then, as a general rule, that [W]hite misunderstanding, misrepresentation, evasion, and self-deception on matters related to race are among the most pervasive mental phenomena of the past few hundred years, a cognitive and moral economy psychically required for conquest, colonization, and enslavement.

And these phenomena are in no way accidental, but prescribed by the terms of the Racial Contract, which requires a certain schedule of structured blindnesses and opacities in order to establish and maintain the [W] hite polity italics in the original. Arguing in a similar vein, Boesak foregrounds epistemic ignorance in the form of innocence as the epistemological foundation of White supremacy in South Africa. His choice of the word "innocence" in preference to "ignorance" is significant.