My history; lived experience; views on race, racialism and racism; and philosophy, ‘white privilege, Fallism, decolonization in a nutshell
I am a descendant of oppressed, working class, Irish-Catholic, freedom-fighters who immigrated to the United States of America (USA) in the early 20th Century. I and my brother were the first in our family to attend university, funded entirely by merit-based scholarships and our parents. I earned B.A. (magna cum laude – U. Massachusetts at Boston) and M.Sc. (U. Chicago) degrees in biology during the 1960s and early 1970s in the USA. During the Vietnamese War, I served in the US Army National Guard. I immigrated to Africa in 1973. I am a naturalized South African citizen and married a South African colleague (and a former student) who, since the early 1980s, has extensive experience as a remedial educator of educationally ‘disabled’ ‘black’ students. At UCT, she earned B.Sc. Hons and M.Sc. degrees in biology and a Ph.D. in educational standards. We have a daughter who was also educated at UCT. She, like my spouse, was nurtured by my mother-in-law who lived with us for the last decade of her life. I am a UCT alumnus (Ph.D. 1978), Elected (now Life) Fellow and emeritus (40 years’ service from 1973) professor. I competed for, or was promoted ad hominem to, every academic post at UCT from junior lecturer to full professor – a process that took more than a quarter century. I have served on many committees at UCT and its Senate and in national and international professional societies. I led the transformation of UCT’s Club from a fast-food ‘joint’ into a place where UCT’s diverse community dine and debate in its superb restaurant and the pub I named The Laboratory. I earned international respect (SA National Research Foundation B-rated, h-index = 22) as an expert in the theory, practice and education of evolutionary biology (covering everything from ‘race’ to deeply rooted evolutionary trees) and conservation biology (especially regarding sustainable and economically viable use of wildlife). I have served as council-member/president/journal-editor for several national and international scientific societies and published nearly 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers/books, most often in collaboration with my students and colleagues spanning a broad spectrum of humanity. I helped to transform UCT’s Percy FitzPatrick (now just FitzPatrick) Institute of African Ornithology (Fitztitute) from an assemblage of colonial naturalists who studied birds into an international centre for avian biology that uses birds (especially African birds) to formulate and test wide-reaching scientific hypotheses and use them as keys to the benefit of conservation in particular and humanity in general. In April 2017, the Fitztitute was ranked joint third in the world by The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) which publishes the only global university ranking that measures the quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of the faculty members and the quality of their research without relying on surveys and university data submissions. I was the Fitztitute’s deputy director and co-author of the proposal that led to it becoming one of a handful of national Centres of Excellence supported by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry and National Research Foundation. I was an ‘architect’ and long-serving coordinator of the Fitztitute’s highly successful, ‘decolonized’, ‘Afro-relevant’, ‘inclusive/globalized’, 25 year-old Post-graduate Programme in Conservation Biology. I am regarded as the world’s leading authority on the biology of terrestrial gamebirds (junglefowls - chickens, quails, pheasants, turkeys, guineafowls, etc. of the avian Order Galliformes). Seventy of my graduated students (including seven professors) have published their research in peer-reviewed scientific journals and established themselves professionally in their own right. The address of my blog site is: timguineacrowe.blogspot.co.za
That is my “lived experience”. Many of my colleagues at UCT could recount similar ‘stories’. In short, they have worked long, hard and innovatively to get where they got and this beneficiated UCT, South Africa, Africa and the world. If we are privileged, it is a privilege that has been earned, not dispensed.
Dealing with my critics in advance Despite all this, my critics have (and continue to) defamed me variously as a: Jim Crow, racist, eugenicist, carpetbagger, old codger, reactionary, Apartheid activist, killer of ‘black’ people. To date, despite my repeated communications of this defamation/hate speech to the UCT Executive, none of its representatives have taken any decisive (action-effecting) positions on it.
I reply to my defamers in the same spirit calling them: abantu behlanye nebekhanda behlaza - “seriously mixed up people who are wild, uncouth and who do not respect others”. To counter this ad hominem, defamatory characterization, I provide some personal context and definitions to try to avoid confusion and pre-empt misrepresentation.
Disclaimer First, I seek no financial gain or position of influence other than to convey my (and what I believe are UCT’s holders of ‘institutional memory’ and today’s “silenced majority’s”) views.
Races within modern humans are artificial, nefarious, perverse constructs generated by the misapplication of the taxonomic category subspecies or socio-political skulduggery.
The use of the subspecies as a biological category was formalized in the 18th Century by Carl Linnaeus, the “Father” of taxonomy. Linnaean subspecies were seen originally as variant ‘types’ within species delineated by essential differences in morphology (overall anatomical form), but which ‘mix’ in areas of geographical intersection. Linnaeus and contemporary racist philosophers, geographers and historians popularized the misuse of subspecies by dividing humanity by morphology and “demeanour” into a handful of “races”. For example, Homo sapiens europaeus was described as “white, sanguine, muscular”, whereas Homo sapiens afer was said to be “black, phlegmatic, relaxed”.
20th and 21st Century taxonomists have added ecological, behavioural, physiological and molecular genetic evidence to their taxon-diagnosis ‘toolkit’, and have dropped the ‘typology’ and ‘essentiality’ of subspecies and species.
Racialism – the beginnings
In fact, ‘racialism’ has existed since the earliest humans, and post-Linnaean racialism was further misused to identify a vast multitude of ‘racial’ groupings, delineated by sharing, for example, a common language, religion, culture, class and/or national affiliation. Within the “First People”, the southern African KhoiSan, the Khoi (literally “Real People”), regarded neighbouring, morphologically similar, ‘bushmen’, hunter-gatherers as “San” (Khoekhoe for “Others/foreigners”). The ‘San’ (perhaps their earliest genetically-definable modern humans), in turn, have no collective name for themselves and are highly diverse linguistically and genetically – self-identifying as more than 10 ‘nations’.
World-wide, as many as 200 ‘races’ have been recognized. Within Haiti alone, as recently as the early 1970s, the local populace employed more than 100 different racial terms. In extreme instances, ‘races’ in power have used beliefs in their superiority (and inferred inferiority/threat) to ’justify’ their hyper-oppression, exploitation, enslavement and even genocide of ‘others’: ’ni**ers’/’ka**irs’/’untermensch’/’mud-people’/’half-black’-‘bog-trotter’-Irish/’redskins’/’savages’/‘cockroaches’, etc.
Regardless of how many races that were/are ‘recognized’, the primary purpose of this human ‘taxonomy’ is to denigrate/subordinate/victimize ‘others’/’them’.
These actions cannot be justified, biologically, culturally, educationally or socio-politically.
Since the latter half of the 20th Century, there has been widespread consensus that human races have no biological basis. Modern Homo sapiens speciated once, in Africa about 200000 years ago, and cannot be biologically meaningfully subdivided further, despite some significant ‘hybridization’ with Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and Homo habilis. So, pioneer Pan-Africanist Robert Sobukwe hit the racial nail on the head in 1959 when he said: “There is only one race to which we all belong, and that is the human race”.Genetics: Humans all share the same set of genes. The DNA of any two human beings is +-99.9% identical. In stark contrast, the four genetically distinct populations of our nearest living relative the Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes - confined to Central Africa and sometimes less than a mile apart - are more genetically distinct than humans that live on different continents.
There is greater genetic variation within human populations confined to a given continent than between populations residing in different continents. For an extreme example, there is more genetic variation within the KhoiSan peoples than among those throughout much of the non-African world and many Brazilian “whites” have more African ancestry than some U.S. “blacks”. In short, we are all ‘kissing cousins’ sensu lato.
If one were forced to use modern genomics to divide humans into ‘discrete groups’, the entities that would emerge would mostly divide humans into perhaps half a dozen African groups, and then lump all other humans together with one or other of these groups. This is not surprising, since most human groups arose after our migration out of Africa between 60000 and 130000 years ago. In short, non-African modern humans are ‘alien-invasive paleo-refugees’.
The major human biological groups are not Asians, Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans. Studies claiming the opposite (e.g. newsman Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History) and that societal differences largely reflect their differential evolution in intelligence, impulsivity, manners, xenophobia, etc. are nothing more than a “mountain of speculation teetering on a few pebbles”.
This is because the ‘racial researchers’ first separated groups of humans geographically or by assumed ‘race’ and then looked for the few rapidly evolving, adaptively neutral, molecular genetic markers (non-coding “junk DNA”) that can delineate them. They avoided groups that don’t easily fall into these categories. Although genetic studies designed biasedly like this might, in some cases, recover some traditional racial groups, they are fabrications based on a ‘cherry-picking’ sampling. Furthermore, if one pursued such a strategy to the extreme, it is possible to subdivide humans much, much more finely – providing Hendrik Verwoerd and his apartheid kindred with tools that could have been used to potentially ‘justify’ separate development.
This molecular genetic capacity has been exploited by a large and growing genetic ‘ancestry/roots’ industry, aggressively advertised in the media sensu lato. One can even get a ‘certificate’ that indicates (with varying precision) the geographical provenance of your ‘ancestors’ and your geographic (read racial) genetic makeup. As far as I can understand, this makes some sense as a probabilistic, forensic scientific statement. But, the accuracy of the ‘conclusion’ depends inter alia on the marker(s) used and the scale of geographical coverage of the comparative material. One thing is certain; this ‘genetic astrology’ is not is legally actionable evidence of genealogical ‘identity/connection’. For example, markers derived from one source (e.g. mitochondrial DNA) might place ‘roots’ in different areas and suggest a markedly different ‘racial signature’ than those from Y chromosomes.
A noteworthy recent example of human genetic ‘connectedness’ is the finding that millions of Americans may be descended from 4th Century Irish King, Niall of the Nine Hostages. During an episode of the The Oprah Winfrey Show eminent African-American Harvard historian and ardent ‘gene-genealogist’ Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. announced that both he AND the Irish-American police officer who made headlines by arresting him when he was trying to gain entry to his locked home are among them!
Also based on this ‘diagnostic capacity’, some 21st Century researchers, e.g. South African-based, ‘decolonist’ philosopher Achille Mbembe, seem to advocate the biological rehabilitation of human races. He maintains that: “ongoing re-articulations of race and recoding of racism are developments in the life sciences, and in particular in genomics” and allow delineation of human races, making them “amenable to optimization by reverse engineering and reconfiguration”. This assertion is based on nothing more than blatant misuse of forensic genetics.Morphology (overall anatomical form) and Physiology: Humans vary, often strikingly, in whole-organism ‘appearance‘. Potential diagnostic features include, inter alia, tolerance to alcohol, body odour/earwax, cold adaptations, eyelid folding, head hair structure, height/mass, high altitude oxygen metabolism, HIV resistance, microbiomes, menarche, skin/eye/hair pigmentation, steatopygia, prevalence of sickle-cell anaemia and other genetically-based diseases, ability to sense bitterness, toxin tolerance and osteology (especially of the cranium). http://en.metapedia.org/wiki/Race_and_morphology/physiology But, according to the American Anthropological Association http://www.americananthro.org/ConnectWithAAA/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2583 such physical and physiological variations tend to change clinally (gradually), rather than abruptly, with geography and are generally inherited independently of one another. Furthermore, the clinal pattern of geographical variation in one trait generally does not parallel that of others and those of genetic markers. In short, they are ‘discordant’.
These facts render any attempt to establish lines of division among human populations both arbitrary and subjective.
For example, skin pigmentation results from natural selection operating differently in different parts of Earth. As early as the 14th century, the Islamic sociologist Ibn Khaldun proposed that dark skin in humans was an adaptation to the hot climate of sub-Saharan Africa. https://criticalencounters.net/2013/07/05/reading-ibn-khaldun-in-kampala-mahmood-mamdani/ Modern research ties this to protection against melanoma-inducing sunlight in lower latitudes, and selection for lighter pigmentation at higher latitudes to allow production of vitamin D in the skin. http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/biology-skin-color Indeed, darkly pigmented skin may have been evolutionarily rapidly lost and regained (over as few as 100 generations, or about 2500 years) in humans depending on the ultra-violet radiation in areas ultimately ‘colonized’ by dark-skinned Modern Humans that emerged from Africa. http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.anthro.33.070203.143955
Nurture: culture, sociality and politics
Some South African humanities scholars, e.g. University of Cape Town sociologist Xolela Mangcu http://www.groundup.org.za/article/race-transcends-class-country-response-seekings-and-nattrass_2806/ , media personalities (Eusebius McKaiser https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggxdfphdeg0 ) and politicians (Julius Malema http://www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2016/12/02/ANALYSIS-Malemas-race-bashing-a-sign-EFF-struggling-for-a-purpose-after-election-loss ) advocate continuation of official and de-facto use of ‘race’ (in various guises). Their goal is to ‘justify’ material redress, ‘affirmative action’ and/or even violence to offset past or continuing socio-economic oppression/exploitation or to effect ‘Afrocentric’ educational and/or political “decolonization”. ‘Race’ is re-conceptualized from a social perspective based on “self-identification” according to shared attributes including: pre-colonial nationality/history, language, religious faith/myths, behavioural norms, values/traditions, common expressive symbols, etc. Radical South African university student/staff ‘protesters’ (Fallists) have even taken on the mantle of ‘race’ to justify the establishment of quota-‘race’-based academic appointment/promotion policies and the creation of racially exclusive associations/caucuses/societies. Extreme Fallists use racially-based defamation, illegal intimidation, vandalism, destruction and extreme violence in an attempt to topple real or imagined the ‘white’ supremacist/capitalist “hegemony”. http://www.politicsweb.co.za/opinion/getting-away-with-murder?utm_source=Politicsweb+Daily+Headlines&utm_campaign=f36ad25cbc-DHN_30_June_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a86f25db99-f36ad25cbc-140202025
Racialistic ‘philosophyTo make give such racialism academic/legal ‘credibility’, based on the premise that racism and ‘white’ supremacy remain engrained in the legal and institutional fabric of society, some postmodern social scientists and legal ‘scholars’ have developed Critical Race Theory (CRT) "a [Eurocentric] collection of critical stances against the existing legal order from a race-based point of view". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_race_theory#Definition They envision a “landscape” within which “people of colour are the decision-makers”.
CRT attacks the very foundations of South Africa’s internationally acclaimed Constitution, the non-racial/academic-freedom ‘Dream’ of legendary UCT Vice Chancellor T.B. Davie and its implementation by subsequent VCs Stuart Saunders and Mamphela Ramphele. CRT advocates assert that the “values” underpinning constitutional law and academic freedom have no enduring basis in principle and are mere social constructs calculated to legitimize “white supremacy”. They amount to nothing more than “false promises”. In effect, CRT seeks racial emancipation by replacing broadly consensual systems of law with racial power.
Debunking a menacing myth
Nowhere is this racial fallacy and nefarious activity better exposed than by UCT’s (and arguably Africa’s) greatest ‘racial scholar’, Crain Soudien, in his final public address as an employee at UCT in July 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/jul/14/higher-education-in-africa-race-is-an-invention-university-cape-town-crain-soudien According to Soudien, ‘race’ in humans has no essence or ontological status biologically, culturally, socially or politically. He elaborates on this in his book Realising the Dream http://www.hsrcpress.ac.za/product.php?productid=2291 : “Race is an invention”… “only being framed in opposition to whiteness” … “an ideological smokescreen” … “viscerally inscribed in our heads and in our bodies”. In short, it is a relational concept, and has no inherent reality in the absence of an antithesis - whiteness. To get a handle on the even harder-to-demonstrate “whiteness”, I could refer Mangcu et al. to Rachel A. Dolezal and Dylann Storm Roof or, better still, Nell Irvin Painter, professor emerita of history at Princeton University and the author of “The History of White People.” https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/opinion/sunday/what-is-whiteness.html?_r=0
To my mind the most nonsensical use of the racial term ‘black’ is that proposed by founder Black Consciousness advocate Steve Biko to socio-politically ‘encompass’ dark-skinned African (‘Bantu’ sensu Verwoerd), Asian and ‘coloured’ South Africans. http://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/definition-black-consciousness-bantu-stephen-biko-december-1971-south-africa The only ‘essential’ common character of this subset of humanity is their ‘non-whiteness’ defined by long-gone segregation/oppression-based Apartheid Laws. If any of these ‘groups’ warrants preferred status, it’s the ‘coloureds’ due to their genetic connectivity to the KhoiSan.
Regardless, of how ‘racial’ identity is allocated, assigned or assumed, in the end, the favoured ”group” will use its ‘status’ to impose dominance over (or victimize) the “other(s)”. To allow the rehabilitation of ‘race’-motivated rule in post-Mandela South Africa defaces the non-racial Constitution for which he was “prepared to die”. But, making Desmond Tutu’s dream of a Rainbow Nation a reality requires the ruthless eradication of racialism’s inevitable spawn – racism, its ‘sister-isms’ and xenophobia. That cannot be achieved by the emerging ‘neo-racism’ advocated by Wade, Mbembe, Mangcu et al. and extreme Fallists.
My personal ‘race-lived-experience’ in the USA is, oddly, similar to that of my UCT colleagues from working-class families, irrespective of their geographical provenance. I grew up in sections of Boston, Massachusetts USA, in exclusively ‘white’ (largely Irish/Italian, Roman Catholic) neighbourhoods. My racialist family members referred to ‘blacks’ as “ni**ers”, but did not portray them as inherently ‘inferior’ or ‘dangerous’, just as ‘different’. My parents raised me and my siblings to respect people as individuals and to adhere to Crowe Family ‘principles’. Curiously, my namesake paternal Irish-born grandfather, Timothy Davern Crowe, had stronger ‘racial’ antipathy towards the English and the elitist, Anglophile Boston ‘Brahmins’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Brahmin whose shops once displayed warnings to ‘patrons’/job-applicants saying: “No dogs, ni**ers or Irishmen”. He was elated when he bought (on auction) the house of a failed Brahmin stockbroker during the Great Depression.
When my cousin, Mary Elizabeth, began dating a ‘black’ fellow student, my 92 year-old maternal grandmother rationalized the association, saying: “At least he’s not English!” Lastly, when I sought out my genealogical ‘roots’ in the tiny Tipperary village where grandpa Tim was born, I met a wealthy, university-educated distant cousin. After a few drams of Irish whiskey he blurted out: “I wish that the Troubles [Irish war of liberation] still existed so I could kill Englishmen!”
I first encountered ‘blacks’ on a day-to-day basis at high school without any racially-based negativity. Indeed, for what it’s worth, I was a member of a rock-blues band that incorporated music by Chuck Berry and James Brown. So: “Roll over Beethoven” and tell Tchaikovsky “I feel good!” However, it was only when I attended the local, ‘inner-city’ University of Massachusetts/Boston (UMB) during the late 1960s, that I associated regularly with ‘black’ colleagues.
Despite graduating at the top of my class at a fee-free ‘government’ high school, there was no hope of a working-class ‘Mick’ attending the almost exclusively ‘white’, male, Anglo Saxon Protestant’ (WASP), patriarchal, Brahmin Harvard University [although my younger son eventually did]. Since this was during the height of the pro-civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements, UMB students of all ‘races’/classes were drawn together by shared opposition to racist and pro-war government actions. Like most other freshmen, irrespective of ‘race’, I struggled to make the transition from high school to university life. This was made successfully through sheer hard work and mentoring by academics with open-door policies.
Despite my inability to attend nearby Harvard, I ‘got in through the back door’. My UMB supervisor was a Harvard Ph.D. grad and introduced me to his supervisor, eminent Harvard evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Mayr Mayr has been described as the “20th Century Darwin” and was awarded the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for his evolution-synthesizing research on speciation and sub-speciation. Mayr (with whom I and Cecil Rhodes share a birthday – 5 July) helped me to formulate my initial ideas on the biology of ‘race’/subspecies.
During my visits to Mayr at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, I also interacted with young Stephen Jay Gould https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Jay_Gould#Scientific_career an expert in (amongst many other things) employing multivariate statistical analyses of morphology to describe geographical variation in animals and identify and diagnose subspecies.
Even before my scheduled graduation, I was ‘drafted’ into the US Army because I had accumulated enough ‘points’ for a bachelor’s degree. On the day I should have donned cap and gown and been awarded my degree magna-cum-laude, I wore olive-drab fatigues and washed pots and pans, side-by-side with my platoon-partner, Jack Washington, an Afro-American from Alabama. During that stint in the Army, I encountered (believe it or not) Bobby Joe Stump, my first hardcore racist from Mississippi. After a few beers, when I tried to explain my then nascent ideas about race and subspecies, he bowled me over when he said: “Ni**ers have rights, but they’re not human.”
After completing my B.A. at UMB, I expanded my work on the sub-speciation of Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris during my M.Sc. research at the University of Chicago. While at UC (1970-72), I worked with Richard Lewontin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Lewontin#Work_on_human_genetic_diversity who was conducting landmark molecular genetic research that debunked the validity of human ‘races’. He demonstrated that that 80–85% of the genetic variation within human populations throughout the world is found within local geographic groups.
After immigrating to Africa to pursue my Ph.D. studies, I had a chance meeting with Robert Sobukwe in 1975 in the Kimberley offices of a common friend. We spent the best part of an hour discussing my research on ‘racial’ variation in Helmeted Guineafowl. Two years later, after taking up an academic post at UCT, I married a lecturer who later served within UCT’s Academic Support Programme for first-year ‘black’ students. When our eight-year old daughter (who attended a non-racial school) was asked about her experiences with fellow ‘black’ students, her reply was: “What is a black?”
While I was a post-doctoral student at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in the 1980s, I formed a life-long friendship with a young Scott Edwards, a local Afro-American undergrad interested in avian molecular evolution. Some years later, I bunked and worked with him at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was conducting his pioneering Ph.D. research on within-species molecular evolution of Australian birds. His career skyrocketed and he is now professor and curator of birds at Harvard University, filling Mayr’s old post, and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. He and I are involved in robust debate about how to analyse DNA-source data.
As a UCT educator, from the early 1990s, with the relaxation of restriction Apartheid legislation I helped to recruit ‘black’ colleagues and students from throughout Africa to UCT, especially into its MBA-like Postgraduate Programme in Conservation Biology (CB) which I designed and co-ordinated. To date 25% of the 289 CB grads so far have been ‘black’ and 52% female. They hail from 43 countries, 23 African. My ‘black’ postgrads include museum/NGO directors and university academics.
If I could, I would exclude the words “race”, “black”, “coloured” and “white” from my day-to-day vocabulary, but not from history.
Despite all this, my critics will still brand me as a ‘not enough’ anti-racist or a ‘closet/invisible’ racist and my successful ‘black’ graduates and colleagues as “sell-outs” or, worse still, “house ni**ers”.
Racism is the ideology of discrimination and prejudice towards people based on the assumption that all members of each ‘race’ possess essential characteristics or abilities specific to that race that distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. I follow the definition of racism promulgated in 1965 at the United Nations as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
“any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.
To carry out acts of racism, a dominant race must have power and privilege, and is a practice that operates on both an individual and institutional level. UCT is on the fast-track towards reborn institutionalized racism.
My (and my spouse’s) ‘white’ privilege Mine ‘began’ when I was ‘hired’ in 1973 by DeBeers Consolidated Mines Limited at the princely salary of R112 per month (lower than the most poorly paid diamond miner) to study guineafowl on one of their game farms 60 km west of Kimberley. My palatial home for five days a week during the next 2.5 years was a caravan in the middle of nowhere. I bunked in the Kimberley Museum on weekends. When I completed this field research with virtually no savings, I successfully competed for a junior lecturer’s post at UCT because I had an M.Sc. degree. The reality at the time internationally (including South Africa) was that there were no similarly educated/skilled ‘black’ applicants who would have applied for such a lowly post. The annual salary (+-R2500 p.a.) made it difficult to find accommodation, so I slept on the floor of my office for the first two months until I found a room for R50 per month within walking distance of UCT. I could not afford to purchase an automobile.
‘Stupidly’, I married (in 1977) for love, and my spouse-colleague ‘came on board’ with student debt. She was a ‘mature’ student, since she had to work for two years post-matric to save enough funds (supported by a hefty loan) to cover university fees. She would have had to work for much longer before starting her studies if her Cape-Town-based sister had not allowed her to live with her family. On top of this, unlike virtually all of her fellow students, she had to work as a lab demonstrator for pocket money.
We soon moved ‘up-market’ (R65 per month) into a flea-ridden flat opposite the Baxter Theatre and used R300 of my spouse’s bursary money to buy a 15 year-old Volksie Beetle. A year later, when I was promoted ad hominem to lecturer and became eligible for a housing subsidy, my now heavily pregnant spouse and I went massively into debt to purchase a semi-detached cottage. This was possible only because one of my close friends was a director of Grahamstown Building society and house prices had plummeted after the 1976 Soweto Student and other uprisings. We also incurred ‘white tax’ by inviting my mother-in-law to live with us for a decade.
Our lot in life increased ‘significantly’ in the early 1980s. My spouse, because of her broad knowledge of basic biology, was offered an ‘outsourced’ year-to-year contract post as a lecturer in UCT’s newly established Academic Support Programme. Her post was created to help first-year students educationally ‘hamstring’ by Bantu Education to “bridge the gap” in order to cope with UCT’s highly challenging and competitive environment. She also brought in funds by additional consulting jobs involving adjudicating national high school life sciences examinations. Sadly, after eight years of uncertain employment, she had to leave UCT to take up a permanent teaching post at the expensive, non-racial school attended by our daughter. During this time I was also promoted to senior lecturer, outcompeting applicants from Oxford and Princeton. At that time, worldwide, there were no Ph.D.-educated ‘blacks’ who could have competed for the post as described.
The ‘upside’ of my spouse’s reluctant job change, was, because of her increased and stable salary and much-improved house prices, we were able to sell our little cottage for a sizable profit. Once again, going massively into debt, we were able to purchase a somewhat larger house in up-market Newlands, the last one to sell for less than R100000.
During the two decades that followed, I was promoted ad hominem to associate (1988) and, ultimately (in 2003), full professor. Despite demonstrably excellent work performance, the gaps between these promotions were 10 and 15 years respectively and occurred only after a couple of unsuccessful attempts. This was due to stringent requirements for ad hominem promotion that still remain in place within UCT’s Faculty of Science.
The whole process from being awarded a Ph.D. to becoming full-professor, took a quarter-century.
After our daughter graduated from UCT (thanks to its reduced fees policy of staff offspring) and immigrated to the USA (despite competing successfully, she was unable to find suitable employment locally because of affirmative action), my spouse resigned her teaching position at high school to undertake a Ph.D. research at UCT. Her prize-winning dissertation was a benchmark study of ‘standards’ as they relate to high school life sciences matriculation examinations, covering the period 1990-2012. Despite the collapsing educational system at the time, all that UCT could offer her initially with regard to employment was, once again, part-time, ‘outsourced’, contract employment within UCT’s School of Education at a shamefully low ‘salary’, performing job tasks normally undertaken by permanently-employed academics.
After a couple of unsatisfying years, the ‘outsourced’ Academic Support post in biology she had once occupied for nearly a decade 20 years before was made permanent (as part of the ‘deal’ merging the Departments of Botany and Zoology). My spouse was the unanimous top choice. However, despite the fact that it was advertised at the senior-lecture-level and her formidable qualifications, she was only offered the post at the lecturer level. After unsuccessfully appealing against this professional insult, like Archie Mafeje, she declined UCT’s offer.
Soon after this, I retired after 40 years of pensionable service. Despite having a modest life style, following the advice of a highly competent final advisor, having fully paid off our home mortgage and not having continued ‘white tax’, we can only afford a modest existence (no eating out and only biannual overseas vacations). This still requires my spouse continuing her national educational consulting work. Moreover, while our neighbours drive brand-new BMWs and Mercedes Benzs, we drive my wife’s 17 year-old Toyota.
Fallism is a uniquely derived South African concept describing the ‘philosophy’ of loosely structured “Movements” aimed at radically, rapidly and, if necessary, violently racially transforming tertiary education and educational institutions.
Decolonization (once loosely described as transformation) is, primarily, an African-developed process promoted by Fallists to rapidly and radically effect this transformation. It focuses on eradicating ”painful” and “suffocating” “-isms” (e.g. racism, sexism, colonialism – sensu lato, ‘disablism’, gender-sexuality-related-isms). It targets colonial symbols, institutional demographics, knowledge structure, curricula – sensu lato, and hierarchical structure, student fees, government financial support and curricula sensu lato. Some Fallists only call for deconstructive decolonization: removal of “painful” items from curricula, symbols/artwork from campuses and racist and/or Eurocentric staff/students (via ‘re-education’ or retrenchment/expulsion), replacing them with “appointable” demographically representative individuals. Others call for the total de-re-construction of university architecture, academic missions, faculties, disciplines, curricula and teaching/research ethos. http://www.biznews.com/thought-leaders/2017/01/11/decolonising-universities-tim-crowe/
Philosophical foundations Two years ago, I couldn’t write what follows. I just thought what I thought and did what I did as a professional evolutionary/conservation biologist, without any deep philosophizing. In effect (jokingly), I was a Marxist in the sense of ‘Groucho’ Marx: I would join a club that would accept me as a member. Now that I am retired and have the opportunity to observe the philosophies of others and think more deeply of my own raison d'être, I can try to outline my personal philosophy.
Children are born innocent and with individually variable, innate, inherited ability. They acquire culture and knowledge especially from their parents and extended family, but also from their educators and others in the communities within which they develop. From all this, they develop ethics and acquire often independent principles. [To think of this in a South African context, compare the de Klerk, Barnard, Breytenbach, Mbeki and Pitanya brothers.] Having said all that, it is primarily up to the individual to determine his/her own fate. This most often involves acquiring advanced education through hard work (often with collaborators within synergistic teams) and acquiring some ability to sense and take advantage of opportunities and to avoid making mistakes.
I believe in the existence of truth, however elusive it may be to discover, and that its relentless pursuit can produce excellence. In this pursuit, I value, but am not a prisoner of, my gender, culture, ethnicity and nationality. I am a human being first; a scientist second; a UCT-Fitztitute person third, an Americo-African fourth and a male last. My unadulterated loyalty decreases exponentially away from the family unit.
I see great value in principles, hypotheses, theories, paradigms and laws in identifying and providing solutions to problems and pursuing the truth. However, they are all susceptible to falsification when subjected to competition and/or rational debate and tested by the acquisition of relevant data in well-designed experiments. Diversity of opinion should be encouraged, but ideas that fail decisively in the face of fair competition should be culled. Whereas I admire his views on the primacy of well-designed experiments and the weakness of statistics, I strongly disagree with Lord Rutherford’s relegation of non-physics-science to “stamp collecting”. Accepting the reality in my focal disciplines (evolution and ecology/conservation biology) that, due to inherent uncertainties in initial conditions (historical contingency), iterative practices can produce unpredictable results. Nevertheless, deterministic, scientifically sound conclusions and resulting actions are still preferable to those based on unsubstantiated views or opinions based on emotion- or myth/tradition-driven narratives. I see objective science essentially as the regression model and subjective emotion/opinion/myth as residuals that should be explained, if possible.
Unlike biological evolution, the acquisition and use knowledge and ability to use it is teleological. One can make a better and better mouse trap. However, like in biological evolution, the direction of change can be affected by contingency. The pace of change can be punctuational. Passion (not just unbridled desire) for an idea is an integral part of the process. Socio/economic/intellectual hierarchy based on of peer-reviewed achievement is preferred to status linked to adherence to a politically favoured ideology or ephemeral popularity. To paraphrase Helen Zille: Shrinking your mind to fit the contours of political correctness is intellectual suicide.
Justice is best achieved through the implementation/enforcement of laws that can be reviewed and demonstrably changed adaptively. Law-breakers should be identified and held accountable and, if true restorative justice cannot be effected, punitive punishment should be in proportion to the crime.
Democracy is essential, but should not devolve into irrational majoritarianism or populism. Minorities and the unsuccessful matter, but they should not exploit their condition when they are justifiably denied opportunities. I choose excellence in achievement over attempts to improve average, ‘good-enough-for-government” performance. A free market (with surgical safeguards) economy is superior to one that is socially engineered and centrally controlled. Being ‘new’ and ‘different’ is not always better, but ‘normality’ should not impede demonstrable ‘innovation’. To give but one real-world example, no matter how many times it’s tried, imposing communism will always fail, no matter where, no matter when. Capitalism, especially when it is bridled by governmental and union-sourced constraints, will prevail 10 times out of 10.
Local knowledge marketed as Afrocentrism, no matter how ‘relevant’ it may claim to be, will prevail only if it can be shown to provide the desired better benefits (jobs, improved education, health care, housing and services, etc.) to its recipients. The state of endless debate and continuous change and the need for fundamental deconstruction (as opposed to adaptive transformation) advocated by anti-scientists simply has no place in Africa. Now to the ‘business’ of the effects of colonialism, sexism and racism at UCT!