This woman also moved me...

To understand my Black feminist politics as not simply about thinking and theorizing, but also to make the links from there to how my emotions and spirit function or flounder...due to the effects of systemic domination. Without a profound comprehension of the emotional and psychological our struggles for peace will continue to be off balance, without heart and doomed to fail. They like us not thinking or talking about emotions. When their serfs shut down, they work harder, work more, reflect less, dream less. Without the ability to profoundly connect to ourselves and to each other in whatever ways possible there is no love in our struggle and without love...well, what exactly is resistance without love if not the intellectual hobby of those who have the leisure to just knock around some ideas and theories.


This woman, Rozena Maart, simultaneously saved me from a life without make-up and earrings :) and offered me language I could use to write and fight. She moved me at a time when I was ready to be moved. Enjoy...?
Love, darkdaughta
COPYRIGHT 2007 Herizons Magazine, Inc.

Born in South Africa, Rozena Maart is a writer, intellectual and cultural critic. She is also director of the Biko Institute in Guelph, Ontario. Maart's most recent book, Rosa's District Six TSAR, 2005), was recently published by New Africa Books in South Africa. Herizons contributor Roewan Crowe interviewed Maart shortly upon her return from Cape Town, where Rosa's District Six is set.

Herizons: What is District Six?

Rozena Maart: District Six was classified as the sixth municipal district of Cape Town in 1867. It was a community of indigenous people, Khoi San, intermarried with peoples brought from Malaysia, India, Java and St. Helena--people who were made slaves by the Dutch during the 1700s and 1800s. Almost a quarter of a million people were removed from this region between 1968 and 1980.

Rosa's District Six is a collection of five connected stories centering around Rosa, an eight-year-old girl. We follow her adventures in the neighbourhood--from the first story, where Rosa hides in the house of her neighbour only to discover the untold libidinal pleasures of two women; to a woman who decides that a chair should continue to have its place in her house and fights to get it back after her daughters take it to be repaired; to a young woman whose mental state allows her mother to take ownership of her life, prohibiting her from intimacy with her childhood sweetheart; to a young mother whose husband is a political prisoner on Robben Island. Sexuality, spirituality, murder, death, madness and ancestral secrets are all in the stories.

What motivated you to write Rosa's District Six?

Rozena Maart: My family, along with several thousands of others, was forcibly removed from District Six on August 4, 1973. I got big, red, bumpy hives every single year after on August 4. I wrote it because my history had written itself inside of my body, without my consent, and I had no way of dealing with it in my home. When I was ready to talk about it, there was no one to share the story with because no one around me in Toronto knew anything about District Six. I wrote the first story because I felt trapped by memories that had never left my body. I needed to write it as a way of situating myself in the world.

What writing projects are you working on now?

Rozena Maart: I am working on The War Necklace, a story about Black men (African, Indian and Coloured) who were coerced and encouraged to fight in the Second World War on the side of the British when South Africa was still a British colony. They were led to believe that they would be contributing to their own liberation from apartheid at the time.

My grandmother's brother fought in the Second World War and told us many stories when we were growing up. The compensation for these men was a bicycle. Can you imagine--a bicycle! White men were given land and houses!

My uncle also gave me a necklace when I was 15, which he brought from Egypt, and the narrative in the novel is woven through this particular necklace and the other necklace, which is tire burnings, or 'necklacing,' as it was called in South Africa during the 1970s and the 1980s. These are killings of traitors or presumed traitors, where a car tire is placed over their neck and set alight. It sounds violent and brutal, but it was a reality we lived under.

I am also in the process of completing The Writing Circle, a novel set in present-day Cape Town that centres around five women who are part of a writing circle. One of the women is hijacked and raped in her car while the remaining four are in her house with the writing circle in progress, awaiting her late arrival.

When I was in South Africa, women would just come up to me and ask me about rape and sexual assault; there was no chance for me to feel or see myself as simply living elsewhere and being South African only in terms of history, ancestry and place of birth. Women engaged me, asked me questions about my work, about when I was going to write about the present situation of violence against women--in ways which Canadians never demand.

In South Africa, you are born within a social and political setting--this is your history--and therefore a social and political responsibility, and people ask you, they demand that you have something to say. You are never left off the hook, and there is no way that they would allow me to see myself as an outsider, or just as someone visiting my family.

What is the status of District Six today?

Rozena Maart: The new South African government was inaugurated in 1994, and within three years residents who were removed had taken the government to court and won the right to move back to the land. Many people have moved back to the former District Six, and there are still families awaiting their turn.

As well as being a novelist, you are also a teacher and an intellectual. Part of your work involves the development of theories that address White consciousness and Black consciousness. Can you talk about your work in this area?

Rozena Maart: I was raised and politicized within the Black-consciousness movement of Azania spearheaded by Steven Biko. Biko's speeches and writings tackled the need for Black consciousness to address the dialectical relationship we found ourselves in. It left us, as teenagers, with one thing on our minds: the decolonization of the mind--which Biko situated within the larger project of Black consciousness. It was the mind that was important, and the history of how that mind was formed, socialized, politicized, and the relationship between mind and flesh, mind and mind, mind and politics.

Of course, over the years, as a student, then as a graduate student, my work intensified, and the study of political philosophy urged greater interrogation of a history of writings about consciousness that failed to situate itself as White consciousness. The analysis and conceptual framework I employ departs with this knowledge of Black consciousness vis a vis Biko and Biko's reliance upon Franz Fanon (an intellectual and revolutionary before him) who wrote about the history of French colonialism and, in particular, Algeria.

When Fanon says, on the first page of his book Black Skin White Masks (1967), that "only a psychoanalytical interpretation of the black problem can lay bare the anomalies of affect that are responsible for the complex black-white relations," I grappled with those words and understood them within the larger complex of Black consciousness and Negritude from how Fanon's work as a psychiatrist and revolutionary emerged. Fanon also grappled with Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, and I followed these traces and studied what they offered. I began to employ psychoanalysis in the broader sense, in the sense Freud defined it, as the exchange of words, and also as his interest in the mind, in consciousness and the unconsciousness, and the mechanisms of the unconscious such as repression, disavowal and negation. I also explored the later developments of Lacan, which are focused on language and the relationship that consciousness and the unconscious has to language.

You ask the question about the importance of this work, and I can only say that the history of Black consciousness allows me to depart with a language which points to, and dismantles, the very language utilized to keep White domination, and hence White consciousness, in its place. Biko used a language which destabilized and undermined the very silent, unspoken operation of White domination. The larger purpose of my work is to make White consciousness visible through Black consciousness.

In his 1968 essay "White Mythology," Jacques Derrida situates and names "the White man" and what the White man does in the name of metaphysics and mythology. In it, he wrote: "Metaphysics, the white mythology which reassembles and reflects the culture of the West: the white man takes his own mythology, Indo-European mythology, his own logos, that is, the mythos of his idiom, for the universal form of that he must still wish to call Reason. White Mythology and metaphysics has erased within itself the fabulous scene that has produced it, the scene that nevertheless remains active and stirring, inscribed in white ink...."

White Consciousness, then, is examined in terms of speech, the imagination and writing. I am not just interested in acts of racism--writing about them, telling others about them and relaying them--but in how ideas, thoughts, consciousness and the mind are formed as part of the development of White consciousness, which gives rise to White politics in a broader sense.

White folks seem to have a particular fetish with studying racism--in other words, the effects of their unnamed racism on the oppressed and exploited masses--but fail to focus on the recipients of racism, the beneficiaries of colonialism, imperialism and racism--in other words, them.

Why have you chosen 'White consciousness' as a theoretical concept to mobilize, rather than the more commonly used term 'whiteness'?

Rozena Maart: Whiteness as a term became popular in late 1988 to 1989, firstly by Richard Dyer in England, who wrote on whiteness within the context of film and as a source of representational power. He was critiquing the presence of whiteness on screen and what it suggests for the broader issues/politics on identity and representation. This was later taken up by cultural critics like David Roediger, Ruth Frankenberg and Vron Ware.

Yet, nowhere in the works of these White writers is there any mention made of White domination, nor the perpetuation of social practices which secure whiteness--some of which they reproduce themselves by not examining their own agency. There is also no consideration on how to dismantle White dominance.

So, where I am coming from, if one does not practise self-examination and self-interrogation, how can one write or do research on something which is so woven into one's identity, one's flesh, and not situate yourself?

I see the writings on 'whiteness' merely as anthropological, in the sense that White folks study the behaviour of other white folks without situating or identifying the systemic, structural and institutional components of the operation, functioning and perpetuation of White domination, which is founded and rests very securely on the ideological base: White supremacy.

It is very easy to place the ideological basis of White supremacy within the hands and actions of the KKK because they don't lie about their motivations. But whiteness as derivative of White domination, and its ideological base, White supremacy, is an expression white identity situated within the larger function of white domination and the relations of White domination.

White consciousness--as I employ it--examines the relationship between consciousness and politics; between consciousness of existence and consciousness of being; between consciousness of mind, of ideas, of thought, and the relationship to the flesh--to agency, and the ability to carry out thoughts and ideas.

I found the above interview here...


Related Posts with Thumbnails