Sebabatso Manoeli is Senior Director of Strategic Programmes at Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (AFRE), based at Columbia University in New York. Prior to joining AFRE, Sebabatso was the acting Deputy CEO and Innovation Director at the DG Murray Trust, one of South Africa’s largest private foundations, where she provided strategic management support to incubated movements and social franchises. She was also a departmental lecturer in African History at the University of Oxford.
We sat down with her to find out more about the Race Beyond Borders podcast series:
Race Beyond Borders is a provocative title. Why this title? In what ways does race transcend borders and in what ways is it confined to borders?
At a time of growing attention to the present-day realities and legacies of anti-Black racism, Race Beyond Borders seeks to “trouble” conventional understandings of race and Blackness, and to open new lines of inquiry beyond geographical divides. The aim of Race Beyond Borders is to expand the imagination about race, racism and Blackness and to invite listeners to transcend (perhaps transgress) artificial boundaries and unproductive binaries.
Race itself is a tricky topic with many interpretations. It is a social construct and aiso so salient to our lives that our racial identity has become key to our navigating the world. In understanding our racial identity we are being liberated but also constrained in many ways. What do you imagine the discourse on race to be in the next 20 to 30 years? How will we imagine the idea of race? Will it still have validity as a construct?
Given the centuries of life that race as a classification system has had, I expect it will endure. However, it is possible to insert new meaning to it, and shape the public discourse around it in ways that could ultimately impact the lived experience of race, particularly for Black people.
Currently, much of the global conversation on race and racism centres on the Black experience in the global North. In doing so, this conversation unintentionally marginalises Black people who live in the global South – reproducing the very power imbalances that maintain racial inequality.
That’s why, through Race Beyond Borders, we at AFRE seek to open the aperture of our collective understanding by actively reclaiming Blackness across diversity, to give voice to the global experiences of Blackness and widen our field of vision for imagining solutions. In the next few decades, we anticipate – and will work to ensure – that the conversation about race in general and Blackness specifically will be more inclusive and complex, expansive and expanding.
Is the non-racialism that was espoused by Nelson Mandela's generation possible? If so, how do we give life to non-racialism without being “colour-blind” disregarding structural racism.
Based on the history of the term “non-racialism” and what appears to be the intention of its original purveyors, it bears no resemblance to so-called “colour-blindness” and a “post-racial” theoretical environment – which only uphold the racial status quo by concealing white privilege in plain sight.
We could give life to the essence of non-racialism by engaging in a multi-dimensional process of that simultaneously acknowledges the material impacts of racial classifications, reconciles ourselves with our own complex racial ancestral and social linkages, and imagines liberating ways of seeing and collectivising ourselves – ways that are rooted in a vision of a future ruptured from the cycles of systemic oppression.
What does the podcast seek to achieve and why the medium of a podcast?
Africa’s oral traditions open us to the power of voice, of learning from one another by actually hearing one another. The podcast platform enables us to engage wide audiences beyond just the written word. Through the vehicle of sound, we are able to integrate music, laughter, and spontaneity. Podcasts distinctly bring ideas to life.
How does a podcast speak to this idea of a network of Fellows and a leadership development journey?
Our Fellows, as racial equity leaders, are grappling with the kinds of questions our podcast explores. The podcast medium widens the possibilities for who can engage with these questions. That’s why we are so delighted to be producing it.
What topics are you trying to explore in the series? And with whom?
In our first season, Race Beyond Borders explores race across different domains of knowledge – from the perspectives of an underground womanist hip-hop artist from the East Coast of the United States, to an exploration of police brutality in South Africa and the United States, to the science and biomechanics of Black hair, all the way to uncovering philosophy’s relationship to race, and much more.
Africa features heavily in the series. In what way are you trying to centre Africa and what are the limitations in a pan-African approach?
It is important to note the centrality of Africa to Blackness – for obvious reasons about the pointed ways in which people from the continent have experienced racialisation and racism. Moreover, Africa has longer histories and wider conceptions of identity than those emerging from the global North. That said, “beyonding” also requires us to ask fresh questions about old classifications: how is Blackness experienced in places like Yemen? How is anti-Black racism expressed in countries as different as India and New Zealand? Blackness stretches beyond Africa, and that is the terrain Race Beyond Borders seeks to explore.