David L. Hostetter. Movement Matters: American Antiapartheid Activism and the Rise of Multicultural Politics. New York: Routledge, 2006. 214 pp. $70.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-415-97811-8.
Reviewed by Francis Nesbitt (Department of Africana Studies, San Diego State University)
Published on H-SAfrica (June, 2007)
A "Postmodern" Interpretation of the Anti-Apartheid Movement
The anti-apartheid movement was the first successful transnational social movement in the era of globalization. In its transnational scope and eventual success, it can be compared to the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century. What is unique about the anti-apartheid movement is the extent of support it received from individuals, governments, and organizations on all continents. Few social movements garner anywhere near the international support mobilized against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.
The movement consisted of the internal campaign to destabilize the racist apartheid regime in South Africa and the external campaign for political, economic, and cultural sanctions. At the heart of the movement was the struggle of black Africans to end white supremacy in South Africa. This internal movement was a catalyst for actions at the international level and the critical link that gave coherence to the movement as a whole. The external campaign can be divided into: regional efforts to provide military bases, material and diplomatic support for liberation movements; and the diaspora movement, which focused on seeking international sanctions against the regime and providing direct aid to the liberation movements.
Scholars of the anti-apartheid movement are at the forefront of a new and exciting transnational approach to U.S. historiography. This transnational approach examines movements that attempt to transform U.S. relations with other nations and support global campaigns for social change. These foreign policy initiatives are tied to diasporas in the United States that maintain transnational ties with their countries of origin. Thus the anti-apartheid movement is examined in the context of the long history of Pan African solidarity movements in the United States.
Movement Matters: American Antiapartheid Activism and the Rise of Multicultural Politics by David L. Hostetter, does not address this growing body of work on the U.S. anti-apartheid movement. Instead, Hostetter chooses to place the movement in the context of "American civil religion" combined with extended digressions into postmodernism and multiculturalism. The methodology is eclectic; the first two chapters are institutional histories that use some primary documents, while the rest of the chapters on popular culture, civil religion, and multiculturalism include film and movie reviews, a long analysis of a television debate between Jesse Jackson and Jerry Falwell, and stream-of-consciousness commentary on multiculturalism. According to Hostetter:
"The effort to end U.S. support for apartheid spurred institutional divestment and sanctions legislation because it constructed and communicated foreign policy dissent in the vocabulary of American civil religion. In its outward advocacy as well as it internal debates, the American antiapartheid movement helped to promote multiculturalism as a public norm in academia, business, government and the entertainment industry. As a renewed form of civil religion, multicultural politics recognize the broadest representation of cultural traditions in the national political discussion" (p. 3).
This "civil religion" is portrayed as a triumphant march of U.S. nationalism from the American Revolution to the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement. Hostetter argues that the anti-apartheid movement is the last act in this self-congratulatory narrative of American nationalism before the Valhalla of "multiculturalism." He writes that the anti-apartheid movement is the "final united act by the revived civil rights coalition" (p. 127). This appropriation of the successes of a movement that spent forty years in the wilderness of U.S. government and majority white public support for apartheid, smacks of a disingenuous and dangerous attempt at revisionism. The type of revisionism that made the misuse of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech the anthem of the right wing's assault on civil rights and liberties in the 1990s. This lack of grounding in anti-apartheid historiography leads to bizarre claims that remain unsubstantiated. This shaky background in the history of the movement is compounded by the author's hostility toward Pan Africanism and ad hominem attacks on individual Pan Africanists such as W. E. B. Du Bois.
Hostetter emphasizes the centrality of this "vocabulary of American civil religion" embedded in "movies, television and popular music" (pp. 10, 127, and see pp. 143, 95-122). He argues that the anti-apartheid movement had its greatest impact when it spoke in the language of U.S. popular culture that was familiar to Americans (p. 127). This focus on popular culture as the linchpin in the anti-apartheid movement is a good sound bite but fails to analyze the underlying dynamics that led to the transformation of U.S. foreign policy. African Americans did not need news media, movies, and popular music to "comprehend apartheid" (p. 120); they lived it in their daily lives. The success of the anti-apartheid movement in changing U.S. foreign policy in the mid-1980s was based on the united front of African American legislators and activists in organizations such as the Congressional Black Caucus, TransAfrica and the Free South Africa Movement. U.S. television news coverage of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the world was mostly negative during the apartheid years.
In Race for Sanctions: African Americans against Apartheid, 1946-1994 (2002), I show how the mainstream media supported Reagan's "constructive engagement" policies in editorials and favorable coverage. For decades, Nelson Mandela was referred to as a "terrorist" and the ANC as a "terrorist" or "communist" group. Mandela's release from prison and subsequent tour of the United States got some positive coverage, but soon after he returned to South Africa, the U.S. media immediately latched onto the South African government-orchestrated "black on black violence" to tarnish Mandela and the ANC. In what should have been a crucial chapter on the 1980s, Hostetter covers the sanctions campaign in Congress in only four paragraphs, while movies such as Lost in the Stars (1974), Do They Know It's Christmas? (1984), Cry the Beloved Country (1952, 1995), and A Dry White Season (1989) get dozens of pages.
Hostetter argues that the opponents of apartheid came up with a "modus vivendi negotiated by black and white activists during the course of the antiapartheid movement whereby they divided leadership and labor within the American antiapartheid movement" (p. 4). Thus the segregation of anti-apartheid organizations was "negotiated" among the anti-apartheid activists. This negotiated segregation is held up as epitomizing postmodern multiculturalism. There is no mention in the book of the struggles that led to this segregation in the late 1960s. The secession of black scholars from the African Studies Association and the formation of the African Heritage Studies Association were not simply based on binary tension set up by Hostetter between integration and Pan Africanism. This binarism harks back to discussions in the 1960s about integration versus nationalism and constitutes a serious misreading of Pan Africanism and black political thought in general.
This binary thinking is not helpful because it blinds the researcher to more complex interactions and alternative perspectives that do not rely upon the integration versus separation paradigm. Hostetter's analysis epitomizes the problem of binary thinking. He essentializes Pan Africanism, reducing a complex political philosophy to a crude black separatism. Integrationism, however, represents American-style "color-blindness" (p. 17) that is "multicultural," "postmodern," and "universalist," all adjectives attached to integrationists who are less parochial, less provincial than the closed-minded Pan Africanists (p. 143). Hostetter argues that TransAfrica's Pan African orientation was problematic, "modernist," and outdated in this "postmodern" world of "multiculturalism" (p. 145). The book shows a limited understanding of integrationism and Pan Africanism in black political thought. The two perspectives are not mutually exclusive. W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Alioune Diop, Leopold Sedar Senghor, and Kwame Nkrumah were not opposed to integration. They were liberals, not black nationalists. This conflation of Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism is highly problematic. The debate over Pan Africanism and Africanity was engaged at the classic Pan African Conferences held between 1900 and 1945 organized by Du Bois, a liberal integrationist for most of his life. The issue was thoroughly debated at the Sixth Pan African Congress in Dar-es-Salaam in 1974. The conclusion was that Pan Africanism was not "skin color politics," but a political movement that included Africans of all colors including white allies, Asians, and Arabs on the African continent.
Hostetter counter-poses the "Pan Africanism" of Du Bois with the color-blindness of George Houser, of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and finds Du Bois wanting: "Houser's formulation for wiping away the 'colorline' ... counter-posed CORE's strategy to Du Bois's evolving Pan Africanism. In its public actions and internal culture CORE emphasized inter-racialism, wherein members tried to live out their colorblind society they hoped to implement in the future" (p. 17).
This is an ideologically loaded passage that epitomizes Hostetter's frequent lapses into commentary mode. Apparently, Du Bois did not measure up to the "colorblind" ideal set by CORE's George Houser and James Farmer. The latter was eventually involved in State Department propaganda campaigns in Africa and Asia along with many of his anti-communist colleagues. Hostetter argues that Du Bois had become bitter and isolated, and "lashed out" at the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) when he argued that ACOA was a right-wing organization with the church and foundations behind it (p. 22). There is no effort to investigate the veracity of Du Bois's analysis; only an ad hominem attack on Du Bois. Du Bois's skepticism, however, was justified if one examines ACOA's early years. ACOA emerged as a Cold War alternative to the leftist Council on African Affairs, as I have shown in Race for Sanctions. Contrary to the personalization of the conflict in Hostetter's analysis, there was the underlying question of ideological perspective that divided the left and the liberal internationalists. ACOA's journal Africa Today, for instance, opposed the armed struggle in Kenya and Algeria, calling the guerrillas "terrorists" and supporting Britain's genocidal counter-insurgency program in Kenya, as I also show in Race for Sanctions. ACOA was complicit in the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s in contrast to the Council on African Affairs, which supported the freedom fighters and accused the colonialists of war crimes. This turn to armed struggle foreshadowed the trend in South Africa and the rest of southern Africa in the 1970s.
Hostetter's argument that the anti-apartheid movement reflected the end of an era and the emergence of "multicultural" politics that are "no longer black and white" elides the fact that the radical Pan Africanists who launched the movement in the Council on African Affairs (CAA) worked closely with white allies on the left. The CAA's founding members included five white supporters and a South African, as well as Rene Maran, a Caribbean-born novelist who was the CAA's representative in France. The movement was always multicultural and multiracial. In the United States itself, the movement emerged with a collaboration of African, Indian, and African American activists at the United Nations. The Free South Africa Movement was a multiracial coalition of anti-apartheid organizations. There is also the prominent and powerful role played by the Non-Aligned Movement of Asian, Africa, and Latin American diplomats at the United Nations in New York. Cuban soldiers, doctors, and political operatives were critical supporters of the anti-apartheid movement on the continent.
In the final analysis, Hostetter's book foregrounds the problem with postmodern approaches to social movements. The essays are of uneven quality, juxtaposing institutional histories of anti-apartheid organizations with music and movie reviews. There are some interesting insights about the impact of the anti-apartheid movement on religious leaders and pacifists, but even these insights are distorted by the author's insistence on wrapping the insights in awkward jargon.
. The author published a very brief review of the book in the Journal of American History 93, no. 4 (March 2007); see: http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/93.4/br140.html. No part of the Journal of American History_ review is here reproduced.
. Francis Njubi Nesbitt, Race for Sanctions: African Americans against Apartheid, 1946-1994 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 164-169.
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Francis Nesbitt. Review of Hostetter, David L., Movement Matters: American Antiapartheid Activism and the Rise of Multicultural Politics.
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