Lwazi Lushaba's argument is complex and nuanced. It is one I am only beginning to grasp after an hour of focused attention.
The recent outrage around comments by University of Cape Town (UCT) political studies lecturer Lwazi Lushaba had me ploughing through the entirety of the lecture in question. I owed this to myself in order to form a relevant opinion. It also had me pushing the very limits of my own attention span.
This was a 55-minute long politics lecture. Delivered over Zoom. It is a piece of deeply academic discourse, delivered by an expert in his field, in the thorough, though ponderous way of academia.
It is not a tweet, a clip, a gif, a boomerang, or a reel. in the modern context, it is not even a piece of content. Well, it’s not good content. It’s too long, there is too much talking and the action is minimal – simply Lushaba speaking to his laptop.
What it is, though, is a well-reasoned exposition of the racism endemic to political science. In the words of Lushaba, “the progress of the discipline has never been informed by the lived experience of the black colonised”.
To illustrate this fact, he describes how modern political science evolved from its initial focus on the legal-institutional framework. Lushaba says this basis for politics failed, because it became apparent that democracy is not secured by the precepts of the law.
The law is subject to the interpretation of people. People have agency, and thus those in power can ratify and interpret laws that can “legalise” some of the most heinous forms of violence.
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To illustrate this, Lushaba reminds his class that the rise to power of the genocidal Nazi regime in 1930s Germany happened largely through legal means. In the parlance of today, the Nazis essentially “captured” the institutions of state, and then proceeded to pass laws that legitimised their mass killings and quest for global domination.
It was in this context that Lushaba uttered the words that “Hitler did nothing wrong”. He broke no laws, because he passed laws that legitimised genocide. These acts forced a reassessment of the methods of political science.
It finally became clear to political-science academics that institutions could be used to subvert the human rights of people. This, despite the fact that it had been happening to black people for centuries, by means of colonialism and slavery.
“Hitler’s crime – if he had one,” said Lushaba, “was to do to white people what white people thought it acceptable to do to blacks.”
This lecture, then, is an explanation of the evolution of political science, and a critique of the racism within in it, its marginalising of black people’s humanity. Only when genocide was practised against white people, did the discipline re-evaluate its principles and realise that studying institutions was no guarantee of a deeper understanding of democracy.
Believe what you may about this assertion, but it’s a rather complex argument. Especially when you compare it to popular internet content such as clips of large people falling into swimming pools or teens lip-synching to pop songs.
For some reason, someone inserted this hour-long lecture into this digital content economy, by isolating its most controversial statement, stripping it of context and nuance and then positioning it as an endorsement of fascism.
If anything, the lecture is a criticism of the use of power to dehumanise people. However, it does so not by attacking Nazism alone, but by pointing out where racialised power relations underpin political science itself.
Perhaps Lushaba committed the mistake of not slamming the evil of Nazism categorically enough. Or perhaps he sinned by criticising the racism in his own field.
I’m not sure. But I do know his is a complex and nuanced argument. It is one I am only beginning to grasp after an hour of focused attention.
I contend that it’s impossible to do a 55-minute lecture justice in 12 seconds. This is not the highlights reel of the second T20 against Pakistan. For this reason, it’s also impossible to pass judgment on someone based on those 12 seconds.
Well you can, but this would be an ill-informed judgment. Even worse, would be to act on that judgment, to cancel someone, or discipline them professionally. I’m confident the worldly-wise mavens of academia will do no such thing.
The lengthy discourse in which they trade is geared to understanding the world via in-depth research, study and teaching. This is not the province of social media. Both are valuable platforms, but they seldom speak to each other. Perhaps this is the way it is meant to be.
I don’t expect to earn a degree via tweets, and it will be a while before I again attend a lecture for entertainment.