This editorial in the July 1974 issue of RACE – the precursor of Race & Class sets out what the journal’s principles and politics should be.
To look at Race one would think that a whole decade of apocalyptic change in race relations has had no relevance to society, except as a field of academic study. Even when some of that experience was replicated within the Institute of Race Relations itself – particularly in the protracted struggle between the Council and staff – and threw up first-hand evidence of the complicity of bourgeois scholarship in the management of racism, the Institute’s learned journal remained untainted, removed, above it all.
The reason for such crass insensitivity is not to be sought in the editorial policy of this editor or that, but in the wholly stagnant nature of the catchment area that successive editors were forced to draw on. The evidence is all the re, on almost every page of Race: abstruse, obscure articles which the Chinese would comp are to the “footbindings of a slattern, long as well as smelly”, articles which strike a pose in order to intimidate the uninitiated, articles that are a mere display of academic virtuosity – academics relating to academics over the dead bodies of their subjects
The result is a scholarship that engenders a colonialism of the mind, brings credibility to power, and helps further to enslave the oppressed and the exploited.
The function of knowledge, however, is to liberate – to apprehend reality in order to change it. The reality of a thing is the thing itself, the reality of a people is their experience. Whether a tree is turned into a broom or a boat is determined by the essential nature of that tree, how a people transform their social reality is determined by their own perception of it.
But what traditional sociology has tended to do is to separate the people it investigates from the experience of their reality, and in so doing has intervened in the organic transformation of their societies. This is particularly true of the studies of Third World people both in their own countries and in the metropolis.
There is, however , a growing realisation, among the subject populations , especially of the ‘underdeveloped’ countries, that to submit to theories of social reality which have no bearing on their lives, or which bind them to the existing order of things, is to relinquish their authority over their own experience and to undermine their will to action. Hence the questions they pose to those who investigate them are quite simply: What good is your knowledge to us? Do you in your analyses of our social realities tell us what we can do to transform them? Does your analysis contain some indications of strategies for change? Does your apprehension of our reality speak to our experience? Do you convey it in a language that we can understand? If you do none of these things, should we not only reject your ‘knowledge’ but, in the interests of our own liberation, consider you a friend to our enemies and a danger to our people?
These are legitimate questions and in the interests of its own integrity Race is bound to ask the same questions of its contributors. And in doing so it would hopes to open its pages to the emerging breed of insurgent sociologists everywhere.