Picture: THE HERALD/MIKE HOLMES
Picture: THE HERALD/MIKE HOLMES

Wits sociology professor Roger Southall is in a pickle when it comes to the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). On one hand he recently used its annual surveys, occasional reports and commissioned opinion surveys as reliable data, but on the other hand underscored his opposition to the IRR by advancing the anonymous opinion of someone who “would not touch the survey with a barge pole, because its publication by the IRR meant it simply could not be trusted” (“IRR would do us a far greater service by honouring its legacy”, September 26).

Southall’s academic work cannot avoid demonstrating the fact that the IRR’s research is reliable, pertinent, penetrating and non-partisan. People debate conclusions inferable from our data, whose integrity is transparently robust.

So why does Southall invoke the opinion that one would not touch IRR research with a barge pole - of someone “prominent” and “academic” whose anonymous “antipathy” is an existential threat to the IRR’s “influence” - without naming this denouncer-in-hiding?

This level of child’s play (“Someone said you’re gross! Guess who? Well, even if you can, we’re not playing!”) is stark if you compare it with the serious and mature work Southall is capable of when he quotes IRR research reliably in academic debate. Distance from anti-debaters, however distingué, and proximity to the IRR’s actual ideas, apparently brings out the best in Southall, and in this spirit we invite him to throw off his jejune anti-IRR beret and consider instead reading the Daily Friend for a fortnight.

This will likely be difficult given his latest attack. Southall will find intelligent right-wing criticisms of the IRR — which he says he would like to see, but has evidently not yet sought — since the IRR welcomes debate from left- and right-leaning third parties on the Daily Friend. He will also confront the piercing “moral outrage” he yearns for, which is restrained in more formal publications but is amply displayed by IRR staff in the Daily Friend’s podcasts and op-eds.

With an open mind I personally would welcome engaging Southall in debate in a Daily Friend special episode on a mutually agreed topic. Since he’s looking for moral outrage, what about debating the proposition “BEE kills babies”, with him opposing?

Might he consider that, with or without a barge pole? Thus far, opponents have resorted to ostracism, accusations that the IRR “hobnobs” with the wrong kind, and other conflations of morality with fashion. I invite Southall to rise above such childish popularity tactics by joining me in a debate in which we might apply our minds, on this or any other topic.

Let’s talk like adults who are more interested in understanding problems and finding solutions than in fitting in with any given social network. A mature engagement would break the mould. We would welcome that. Would Southall be willing?

Gabriel Crouse, Institute of Race Relations

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