To revolutionize a culture

The writer on Frank’s Archive, based on her father's records, that explores the different functions of books, power and knowledge.

Chandra Frank, as a child, with her father, J.E. Frank, in Portugal. (From Frank's Archive Tumblr.)

My father, J.E. Frank, has left me numerous books relating to race, class, apartheid and politics in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Leaving South Africa in the early 70s, my father decided to sail around the world and eventually jumped ship in London where he became active in the anti-apartheid struggle and worked with the Institute of Race Relations. At a young age I realized politics must be something important–as at one occasion my beloved Spice Girls poster was replaced by an African National Congress flag without any warning. Something to do with capitalism and the commercial music industry–just big words for me at the time.

Politically active thinkers tend to have a lot of books–and listen to a lot of jazz–so after I inherited his collection I became interested in the multiple functions of the books. The collection inspired both my father and me during our studies, lives and involvement in anti-racist work. The idea of transgenerational memory and heritage is key to exploring the different meanings of the books. A lot of the ideas and theory developed by writers such as Sivanandan, Fanon, Biko, Cabral and Jackson are still relevant and useful for my generation today. The books but also music such as records by Louis Moholo Moholo and Chris McGregor inform our ideas on resistance and hopefully offer new understandings on the act of archiving resistance.

Frank’s Archive, name for my father, is a project that explores the different functions of books, power and knowledge. You can visit the archive here. Frank’s Archive is an on-going project that doesn’t necessarily have a beginning or an end.

Below is an excerpt from Ambalavaner Sivanandan that is part of the archive. Sivanandan is a writer and former director of the Institute of Race Relations in London. He is seen as one of the leading black intellectual thinkers in the UK. A Different Hunger: Writings on Black Resistance (1982) is a compilation of non-fiction articles.

But to revolutionize a culture, one first needs to make a radical assessment of it. That assessment, that revolutionary perspective, by virtue of his historical situation is provided by the black man. For it is with the cultural manifestations of racism in his daily life that he must contend. Racial prejudice and discrimination, he recognizes, are not a matter of individual attitudes, but the sickness of a whole society carried in its culture. And his survival as a black man in white society requires that the constantly questions and challenges every aspect of white life even as he meets it. White speech, white schooling, white law, white work, white religion, white love, even white lies – they are all measured on the touchstone of his experience. He discovers, for instance, that white schools make for white superiority, that white law equals one law for the white and and another for the black, that white work relegates him to the worst jobs irrespective of skill, that even white Jesus and white Marx who are supposed to save him are not really not in the same street, so to speak, as black Gandhi and black Cabral.

In his everyday life he fights the particulars of white cultural superiority, in his conceptual life he fights the ideology of white cultural hegemony. In the process he engenders not perhaps a revolutionary culture, but certainly a revolutionary practice within that culture.

From A. Sivanandan, (1982: 95) .

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.