I also want to cry racism

Dec 14 2012 12:42
*Garth Theunissen

THEY say a week in politics is a long time. You should try 15 minutes in South African journalism. Just when you think you have the world all figured out, along comes a fellow hack and makes you question your entire belief system. 

For example, just when I was considering buying one of those red "Rhinose" horns to attach to the front of my Subaru along comes Benjamin Fogel with his Renouncing the Rhino column and makes me feel horribly guilty for wanting to show solidarity with the poor, persecuted beasts. 

The gist of Fogel’s argument is that the typical purchasers of these "Rhinose" horns are white people in oversize SUVs who shop at Woolworths and live in fortress-like suburbs. I have to admit I’m guilty as charged. 

Fogel goes on to explain that these same white people are more interested in saving rhinos than the plight of millions of poor, mostly black South Africans. Why else would they go to the trouble of attaching plastic rhino horns to their cars but show scant interest in printing “Justice for Marikana” bumper stickers? 

He then scolds whites for their supposed silence on inequality and black poverty, and even accuses them of condoning the Marikana massacre and the murder of Andries Tatane. Why else would there be thousands of "likes" on Facebook petitions decrying the poaching of South Africa’s rhino but none demanding justice for Marikana? 

I endured 15 very uncomfortable minutes after reading Fogel’s column. For one horrible quarter of an hour I actually thought he had a point. 

Applying Fogel’s logic, I concluded that all the white people who had "No Toll" bumper stickers on their cars must be vile racists rather than fed-up taxpayers. They obviously couldn’t care less about black poverty, inequality or the Marikana massacre. If they did, surely they’d have "No Marikana" stickers on their cars instead? 

So acute is the callousness of white South Africans that they even started a Facebook petition to “Stop Bryce Lawrence Ever Reffing a Rugby Game Again”. Only the most despicable racists would do that. I mean, why had they not started a Facebook petition to “Stop the ANC-led Government From Ever Turning its Police Force on Striking Mineworkers Again?”

Even my beloved Springbok rugby team must be a pack of racists. After all, they’d once worn armbands demanding “Justice for Bakkies Botha” yet I’d never seen them wearing “Justice for Andries Tatane” armbands. I was deeply disturbed. 

I too was not without blame. I was guilty of "liking" the Bryce Lawrence Facebook petition page. I’d even "liked" the Facebook page of a Pitbull rescue centre. It obviously meant I liked Pitbulls more than black people. 

I even thought back to my university days when one of those white struggle heroes (the sort whose struggle began circa 1994) accused me of being a racist because I had more interest in going surfing on Saturdays than attending Truth & Reconciliation hearings like he did. Perhaps he had a point. 

But just when I was about to confess my lurking, white racism, I was miraculously saved by TO Molefe, Mail & Guardian Thought Leader and author of Black Anger, White Oblivousness. You see, Molefe questioned in a tweet why the word "Marikana" had not appeared on a list of most-searched Google items by South Africans in 2012. 

According to the list, South Africans appear to be more interested in Lady Gaga; Wedding Dresses; How to Kiss; Mxit; Khanyi Mbau; Whitney Houston; What is Android; iPad 3; OLX; and American Idol than Marikana. In fact, the words "Marikana" and "Andries Tatane" don’t even appear on the list.

Only evil racists could be guilty of such a crime. 

That was when I had my epiphany: it wasn’t just me who was an evil racist due to my love of surfing and rhinos. It was the whole of South Africa. After all, it’s not just the white minority who make up less than 10% of the population that use Google.

Obviously we must be an entire nation of racists. Why else would we prefer scouring the internet for Lady Gaga rather than Marikana? 

Thanks to TO Molefe I felt a whole lot better. I felt especially good because just the previous day Molefe had accused me in a M&G Thought Leader piece of constructing an “ingenious defence” of the “indefensible” crime of alleged white Capetonian racism. 

What got Molefe’s goat was my column titled Capetonians aren’t racist. They’re just douche bags. For those who missed it, my argument was essentially that just because someone treats you badly it doesn’t mean they’re racist.

Perhaps they’re just snobbish douche bags who look down on everyone, including members of their own race. (For Molefe’s sake, I probably should have added that just because everyone dislikes you it doesn’t mean they’re racist. Maybe you’re just a douche bag.) 

However, Molefe was indignant. Instead of seeing my piece as a tongue-in-cheek, satirical argument against habitually crying racism at every perceived slight, he jumped to the conclusion that I was defending bigotry. I suspect that what he was most angry about was that for 15 minutes I’d caused him to doubt himself. 

Of course, if you repeat a lie often enough eventually people will start believing it (which is how this whole "Cape Town is racist" lark got started in the first place). So Molefe dutifully returned to pushing his tired old barrow of lamenting the racism that lurks within every white South African’s love of rhinos, SUVs and Woolworths. 

What followed was a minor Twitter battle between me and Molefe although, to his credit, it was mostly me firing the barbs while he responded with smiley-faced retweets and oddly, a YouTube link to a kwaito video. 

Of course, no self-respecting white struggle hero was going to stand by idly and allow poor TO Molefe to be attacked by some two-bit defender of bigotry. Enter celebrity columnist (yes, there are some who claim such titles) Paul Berkowitz aka @PaulyBerk. 

Now Pauly Berk isn’t just your garden variety white struggle hero. He’s the real deal. Not only has he exposed an uncle in a column for cracking a joke about shooting blacks, he even claims to be nothing more than an honorary white himself. Never before has the white struggle against its own guilt been so well represented. 

After trading Twitter insults with Berkowitz for about an hour, I came across a tweet where he’d referred to me as a “FinWeek Boychie”. He also went on to warn Molefe that “they” were “big and strong” and “aggressively post-race”. 

“So what?” I hear you ask. After all, boychie is just a corruption of the Afrikaans word boytjie or small boy. 

Ah, but you see, I also want to cry racism. I also want to be the victim for a change. I want to argue that Berkowitz was making a snide reference to my Afrikaner heritage. I want to claim that he went all Luke Watson on me.

Why else the stereotyping of “they” as big, strong and aggressive? Isn’t that racial profiling? One day it”s “boychie” the next it’s “one boychie, one bullet”. 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I hear you say. 

Well, imagine if I had sarcastically referred to Berkowitz as “The Mensch from The Daily Maverick”. After all, Mensch is just a Yiddish term for a “person of honour” and Berkowitz does happen to be Jewish. 

“Hmm, in poor taste but no harm done,” you might counter. 

Well let’s take it a step further. What if I had sarcastically referred to TO Molefe as the Umfaan Thought Leader? After all, umfaan is just a corruption of the Zulu word umfana, which means young boy, or “boychie” for that matter. 

“Even more tasteless,” you’d admit. “Some people might even perceive it as mildly racist.” 

I tried asking Pauly Berk what he meant by the term “boychie” but he went strangely silent as white struggle heroes are wont to do when they find themselves accused of racism. They’re far more comfortable in the role of accuser. Just ask Luke Watson

Luckily there was an expert on hand to assist me: TO Molefe himself, renowned guru on how to spot racism in every insincere white smile. So that’s precisely what I did. I tweeted Molefe to ask whether, in his expert opinion, he thought Berkowitz was being a tad racist by sarcastically referring to me as a “big, strong boychie”. 

His response to my desperate and disingenuous search for racism where none obviously existed? 

“Dude. You’re being a douche bag.” 

I rest my case. 

*Garth Theunissen is companies & markets editor at Finweek. This article first appeared in Finweek.

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