Monthly Archives: January, 2015

In Black And White

17This past week I sat in a school hall with about 30 other parents, playing our role in being responsible parents, attending our first PTA meeting(damn, I’m old). Halfway through proceedings I got a little lost in thought. What if I raised my hand and  when afforded the chance to speak I directed this question to the school principal: “During the last week’s orientation meeting I noticed that about 30 to 40% of parents here are either African, coloured or Indian, with the remainder white. But your teaching and support staff are all white people. Seeing that 30% or more of your student body is not white, what plans do you have to get your teaching and support staff to reflect the composition of your student body?”

In my mind’s eye I could see and hear the hall quieten down. To the point of being so silent I could hear myself breathe. I could see the discomfort on the principal’s face, I could also hear the very loud objection of a white male parent shouting me down from the back of the room: “You want black teachers, take your child to the township schools!” I also heard the resounding “Yeah!” from the rest of the white parents in the hall. The principal regained his composure and some colour in his face, and responded: “Sir, this is neither the time nor the place to raise matters like that. Those can only be raised at the School Governing Body(SGB) meeting which takes place once a term, and you have to be elected to be on it at an election that only happens once every three years”.

“And just to add, we’ve had black pupils in this school since I’ve been here, which is six years and I’ve never had one parent complain of racism”. I want to challenge him on that, that my point is not about racism but having the school start to reflect the reality of our beautiful country. To allow ALL the kids in the school to learn that positions of power and authority in our society are not the sole preserve of one chosen race but that everyone, irrespective of their skin colour stands a good shot at being in charge. I want to continue this imaginary dialogue with this seemingly nice hardworking man but my reverie is rudely interrupted by the urgent and pressing matter of attending to this year’s fundraiser at the PTA.

Later, much later, I tried to imagine how a real life discussion about race would have proceeded in that setting and all I kept hearing in my head was “Why do you people have to keep raising apartheid at each and every turn? Why must you spoil everything and blame apartheid all the time?” I didn’t answer because some of the black parents in the hall started shouting back, and chaos ensued. Far-fetched? Hardly. This, although mere constructions of my imagination, sums up the level of public debate on race in this country.

“When we blame the legacy of apartheid most white people take it as a personal attack on them…This is not the case. Blaming the legacy of apartheid is an attack on the system…We are not asking you to feel guilty…”(Khaya Dlanga,2008). I have quoted this passage elsewhere on my blog before but I’ve found it necessary to return to it because of recent events. Move away from my imagined PTA exchange with the school principal to the very real issue of one Zelda le Grange.

Zelda went and put her foot in it, actually I think she put her whole leg in it but I’m not sure that’s good English. Le Grange, Nelson Mandela’s erstwhile Personal Assistant had until last week been held up as a living example that race relations in this country are not beyond redemption and that her saviour and employer, Nelson Mandela, had done enough to show us that despite our rather painful past, we can get this race thing right. And then she goes on a Twitter rant and undoes all of that, shame on her. Okay, okay, she apologised but the damage was done already. The daggers were drawn for her and her apology did nothing to reassure those that looked up to her that she didn’t mean what she said.
Her apology is not unlike the morning regrets of a person who had too much to drink and then waking up with that weird feeling that they had opened their mouth and said everything that was in their heart. Only thing was, the audience was everyone they had wished was not around when they finally said their ‘truth’. So sheepishly, they apologise. Fully knowing the damage is done. Ask Mel Gibson, he knows rather well the consequences of a drunken rant to an unintended audience. But the truth of the matter is, what she said is what had always been in her heart. She just lacked the sober courage to voice it.

Sadly, Zelda’s rant at the President’s assertion that South Africa’s problems only started with the arrival of the white man on our shores in 1652 captures what the black majority of this country believes is the view of white people on their past and present sufferings. To allege that the President’s views that Jan Van Riebeeck was the beginning of our problems shows that “white people in this country are not wanted” is stretching the limits of degrees of association by 364 odd years. But let’s not dismiss her views as entirely racist and not worthy of discussion. And here’s why.

Each time some racist takes to an online platform to spew their racist nonsense that’s the kneejerk reaction of the majority of South Africans. “She’s showing her true colours”, “White people never loved us”, “Ja, they might as well pack up and head back to Holland” are but a few of the responses to Zelda’s utterances. But that never gets us anywhere does it? We trade insults, have a few talk shows, “condemn Zelda in the strongest possible terms” and then life goes on. In a way, for a short while, the country becomes that school hall during my imaginary PTA exchange.

What will it take for South Africans to have mature discussions on race that are not punctuated by insults on either side? I’m a bit of a dreamer and an idealist. Every once in a while I dream of “fireside chats” not very different from the ones that FD Roosevelt used in the US during the Second world war to get America to think as one. Not the contents of the chats but the style, a relaxed approach to a very difficult and messy subject. Cooling and calming emotions and dissecting an issue to its core.

Zelda might never know why what she said is racist, she knows it is for sure but that’s only because we came down on her like a ton of bricks. But if we agree Zelda represents a “majority view” of white South Africans can we honestly say we are doing enough to get them to appreciate that their view is racist?
I have come to believe that racism is not going to be solved by the racist because frankly, he couldn’t be bothered and sometimes doesn’t even know he is racist. It is not going to be sorted out by the victim of racism because he didn’t cause it. That leaves a large majority of “non-racist” whites with the responsibility of reaching out to their fellow white people and pointing out the error of their ways.

I am an idealist but not naïve. It’s been said before that one cannot change people’s warped racist ways by appealing to their “inherent” goodness. I concur, fully. If the goodness was inherent in them we would not be having this discussion now, would we? So it is necessary to come down hard on the likes of Zelda and Steve Hofmeyer when they go on their drunken Twitter rants, but the rest of sane society needs a way, a platform to educate those naïve and gullible enough to swallow their untested “truths”.

White people of our generation have access to a get-out-of-guilt-free card, “It wasn’t me”. So long as the mention of Jan Van Riebeeck, the Dromedaris, white settlers and apartheid causes white people to feel guilty, we are going to stay in diametrically opposed racial camps as a country, unable to talk anything with sense once the “A” word is mentioned. The idealist in me wonders why a white South African today would want to carry the burden of the guilt of events carried out by their ancestors (unless they believe they are still benefitting from that system or its consequences).

I know what you are thinking. I do, I kid you not. So what about your side, “it’s not like blacks don’t spew racist bile, yes, what about them?” See, I knew, what you were thinking. You are right. Black people can say hurtful things. Crazy things. And some of us believe we have earned the right to be downright nasty to other races simply because they did it first. And they did. But when have you ever seen a tit-for-tat spat resolved by pointing at who started what. Call me a Mandela apologist but I admire that man for teaching me that creating racial cohesion is a process that requires the victim to reassure the racist that there is nothing to fear. “Look, I’m normal, just like you”.

But it is a mistake of mammoth proportions on the part of the white section of our population to expect black people to suddenly stop talking about an aspect of our country’s history simply because it “doesn’t sit well with us. We are made to feel guilty”. That would legitimising the shame that the system sought to implant in us. And that shame has unintended but dangerous consequences. It spawns a new brand of black consciousness that is based on a hatred of the past (the system and the white people who created it).

This new brand of “black consciousness” is based on hatred for white people and anything white. The exponents of that consciousness would actually take offence at the views I have expressed here, probably calling me all sorts of unprintable names suggesting I grovel at the feet of the masters. But they forget one simple truth. White people are here to stay. Yes, you’ll get the yellow-bellied few who will run at the first sight of trouble but it is almost impossible for white South Africans to claim another continent as home.

Zelda was wrong when she asserted whites are not needed in South Africa. They are needed, what is not going to happen though is people will not stop looking back. And if looking back and blaming a system that placed whites above all other races makes whites feel they are not needed, then white people need to look at themselves. Zelda needs to look at herself. Start with the man in the mirror and ask him why he needs to be reassured that he is needed.

If anybody needs reassuring it should be black people who have factual evidence that “they never loved us”.

Zelda, the rather likeable blonde who dedicated almost two decades of her life to be personal assistant to the man who has come to embody racial reconciliation the world over went further to suggest that she would henceforth change her surname to Van Riebeeck. To the unlucky few who are not old enough to have learnt old syllabus South African history Jan Van Riebeeck is the Christopher Columbus of South Africa. He “discovered” South Africa in 1652 and set up base in Cape Town. And as the say, the rest is history.

So Zelda Van Riebeeck understands that the black people in this country hold a rather dim or negative view of the Dutchman adventurer Van Riebeeck. Otherwise she wouldn’t suggest that marrying him posthumously is revenge enough for the president’s insults to white people.

“If I was a white investor I would more or less leave now. It’s very clear whites are not wanted or needed in SA”. This for me was the lowest of her insults, the idea that “white investors” are doing South Africa a favour by investing their money here. I swear I would have puked if I wasn’t made of sterner stuff. And then she wonders why people like the President figure white people are the origins of our problems? It’s because of this patronising attitude that they think they are also the solution to our problems, because they can tell their fellow white folk not to invest in this black people’s country.

Maybe poor Zelda didn’t get the memo, investors will invest in any place that promises returns on their investment, they follow the smell of money. President’s Hollande’s France is not looking for a group of white people who are afraid of fixing up what their ancestors messed up.

But the biggest message I have for Zelda is that your fellow countrymen, those of a darker hue, don’t hold you personally responsible for our lot. We are a bit more intelligent than that, and the majority are simply looking for a hand up from their man-made colour-based misery. PS Your dislike for No 1 is shared by millions in this country. If you think “investors” can help us get rid of him, please don’t exclude us in your campaign based on our skin colour, we want him out too.

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Mourning My Lost Creative Babies

creative writingA friend bought me a copy of the Joseph Heller classic, Catch 22, for my birthday. I had last read the book a good twenty years ago so this 50th anniversary collector’s edition was a God-sent. I had since put it away for when I need a serious pick-me-up read, and that need came up last week. As I looked through the chapter titles my excitement and anticipation kept rising. This is a state that difficult to explain to someone else but if you’ve never experienced it I can liken it to settling down to watch a live sport final, say tennis or soccer, which you ‘know’ your favourite is going to win. You are almost ready to celebrate in anticipation of the win.

Books do that to me sometimes. Looking at the chapter “The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice” had me giggling before I could even read the chapter. The only other activity that gives me the same amount and type of pleasure is discovering a piece of writing that I had completely forgotten I had written. Like going through your files and discovering an incomplete but very well-written article that makes you think “did I write that?” You feel like giving yourself a high-five. That’s why I love creative writing, but don’t be misled, there are emotional pitfalls in this process.

Don’t let anyone fool you. Creative writing is not for sissies. There are times when I’ve felt it must be easier to squeeze water out of a rock than it is to put down two coherent sentences on a piece of paper. Creative writing is hard business I tell you. Don’t laugh or sneer now, I believe I know what I’m talking about. Don’t believe me? Well you are entitled to your beliefs, even though I know they are wrong. But seriously though, I have been going through a rather serious patch of non-creativity if you want to call it that. But despair not dear reader, my muse has returned. But she’s a little pissed off and here’s why.

My non-creative patch was brought on by two things. The first is the simple matter of having fallen victim to crime. I have joined the long list of my fellow countrymen who have had the misfortune of losing both their tablet and laptop at the same time. Surely there is a category or list of people like that? Both gadgets, stolen. In the same bag. I refuse to be the only one to whom this has happened. I have to be part of some sort of category or list damn it!

I implore you not judge me when I tell you that the theft was probably a result of me having forgotten to lock the car. Yep, say it, I gave away my tablet and laptop. Like a dear friend said to me when I told them: “Why didn’t you lock your car dude, this is South Africa!” As you can imagine, without the tools to aid me in putting my thoughts down my creative ideas were dead in the water so to speak.

It’s as though the ideas refused to come simply because they knew I had no instrument to capture them with. My butt didn’t help matters either, it seemed to conspire with my brain by also refusing to sit itself down long enough for the creative juices to flow. As 2PAC said, it felt like it was just ‘me against the world’. I had ‘nothing to lose’ too because all that could be lost was lost already. So my non-creative patch continued unabated.

Here’s the strangest thing. You would think I would be totally broken by the loss of the actual gadgets themselves. No. Not even by the loss of information that I can never really recover. I can hear you whispering back-up, back-up. I will ok. I have learnt. I know I should have known better. You are missing the point though. Just bear with me as I share the real misery of losing those two gadgets.

It was actually the loss of the half-written and sometimes untitled ramblings that hurt the most. No I did not lose a finished novel that I’m worried someone might publish as their own.

I lost random thoughts, random musings that meant nothing to anyone but me. I lost two paragraphs in certain instances. Hell, it hurts losing even a single sentence if you’ve not used it in one way or another. Those two paragraphs or one sentence might never have progressed into anything suitable for public consumption but damn, they were my creative babies. I conceived them and made sure they took their place in that world of unpublished ideas that one day might be part of something bigger.

Some of the random thoughts and writings that I lost were complete thoughts and articles that I had decided against putting up on my blog. I do not cry for those ideas that had been published already. Those are there for everyone to see. I cry for those of my creative babies that have now simply moved from a position where anything was possible into that unfathomable vortex in cyberspace where abandoned creative babies go: into nothingness. That hurts. Those ideas were mine. There are days when I have wished that they’ll find their way into the hands of someone who will use them, even if it means just reading them or passing them off as their own. See, the biblical wisdom of Solomon taught me that if you love your baby you should be willing to have them continue their life even as someone else’s baby rather than have them die.

This loss of my creative babies has taught me about the uniqueness of every creative thought and idea that I put down. A creative baby is just as unique as a real life baby. I’m certain there are people who have sought to recapture a creative baby they’ve lost and have painfully discovered that it cannot be recreated, just like one cannot recreate a real-life baby. A creative baby is a product of a set of inputs that cannot be put together in the same manner again, these inputs form part of that creative baby’s DNA.

You would never dare suggest to Michael Jackson : “It’s ok that you lost Thriller, you can just right another one” or to Steven Spielberg: “There’s more where ET came from, losing that script is not so bad”. It is bad to lose ideas that you had created and birthed. It’s painful. Ok, so I’m not Michael Jackson or Spielberg, but my ideas are just as original as theirs were and I will mourn my creative babies just as much as they would have mourned theirs, had they had their scripts disappear or get stolen.

There are thoughts I captured during the depths and darkness of depression. A state I would never wish to recreate but was part of the creative process. Those creative babies are gone, forever.

It’s been a while since I blogged on depression, not because I’m rid of the scourge but because it can feel obsessive, plus the condition itself keeps “telling” you not to bother the good people out there, your depression is your own problem. So before putting a single word down on my reflections on depression, I have to fight off that disconcerting feeling that I’m being ‘too much’, that I must shut up and curl up in my little corner and deal with my issues. But I’ve learnt that depression thrives on your backing off. It’s happy when you beat yourself up before anybody else does, and you back off. Before backing off into that little corner I sometimes manage to put down a thought or two. These thoughts cannot be recreated. And now some gadget thief just took off with them.

So you see, my tears are not about the gadgets. They are not about the contacts, or even pictures that the thief got. No, they are about my creative babies. Babies who cannot be recreated.

You’ve probably forgotten that I told you my non-creative patch was aided and abetted by two things. The first of which was the theft of the gadgets. The second one is the depression that you’ve just read about. Worry not, my muse is still on festive steroids so she refuses to allow me to bore you with stories of darkness. So I will not tell you about the whirlwind I’ve just been through or even whether I have come out of it.

But here’s the thing. It was this non-creative patch that got me thinking that the depression itself, although a source of some dark creative thoughts, it is a huge stumbling block to the development of a creative routine which is necessary to ensuring that creative babies are nurtured to a point of growing up and fulfilling their purpose in the world of full-grown creative writing.

So whilst I mourn the premature death of my creative babies in the hands of unsympathetic gadget thieves, I also celebrate that this unfortunate non-creative patch brought on by depression and crime has put my future creative babies on a trajectory totally different to the one that saw my other creative babies melt into nothingness.

I look forward to seeing my future creative babies mature and take their place of pride amongst other creative babies in the world, in my blog and hopefully media with better readership. I look forward to nursing and maturing them not only for my own gratification but also for the benefit of those that believe in the old African saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. I want my next creative children to be nurtured by villages, not just me, lest they fall victim to more gadget thieves.

Again, I assert, Creative writing is not for sissies. You must be prepared for the loss of your creative babies, and not let the pain and haziness resulting from the loss stop you from dreaming big for your yet-to-be-conceived creative babies.

One of the most gratifying things about writing is going through your unpolished creative ideas and come across one that just sparks a creative streak. That’s where the pain come from. That I cannot get the chance to go through those thoughts, ideas and paragraphs again in search of that spark that is so necessary when non-creativity rears its ugly head.

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