Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can't do without racists

I found this article in the Mail & guardian by Chris Roper, Editor of M&G online. They used to make good signs in the old days didn't they!


"Under the searing heat of the hardboard ceiling on fake leather sofas their fingers lock around ice cold beer fuck the kaffirs has finally changed into the fucking kaffirs" Antjie Krog - In transit -- a cycle of the early nineties.

In the Sixties, they told us God was dead. As we've seen, those reports were greatly exaggerated. For similar reasons, chief of which is that they really meant that their God had won, now they're trying to take race from us. We mustn't let them. We need race in the same way that atheists need God.

One of the consequences of living in a land where discussions of race are endemic is that you need to work harder to get your message out. That's why the ANC's kiddie division, the ANC Youth League-biters, have to resort to increasingly vituperative and racist comments to get noticed. In the land of the blandly racist, the one-braincell organisation is king.

Consider their recent missive, in which they announce that they are "very concerned ... that all the media reports about Caster Semenya are generated in Australia, which is the most lucrative destination for South Africa's racists and fascists, who refused to live under a black democratic government. The maltreatment of Caster Semenya is evidently a coordinated racist attack.

"Even if a test is done, the [ANCYL-biters] will never accept the categorisation of Caster Semenya as a hermaphrodite, because in South Africa and the entire world of sanity, such does not exist. The basic, traditional and known method to determine gender has classified Caster Semenya as female and to us she will remain a female.

"Presumably the traditional South African method of determining gender is whether you can rape it or not, which would mean that we could possibly have a small sheep called Kobus representing us at the next Olympics. But it's interesting -- not to mention hilariously ironic -- to see the ANCYL-biters appeal to a "world of sanity".

A world of sanity is one in which we all agree on what certain terms mean, like black, white, god, girl and BMW. It's not a world I want to live in, frankly: a world of absolutes decided by the wittering chumps of the ANCYL.

The stupidity of racism is perhaps encapsulated in the assertion that black people can't be racist, which is about as dumb as saying white men can't dance. And Justin Timberlake and Julius Malema are the winsomely attractive poster boys for anyone wanting to argue the opposite.

But people like saying stupid things, mostly for effect. And the desired effect is often maleficent. As Groucho Marx said in a talk on race-hate in 1946: "The little social differentiations are used scientifically by ruthless men who know the dollars and cents value of fomenting inter-racial and inter-religious strife."


Why am I quoting Groucho Marx, you ask? Because he's a funny man, and only funny men can usefully comment on race, and on God. And for our purposes, God and race are the same thing, two of the engines that drive the language we use to speak about life in South Africa.

By "usefully comment", I don't necessarily mean intelligently, but that any conversation about race, like humour, has to allow for polyvalent interpretation. Or else you end up fighting a battle, rather than talking. As people have "a sense of humour", they have a "sense of race", and in both cases they're necessarily absurd. The following joke -- as well as being funny -- shows both at work: "Q: Why is it so hard to find white racist jokes? A: 'Cause being white is bad enough."

An examination of the etymology of the word "race" reveals that in Old English, the word "eode" meant both "race" and "language". In the same Wittgensteinian way that God is in the grammar, and grammar is God, race is language, and language is race.

To quote another famous Jewish comedian, Jacques Derrida: "each time this identity announces itself, each time a belonging circumscribes me ... someone or something cries: look out for the trap, you're caught. Take off, get free, disengage yourself." The piece is called "A 'Madness' Must Watch over Thinking", and I like to believe that Malema is that madness watching over our thinking. We need people like him, to remind us that we refuse to be categorised. We need racists, or at the very least, people who think in terms of race.

In South Africa today, to parody the Antjie Krog poem that serves as this essay's epigraph, "the fucking whities" has become "fuck the whities". And that's fine, because frankly it's their turn. But just because it's someone else's turn to suffer racism, in the sick dance of power that humanity apparently cannot ever avoid, it doesn't mean that it's okay to be a racist. And just because we need race to enable language, and we need that language to continually interrogate assumptions, doesn't mean it's not heinous. But just as there was no before-race, there will be no after-race. Race is.