Thursday, November 05, 2009

Yesterday, a short-lived war broke out between the US and SA

Here is a post by Kaya Dlanga from Thought Leader, which I thought was pretty apt for posting today after reading Google's threat to shut ILSA down. Everyone has the right to their own perspective and to express it. That's one right that is truly free. Google, Twitter and the whole bunch of internet service providers still need to realize that they need to act global if they want to have our support in South Africa. Broaden your horizons a bit, guys, for heaven's sake.


If this is social media, isn’t this one of the ways in which people should learn about each other’s cultures? Wasn’t this one of those opportunities? Hopefully they learnt something from little old South Africa, even though we don’t see ourselves as so little.

When they shut us down, it was as if Twitter took the ball home and said see what you’ll play with now.

“Irony 101: #thingsdarkiessay is not racist in South Africa — What’s NOT racist in South Africa? Apartheid wasn’t Disneyland.” A virtual war between the United States and South Africa was full-on yesterday, the weapon of choice being Twitter. Unfortunately, the weapon was an American one too. Of course in the bigger scheme of things, even in the smaller scheme, this was an insignificant spat. The war was fought at 140 characters at a time.

It was between South African blacks and African Americans. What could have caused this outbreak you may ask? (At some point I even tried to get the US Embassy (@USEmbPretioria) to intervene, they responded by saying, “@Khayadlanga has more pull power with Twitter than we ever will”. The comment was followed by a smiley face. This response was enough for my over-inflated ego. It’s true, flattery will get you anywhere. All I need is flattery and oxygen. I am more powerful than the United States. I feel like invading something. Anything. Suggestions anyone? Should we vote on it? I say let’s invade Khanyi Mbau or Julius. Kidding.

The tweet that caused all the trouble is a certain trending topic that went as follows — before I say, I should explain what a trending topic is. Twitter tracks the 10 most popular topics of the day and ranks them according to popularity. These topics are usually preceded by a hash tag. Allow me to demonstrate. #khayasthoughtleaderblogsucks. That would be a trending topic, notehowtherearenospacesbetweenthewords. Yes. WedothatonTwitter. The native that caused all the trouble started a trending topic that reached number 1. #thingsdarkiessay. That was the topic. One would say for example, “#thingsdarkiessay I have high-high”. Elderly black folks say they have high-high, by this they mean high blood pressure. Perhaps using more words than necessary increases their blood pressure. Maybe they were the original tweeters.

Someone else would then say, “#thingsdarkiessay Stop nonsense”. You get the picture. Completely harmless. Unless you were African American. An avalanche of misunderstanding descended on the South Africans like a ton of 140 character insults. One that amused me was by @DukeBrady. I quoted him in the opening line of this blog. He assumed that the topic was started by racist white South Africans. This is understandable considering his cultural context, the word darkie is just one rank below the N word over there. He tweetered the following: “Irony 101: #thingsdarkiessay is not racist in South Africa — What’s NOT racist in South Africa? Apartheid wasn’t Disneyland.” This was a retweet by @MissLeggz, she shared his sentiments. I initiated a dialogue with her, in the end she understood.

African Americans were up in arms. Even American hip-hop artist wrote, “@RealTalibKweli: Also interesting that black South Africans seem to have no clue as to why the term darkie would offend”. I won’t get into the use of the N word in hip-hop today. That’s a whole new topic on its own.

Dream Hampton, (@dreamhampton) who became the first woman editor of The Source Magazine asked me if “darkie” wasn’t “more akin to the N word?” I explained to her “No, here that would be the K word”. She was fine with the explanation, if not completely comfortable with it.

At some point I was expecting Reverend Al Sharpton to denounce the racist South Africans, alas, my hope was false. The complaints flew in by the split second. Eventually, it was removed from the trending topics. Strangely enough the #NoGod trending topic was allowed to stay on even though many complained. Who decides what is too offensive or just offensive enough to be tolerated? This was nothing more than a cultural misunderstanding. By shutting it down, the powers that be shut down a potential educational moment where South Africans would have taught the Americans something. And we in turn might have learnt something about African Americans, because let’s face it, we still only know each other at face value, we don’t understand the little cultural nuances and the sensitivities that go with the nuances.

At some point I wrote that those who were finding out that #thingsdarkiessay was a South African set trending topic, “They’re surprised that South Africans have enough computers to set a number 1 trending topic”.

It was a very apparent misunderstanding of two cultures. One found the word offensive, the other found the word neutral. Both sides have a history of oppression. So who has the right to say whose point of view is correct? Well, it appears Twitter decided that they did in fact have the right. Once the topic hit the number 1 spot, it was not long before it was removed by the powers that be.

It would seem to me, according to Twitter, tweets Americans find offensive but are innocent to others will not be allowed to be trending topics it seems. Part of social media is that we get to learn about each other. It’s not always going to be just fun, sometimes we have to get a little uncomfortable with one another before we can be truly understanding of each other. Even in our hyper-emotional responses we may pause for a moment, breathe, think and learn something about someone else. They were not wrong in their outrage, nor were we when we joked about things darkies say. What was wrong was the inability to try to understand or explain why we held the views we did. Most of the responses were emotional, not rational.

The deletion of #thingsdarkiessay set off a #SouthAfricansArePissed @Twitter trend. It was amusing to watch and participate in. One of which was a tribute to our president, “Hawu lethi trending topic yami, trending topic yami!” #SouthAfricansArePissed @twitter”.

If this was social media, isn't this one of the ways in which people should learn about each other's cultures? Wasn't this one of those oppurtunities? Hopefully they learnt something from little old South Africa, even though we don't see ourselves as so little.

When they shut us down, it was as if Twitter took the ball home and said see what you'll play with now.

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