Wednesday, 2 September 2015

We are all Clive Naidoo: class, language, race and prejudice

I was going the post this, then I wasn’t going to, then… whatever. These are thoughts in progress.

Why are 62% of Stellenbosch’s students still white, 21 years after the fall of apartheid? Who the hell allowed that to stay so unchanged? We did, that’s who, from our homes in Bloubosrand and co.
Look at Clive Naidoo’s arrogance at the personable black cop. SA’s economic story is a cross racial class alliance that has cultural, racial and gendered intersections that we just don’t talk about.

Comedy being my area, allegedly, let’s go there. The reason stereotypical, working class black accents are funny for corporate office type people, at least most of them, is that that is not the language of the middle class (yeah, I know there are some who think that was Chester’s vibe… it wasn’t, in fact quite the opposite, but nationalists will be nationalists. See my next show, Missing, for the next step).

Middle class Indian, black, coloured and white people lurve laughing at the accented other. Working class Afrikaners and working class Zulus alike. The difference of course being that working class Afrikaners had apartheid on their side, which is all the difference. That was one major driver of Afrikaner nationalism and eventually apartheid, to uplift white working class from cross-racial class alliances and competition. English people love laughing at working class Afrikaans accents and tropes, because we think we are more evolved, and middle class black people in Joburg love laughing at people from Limpopo, for very similar reasons.

Our power is in our gaze. Those who give us the right social cues get access, respect and trust. Those who don’t get ignored, sidelined and laughed at. Of course, with white people being 5 times wealthier than black people (Census 2011), and with 70% senior management positions, the power of enculturation and assimilation is still very biased towards white tastes. You have to talk and act more like the people with power, not the other way round, which is where white people culturally still have power, as has been so brilliantly explained by better writers than me. This doesn’t mean that white people are somehow bad– no, we do have economic clout because of an unjust history. What’s bad is when we pretend that isn’t the case and don’t try to fix it.

This class-race intersectionality means all sorts of things get ignored by all sorts of people.
For example:

1) An inspiring conversation that seems to be happening is of the actual experience of black people in white dominated schools, universities and workplaces. It brings out human, tangible micro-political truths of the brutality of subtle and not-so-subtle racism and the dominance of cultural assimilation. For e.g. that generation of black kids being the first in previously white schools have stories of alienation that gives humanity and texture to more generalized statements about racism. Those stories make the problem understandable to white ignorance… if that were an aspiration. I think that’s what made Luister so powerful.

2) There is a conversation among some middle class black people about rejecting whiteness – they haven’t been tamed vibes. Great! How far is this conversation going? My life is full of middle class black (of all apartheid race types) audiences who happily laugh at working class / Other accents and stereotypes, and who support proudly comedians who give them that fix. It’s like a reverse of the DA problem. Ignoring class and culture hides the white supremacy in our midst, black. It’s all very well to reject whiteness. That’s not a conversation for this white guy, however, I would like to see more writing from the opinionati about the actual micro-political ways people are Otherised in our environment. Because I think that’s where the battle actually lies.

3) I have stopped making Mmusi Maimane sounds white jokes, because in my opinion black people sound how black people sound. To tell Pabi Moloi she sounds white is to pretend that there is an essentialised black truth. My theory of jokes is to reject that as prejudiced, but balance it with an acknowledgment of how power affects how people are expected to sound, whiteness, class, access to education, etc.

4) I imagine some readers have their backs up at this white dude making comments about blackness. The problem is that in the real world audiences are not split, the lines of prejudice don’t happen in neat little boxes. To pretend they do is the domain of armchair critics who never have to actually face the actual prejudices, and cross-gender-sexuality-race-class-ethnic intersectionality of real SA. That’s my beef with bloggers and writers. Comedians have to face real world audiences, not just post and wait for approval on Facebook. However it also means we can be far more prejudiced.

5) For example, I went on stage at a corporate event a while back after a black comic told the mixed, but mainly white audience he’s likely to stab them. If my comedy should question these norms, how does splitting this conversation into neat little camps of black and white stuff help? My angle is deal with my privilege and then game on.

6) In that line I think we need more of a conversation on what makes an environment Afrocentric, because just having black people present doesn’t mean it’s accessible to all black people. Just because there are women there doesn’t mean its feminist. It’s just a vital start.

In the end I am saying we need more Luister and less Clive Naidoo. Or perhaps we should all be Clive Naidoos and film our intersectional race-class-ethnic prejudice for the world to see?