Dashiki Dialogues: My niece, Juju and the new k-word

2011-11-11 09:52

My youngest niece, at the tender age of four, blew the lid off my grand national myth of rainbows and reminded me how segregated our country really is.

The little angel recently asked me if white people also “relax” their hair, and if their children cried too when you pinch them.

Now, as a worldly grown-up, you take answers to such curiosities for granted.

Of course, all children feel pain when pinched and where there’s pain, tears will follow.

But the kid was born into a segregated world, albeit not legally. So I knew the answer required a deep breath and a careful selection of words.

This was a formative moment about race relations in her young life – at least that was my reading.

However, it was the innocence in her wonder that really got me.I recalled my niece’s questions last week while listening to radio news about Julius Malema’s latest verbal slip-up.

“So what else is new,” you may ask.

Well, it’s the new k-word, if you like.The ever-controversial ANC Youth League leader has gone and insulted the Indian community, referring to them with the other k-word.

No, not the one historically used for darkies like me; the other one that plays into stereotypes of Indians as cheating merchants or as colonial manual labourers, as the British used it. Now that’s bad language. Period.

Though I can’t claim to understand the workings of Juju’s mind, you have to wonder how much of our lived separations make such prejudices possible.

I mean, if the youth league’s explanation and apology is to be trusted, and Juju spoke sincerely without any awareness of this k-word’s sting, we have a greater problem than we realise.

It’s clear that though politically engineered segregation is illegal, the legacy of separation is still very much with us.

So much so that public personalities of Malema’s rank would be unaware of the racist nature of their colloquialisms.

And now my born-free niece is strangely fascinated by her white counterparts.

So I think the continued failure to transform the economy and the material oppression that comes with it are succeeding where apartheid only started: white women are still generally fearful of young black males (read criminal black peril), poor black people think all white people are rich and, if Juju’s new k-word is any indication, his ilk doesn’t know enough about the Indian community.

So in the end, the message is clear: We need to strip ourselves of old dashikis and build new, open dialogues. Otherwise ... Babylon!

» I’m on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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