Kuli kicks the hornet’s nest

2011-03-05 08:24

Dear Kuli

My sister, after a week of hurly burly, I hand it to you.

You recovered with grace and panache from the racist debacle set off by your offensive column.

Your apology on your TV show, while not exactly heartfelt, seemed genuine enough.

And while it pains me to admit it, after a week of fury I have come round to the idea that an unintended consequence of your prejudicial rant is that you have succeeded in moving the debate on coloureds far ­beyond the mean-spirited stereotypes that littered your column.

From Facebook to Twitter to inboxes throughout the country debates have raged about the coloured condition.

Yes, there are many who share your six-pack of ideas about the coloured malaise. Whose memories of past hurts and racist slurs are still-throbbing wounds and who seized the opportunity to defend you to express their latent hostility against the tragic mulattoes, who hurtled up apartheid’s greasy pole thanks to their fair-skin privilege.

What was heartwarming was the many others, who embrace coloureds as kin. And who recognise the perniciousness of the apartheid matrix that trapped us all in a caste system from which we have yet to ­recover.

Who came out swinging in defence of ‘God’s stepchildren’ and to excoriate you for the sexism and racism that stymied your attempts at satire, and caused so much hurt.

Because stereotypes do hurt.

They deprive us of the opportunity of being judged by the true content of our character. The problem with stereotypes is not that they aren’t true, it’s that they don’t go far enough.

You (and Jimmy Manyi) have unwittingly catalysed a debate that forced us to see the ugly cancer of racism that still eats away at our society.

You unintentionally let the pus of racism seep out from under the bandage of reconciliation slapped onto the gaping wounds of apartheid. And as the week progressed, so did the debate, which started with cookie-cutter impressions designed to diminish, and eventually moved on to a more ­nuanced discussion about the complexities of this beleaguered community.

But the thing is Kuli, we all have large arsenals of ugly racial epithets we could unleash on one another.

This is the South African condition.

It’s a lose-lose proposition, my sister, and I suspect, something you have come to recognise this past week when you were a pariah and which culminated in your TV apology.

You recovered with good grace in choosing to use your TV show to debunk the ugly myths your column put forward. You chose individuals who have achieved excellence in their various fields, and who just also happen to be coloured, who restored the dignity of the community you impugned.

It’s my hope that your monumental lapse of judgment will work to shift entrenched perceptions of coloureds as a people ­forever destined to be despised and ­ridiculed as apartheid collaborators.

I hope in seeing the diversity of looks, skin tones and hair textures displayed by people who appeared on your show (all lumped under one ­category by apartheid), you have a greater ­understanding of a ­diverse community ­who water many ­different roots.

And most of all, I hope those who came out in defence of you only to argue that your prejudicial bullet points were gospel, remember this week next time they sing: “Tswang, tswang, tswang, le boneng. ­Ngwana o tswhana le le calati.”

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