Chris Moerdyk

Ordinary South Africans are not racist

2012-07-16 07:29

Chris Moerdyk

Politicians in South Africa play the race card for all they are worth because they genuinely believe it gets them votes. Or, just as a diversionary excuse when they find themselves up the creek without a paddle.

The media also plays the race card because they believe it gets them readers, viewers and listeners.

I don’t believe for a minute that ordinary South Africans are as racist as politicians and the media would make them out to be.

Sure, we might all be culturally intolerant but not understanding why someone does something that looks silly in our eyes does not necessarily translate into a hatred of a group of people because of the colour of their skin.

If there was a World Cup for Assumptions and Stereotyping, South Africa's politicians and media could team up and would win it hands down.

Classic examples

There have been some classic examples of just how dangerous a game this is to play.

Just about every political and social controversy that raises its ugly head these days inevitably ends up with some party bigwig playing the race card.

Listen to any radio talk-show and whenever the words "black" or "white" are mentioned in whatever context there is always some caller with a political agenda who plays the race card.

But,  what about the media? Well, here’s a classic example which you might have heard about from me before but humour me please, I just love telling this story.

Some time ago, when a television showcase of the world's best advertising was being planned, SABC TV1 management was adamant  that the bulk of commercials chosen for the series should appeal to young black South African viewers between the ages of 18 and 25.

Testing assumptions

Ads with black people in them and carrying social messages to which they could relate.

Undaunted by the fact that the black SABC chief executive at the time publicly admitted that his favourite television programme was Vetkoekpaleis and not Generations as the assumptions and stereotype brigade would have expected,  SABC TV1 insisted that the ads had "to appeal to young blacks".

The producers begged to be able to test a few assumptions. About 300 black viewers between the ages of 18 and 25 were polled about two of the ads featured in the first programme.

A chocolate bar commercial featured a middle-aged, overweight and clearly very rich white fellow about to go jogging along a mountain road and doing stretching exercises against the side of his shiny new Porche. Down the hill in an old delivery truck and eating a chocolate bar, came a young black guy, singing his heart out, his dreadlocks blowing in the wind.

He misinterpreted what the white guy was doing, stopped his truck and helped him push his Porche over the cliff.

The SABC folk decided the young black viewers would love that one. They'd find it amusing and would delight at the sight of their role model hitting back at a symbol of an oppressive white society.

The next ad featured a fat, crew cut whitey, tattooed to the hilt and eating a pizza liberally sprinkled with pepper sauce.

He gets bitten by a mosquito that flies away only to explode from all the hot sauce in its bloodstream.

Oh dear, the young black viewers wouldn't like that. There were no blacks in it and the white guy looked far too much like a racist anyway.

Entertainment value

When they were polled however, every single one of the young black viewers loved the mosquito ad. It was just plain funny. The chocolate bar ad they felt was stupid. And who on earth would want to waste a beautiful Porche like that?

When questioned about the racist looking character in one ad and the getting back at white oppression angle in the other, they explained that they didn't watch TV ads for subtle messages or to see other blacks - they watched them for the entertainment value and for what they were selling.

Which probably explains why one of South Africa's most popular TV commercials of the 1990s among ALL race groups was a greetings card commercial featuring a geriatric white Afrikaans lothario in the Karroo courting his girlfriend with pigs and pumpkins and with not a black person in sight.

But, advertising people are often just as bad as politicians and the media - trying to be clever by including different races in ads to try and make everyone happy.

Trouble is they just end up being patronising.

The vast majority of ordinary South Africans are not racist. Particularly those under the age of 50.

Of course, there is a minority of older South Africans who still carry the baggage of apartheid but they probably won't be around for much longer.

Quizzical looks

I find that talking to kids and young adults in South Africa today is generally extremely refreshing. They have mostly moved on. They mix with people who share their interests and not just those who share their skin colour.

Try asking your kids how many black or white kids are in their classes at school. Or in their sports teams. Or among their group of friends.

You will get some very quizzical looks but mostly just a few shakes of the head at what they see to be a really stupid question.

It's time that politicians and the media stopped trying to persuade us that these people don't exist.

That we are all inherently racist. 
- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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