Dashiki Dialogues: Up against the wall; this is a stick-up!

2012-07-07 09:54

‘I can’t claim that I am writing this essay sitting beside an anonymous white male that I long to murder.” This was something once confessed by radical feminist writer bell hooks.

However, ideas around anger, race and historical debts of justice are foremost in my mind as I write this. Most importantly, though, there are ideas about a debt people owe to the future. I’m sitting among hippies and arty types at the arts festival in Grahamstown.

Our conversations have turned from arts and farts, to black-male anger, reconciliation and things of the sort.

We discuss everything from a perceived lack of gratitude by whites who’ve been forgiven for apartheid and corrupt black politicians, to angry young black men and crime.

As the banter grows passionate, a French visitor remarks that he envies how South Africans managed to put all their problems and dissatisfactions on the table for the whole nation to debate.

This, he says, is something that makes social cohesion attainable here because everyone has access to an understanding of everyone’s complaints.

This, he says, is unlike in his home country, where they’re struggling to find an appropriate grammar to discuss their problems of diversity and identity.

So we are not doing badly, even if ours is a noisy republic.

We heckle on. To complicate the race alignment of our debate about who is angry, we cite last week’s article by Alistair Mckay in these very pages.

He wrote about his personal anger against his fellow white South Africans’ ambivalence and reluctance towards contributing meaningfully to reconciliation.

This impression, he writes, is part of the reason many are giving up on the reconciliation project.

Some whites feel hard done by restorative policies like affirmative action, and darkies feel robbed of justice by the failures of the same policies to address their historical wounds.

As this thought enters the debate, along with accusations of entitlement, I remember beatnik poet Amiri Baraka’s controversial verse: “The white man owes you anything you want, even his life.

All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall motherf***er; this is a stick-up!”

Even our crime is tinged with a historical dichotomy of racial conquest and pursuance of justice. So until we build a willingness on all sides for shared values, we have no future to claim.

Whites, as beneficiaries of apartheid, must be seen to understand blacks’ demands for restoration, not retribution.

Justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done. Ours must be durable dashikis for robust dialogues. It’s the South African way.

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