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There’s something (or maybe a few things, but stay with me) to be said about the way in which we engage each other on matters of race.To put it mildly – it’s not a pretty sight. To put it harshly – all hell breaks loose but that seems to be the better description.Jacaranda FM presenter, well known comedian and TV personality, Tumi Morake, learned that the hard way last week. She used the radio platform to talk honestly and openly about this very matter and included culture and comments about apartheid.She said a number of things – but what caused the bigger stir was her use of this textbook analogy on reconciliation and how people feel: “It's like a child whose bicycle was taken forcefully away from him and then you say to the bully, 'no, no, no, share the bike together, don't be like that.'
The hate mail floodgates opened up. One particular comment from a member of the public stuck with me: “Go back to the bush”.
That is the level to which the matter stooped. To be fair, many voices of support also joined the chorus, telling Tumi to further the debate.
I’ve listened to Tumi’s comments in its entirety a number of times. I’m still to find the hate speech or racist element to it. Because you see, it’s not there. She might have touched a nerve, she might have made you spill your morning tea – but racist, she was not.
An attempt at having the uncomfortable discussions and talking about the past do not equate hatred and racism. In fact, these conversations will almost never go down well with everyone – somewhere, somehow, offense will be taken.
We know what racists and racism look like very well. We live in a country where black people on a beach have been called monkeys, the K-word is used for police officers wanting to assist on an accident scene, a black man is shoved into a wooden coffin as he begs for his life – all happening in democratic South Africa and not many moons ago.
Racism is real in our country, we encounter and fight it often. It doesn’t have to be as blatant as the instances cited above, but we can recognise it even in its subtlety and for what it is.
We must therefore not be confused about where it must be applied, nor must we use the label to escape having real and honest conversations about our now defunct rainbow nation, simply because it doesn’t sit well with us.
We must be honest about our shortcomings and the fact that very little dialogue has happened, yes, more than twenty years after apartheid. We must address our inability in the main to see, hear and recognise a different school of thought.
Someone speaking about white privilege and its impact on them cannot simply be shouted down because you don't like where the narrative is going or you are in denial about it even existing.
Conversations that do not sit well with some of us cannot disappear to appease or make people feel better. We can also not wish away comments like “but I have black friends” or “my children have black friends.”
We are not going to stop those who think that mimicking the way people speak and making fun of their accents aren’t racist. But we have to stop getting angry and start engaging because the anger is getting us nowhere. On the contrary, it’s dividing us more.
Here’s where it starts – with recognising our different lived experiences, our different realities and our different views. After that, the serious discussions must be had, with or without offense taken.
Back to Morake’s comments. I will venture to ask – a part from getting hot and bothered, who really engaged her or asked her to explain where her comments were coming from.
By this I don't mean who tried to agree with her, because quite frankly, I don't agree with everything she said. I believe that I have a valid view about my fellow countrymen and I can express it without being racist.
I too, am a black South African who can talk about Steve Hofmeyr. I disagree with Tumi about Afrikaners sorting certain things out amongst themselves. We all navigate our way through the same country and we can learn from people who are from different backgrounds and cultures.
But Tumi and I can agree to disagree because I respect her right to speak her mind, to air her view, to have an opinion. And she must respect mine. Our views cannot be policed or made to magically disappear or change. The only thing that will possibly swing it is further dialogue.
We can disagree without being racist. We can seek clarity on things we don't know, there’s no harm in asking. But we must start with having the proper conversation and we must start listening to understand instead of listening to respond.
Tumi attempted to have that conversation. It must be revived. We need to join in, without falling back into old patterns of pulling the race card.
We must shame those who want to drag us back as a country, those who are perfectly okay with the status quo. This is a moment to be seized, not to give in to those not wanting real change. Silence is not the answer.
We must ensure that in the end South Africa wins because we dared speak out.
So here’s to you Tumi – I might not always agree with your views but I will always fight for your right to air them.
- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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