Sibongile Mafu

The worries and the woes of middle-class!

2012-09-26 09:54

Sibongile Mafu

I’ve been following a young man named Melusi on Twitter for almost a year now. His tweets are soccer-mad, sometimes chauvinistic, but always passionate. Two weeks ago I discovered that Melusi lives in a shack in Alexandra township.

It was on this day that a severe hailstorm hit Johannesburg leading to the postponement of the PSL game between Kaizer Chiefs and Black Leopards at FNB Stadium. Some of the people and news organisations I follow tweeted stunning pictures of a hail-covered football pitch and flatteringly filtered photographs of themselves playing in the hail and then, from nowhere, Melusi dumped a dose of reality on my rather festive timeline.
His tweet stated that his shack was leaking because of the hail and he politely asked God to ease off with the wet weather. Wait! Shack? Hail? Leaking? This was not what I signed up for. I didn’t come here to be confronted with real South African problems. Twitter was my escape from all of that. Twitter was a place where I talked about this stuff but didn’t actually have to see it.

Middle-class playground

I have been tweeting for almost four years now and for the most part my timeline is filled with middle-class people with their middle-class concerns for themselves and their middle-class concerns for the poor. Discovering that at least one person I follow had concerns that could not be classified as middle-class, ACTUAL concerns, was a jolt to the system.

We often speak about the poor like they’re not there, offering our solutions to their problems, maybe a sad-face or two (which I had pathetically offered to Melusi’s tweet) but not really doing much else. Social networks in particular have become a space where it’s nice to look like we care, a space where we can feel like we’re doing something just by expressing our shock and dismay at a situation. It is a middle-class playground where we write and reference people whose circumstances we know very little about.

I’ve always been fascinated by the privileged spaces people move in. These spaces are often thought to be where the smart and well-educated are and where the influential and comfortable discuss ways to fix the problems of the not so well-off.

I guess it is easier to talk about people than it is to talk to them. It feels like a story rather than something real. We won’t be confronted with our own prejudice and ignorance, we won’t be corrected and at the very least, we’ll feel like we’re doing something. There will be enough collective middle-class sighs to make the sad issue of the day get the inevitable attention we’ll place on it. After much discussion, we’ll switch off at the end of the day and carry on with life, feeling like we’d contributed meaningful and unique pearls to that topic

Out of touch

I was stunned to see some of the responses to Melusi’s tweet. One person even told him to sell his BlackBerry and buy a real house.  Perhaps we’ve become so out of touch in our desperate effort to try and stay in touch. We’re in a constant search to feel connected, only allowing those who are like us to really connect. We find comfort in their concerns being like our concerns, concerns that their sympathy aligns with our sympathy and a certain reassurance that we are not that shallow because just enough people that are like me feel the way I do.

You’re allowed to complain about the worm in your Woolworths yoghurt and the traffic jam that forces you to find an alternative route to work. You’ve probably worked very hard to have these concerns and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for this.

I don’t think Melusi wanted sympathy or a sad-face when he tweeted that. I think many middle-class people, when faced with real problems, problems that perhaps make theirs slightly less dramatic is when they’re forced to look at their own privilege with a sterner eye. The middle-class could be said to make up the most active numbers in these social media spaces. They are the majority. It becomes quite evident who is shaping conversations and whose interests come to the fore.

Sure, we’re not trying to change the world with tweets and statuses but a lot can be said for what we find value in talking about and what issues we place ahead of others.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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