Luister: South Africa has mastered the art of silencing

I recently watched Luister.

I watched it with a deepening sense of dread. With each upsetting account I felt anxiety fueled by the knowledge that despite its sincerity, despite its raw human experience, and its painful themes of identity and race in South Africa, it would be met with varying malicious strains of denial and discontent. 

As a non-white South African who is used to the online discourse that follows every racially charged incident, I somehow wasn’t prepared to read the obtuse reactions to Luister.

For once, I was dreading the “discourse”; the emotional backlash disguised as discussion, where people “debate” whether black pain has validity.

Much like apologists in sexual assault cases, people only have to silence victims to nullify statistical truths and painful incidents.

In fact, silencing in South Africa is a national pastime.

We’ve gotten so good at the art of silencing that we do it with exceptional linguistic stealth, while genuinely believing it’s somehow altruistic.

I only realised just how far this delusion reaches after I stumbled on an event created by some Stellies students - in response to Luister, under the hashtag #WhereIsTheLove.

Silencing, Level 9:

Luister where is the love event
Luister where is the love event
Luister where is the love event

Take that all in. Take in all of its CAPS-ridden, exclamation-mark-riddled, barely sensical rhetoric. And then take a moment to think about why it all sounds so familiar:

Luister where is the love event

Not lekke vibes. Ok. Not lekke vibes. First, if by ‘not lekke vibes’, they’re referring to the acknowledgement and awareness raised by marginalised and oppressed students on campus, then yes. The lekke-less vibes are running high, my friend.

Second, those vibes have always existed, whether you’ve acknowledged them or not. I believe the students in the documentary were speaking specifically about their not lekke experiences, in the hope that more people would see just how not lekke it is to be black in Stellies, in the hope of sparking official transformation strategies to make it more lekke.

Third, if your being made aware of the daily not lekke experiences of black students makes you feel unhappy, then it might be time to revaluate you're not lekke priorities.

Luister where is the love event

There are not enough gifs to express my reaction to this right here. This isn’t ’69 Woodstock. We’re not suffering from a deficit of love and beauty and inspirational wallpapers.

It’s also fascinating to see that in this weird monologue about love and patriotic euphoria, nothing about race was mentioned.

Nothing about student experiences, or attempts to embrace transformation, nothing about listening or empathising. In fact, nothing about anything in particular was mentioned. #WhereIsTheLove is a flailing PR attempt created by some Stellies kids, neck-deep in denial, who have probably never studied marketing or communications: “Peeps think we’re racists, so let’s take selfies and prance on the lawns to induce memory loss!”

On second thought, it may well be students who have double majored in marketing and communications.

Luister where is the love event

Fun fact: Negativity and destruction existed long before white feelings were hurt by a candid documentary. Ye ye.

What becomes increasingly apparent with these kinds of knee-jerk reactions is that they become increasingly abstract in content. Specific topics about race become diluted to the pseudo-liberal “humanist” cop-out of ‘it’s not about race, it’s about HUMANITY!’.

This kind of vague grasping is a common reaction among those who feel that their social status has been attacked. Instead of engaging with the topic, ‘humanism’ or ‘love’ are used as euphemisms for “I do not want to engage in the intricacies of racial privilege at this current time”. As a student who was forced to question both the value of my race and my identity, who had learned to twist myself quietly into white spaces, I find this incredibly insulting.

Moreover, it’s interesting to see that so many people (I advise readers to stay away from the comment section of this event page) truly believe that Luister was indeed the cause of this ‘negativity and destruction’, and not the racism itself. OR, they believe engaging with issues of race and discrimination publically is inherently ‘negative and destructive’. I can’t decide which option is stupider.

Finally, the turd on the cake and the succinct slogan for this hashtag revolution appears in this paragraph:

Luister where is the love event

“Remember, if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say it at all.”

Translation: If you want to speak about oppression, marginalisation or racism at Stellies, then STFU. There it is. The art of silencing. Like an interracial Coca-Cola ad, it starts off pained and contrived before panning to the real marketing agenda.

I didn’t choose to write about this event because it’s in any way huge or important. I chose to write about this because it is a live, flashing banner for every subversive attempt to gloss over discussions of race and privilege on campus. Discussions that Luister explores.

This documentary, like the Rhodes Must Fall movement, outlines a very specific South African cause: Listen to the human experiences of racial discrimination and be part of the transformation to create a completely inclusive space for all students. Simple. #WhereIsTheLove, however, is just another scurrying, insulting attempt to silence the conversation that so many students have been fighting for.

Luister where is the love event

I’m out.

Follow Malini on Twitter and read more on her blog

Follow Women24 on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Do you think it's important to get married in this day and age?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, it's important in order to create a family unit and for companionship
22% - 705 votes
Not at all. Being single is far more liberating
9% - 288 votes
There is no general answer to this, it's each to their own
50% - 1594 votes
Yes, society still frowns on unmarried people, especially women
1% - 42 votes
It depends on whether you are able to find a compatible partner
18% - 569 votes