John Vlismas
John Vlismas

Dear ‘These Blacks’

So much has happened since last we spoke, I have been most distracted, these past years, unpicking knots in my mind. My childhood was spent being told that you were inferior, by people who let you raise me.

You fed me, carried me on your back and played with me. Imagine that. Abandoned by my ubermensch and cared for by the barbarians. No wonder I am this devilled rat.

Despite the fervent prayers of that appalling leveller of emotional intelligence: society, our potential is not determined by our packaging. There was a plan to create a skin-based class system by men in black suits with hideous wives once. It failed, and the fall-out has been toxic, leaving us a half-life.

Therefore, reference to a group based simply on the basis of their wrapping is either deeply misinformed, or a subverted reflection. I know this, as do many I meet in my walks — but there are still some deeply confused and hungry ghosts, hopefully they can read.

Oh, if you do see Whitey around, please try and explain the idea to him. I wrote him a letter recently, and his reaction pinned him squarely under the label. He didn’t realise that Whitey is a collective term for a mindset, not a colour. By defending himself, he defined himself — kind of an ironic Gordian knot. Thank Higgs that life is laughable, or I’d be out of a job.

Anyhow, let’s leave Whitey sidelined (you know how he loves that) and talk about you. “These Blacks”, if that really is your name. I know you are not one group, thank gods, but let’s pretend for the sake of our national pastime: artifice.

You are the majority shareholder in my future. Ironically, your caring for me as an infant was a taste of things to come. Regardless of bickering, history and mathematics write the strongest laws.

But enough about you. Me now.

I am a different kind of fellow. I dress funny, according to corporate, golfing rugby fans — Hublot watch fetishists and those men who for some reason believe that True Religion jeans have something to do with taste. I don’t hate anyone. I believe hatred is as great a crime against myself as the people toward who my hate would be aimed. I have understood that hatred is a suicide bomb — a zero-sum game.

I don’t hit children either: I don’t want them to believe that violence is a sign of strength. Some people see my behaviour in this regard as weak — I understand that — they were hit when they were small by bigger people and want to pay the shock and awe forward.

Some say nature demands the survival of the fittest — evolution’s pound of flesh — which is an odd assertion for people who simultaneously express belief in a system that insists natural selection to be a lie, concocted by a man with hooves, to trick us into living in an oven with him forever after we have died. Oh dear. How he managed to bury all those fossils is a mystery.

Survival of the fittest is a law of nature, but also a cornerstone of Nazism. At some point we have to realise that conventional wisdom may no longer work for the organism we have become. We used to observe the natural world and determine its workings. Now we are phasing it out as we renovate her stage.

I have contracted a socially unacceptable condition. They tell me I suffer from an ingrowing locus. Don’t be sad for me, it is entirely manageable.

You won’t find me cheering for a sports team, they are doing what they love and getting paid well for the privilege — if they need adoration on top of that or my advice through a television screen — they are not my kind of people.

You might see heroes on the field, I see hunks of meat in tight pants on multibillion-dollar media platforms, providing a sense of belonging to inferior specimens and silently promoting spinal injury and steroid abuse among children. My father instilled a distrust of clubs and societies in me and I can never repay him for that gift. We need individuals, “These Blacks”, because they get shit done.

I also do not automatically genuflect in the presence of those older than me if I do not know them, and have no idea if they are worthy. Age is not automatically wisdom, compassion or enlightenment. We have allowed the cloak of age to protect too many villains for my liking.

Old age can also represent ignorance, fear and intolerance. In fact, my ancestors are some of the architects of a great deal of what is wrong with the world now and they have the nerve to blame the youth while they rest in peace, apparently.

I don’t care much for tradition, I know you might be guided by protocols of the past, but I don’t see any reason to respect the wishes of the dead. Heritage is a lazy way to let people rule from the grave and avoid doing the work ourselves. I believe the living should take precedence and be accountable.

I find the concept of killing a living animal to appease dead people absurd, hurling rocks at another human until they die is truly evil, removing a boy’s foreskin with a dirty, blunt knife is ignorant and believing there is a small man with a massive penis under the bed is nothing short of hallucinogenic. But that is my reaction and I will not superimpose it on anyone else. Your belief in these things does not lead me to judge you, simply to say that these things are not for me. And my refusing to adopt your beliefs does not make me evil. Our intolerance of each other is far worse than any refusal to believe that your bogey man is more powerful than mine.

I am not a fan of the Old Testament: a God that smites innocent women and children, hates gay people and justifies the owning of slaves goes against what I look for in an unending source of love. The New Testament sits a little easier with me, but has been so hacked and spliced that calling it the word of God is like calling a Big Mac a cow.

And if I am ever called before said God, I am quite prepared to stand and argue my case. I am pretty sure that if God is half the man they say he is, he’ll take a minute to hear me out.

Too many religious folks forget they are at best a lawyer, not a judge.

I accept I might have to go to hell, and will do so, firmly clutching my attorney’s hand. He is a Jew, and according to some, not entitled to go in either. Heaven sounds like a country club.

I will also ask God why he is defended to the death by mortal, flawed sinners (according to his biography) when apparently he is big and strong enough to destroy entire cities and drown worlds all on his own.

I harbour no ill will towards followers of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism — or any other faith, belief or creed. I would never presume to tell anyone what to believe, nor would I try to cram my own ideas down someone else’s throat. That would be rude — unless you’re a frustrated, sociopathic narcissist with delusions of relevance in a changed world called, oh, I don’t know — Steve, for example …

I would never seek or endorse the persecution of any human beings for believing anything for themselves. That is, of course, until any such follower infringes upon my rights, as embedded in that beloved collection of laws we enjoy, the Constitution. I know she is currently battered and bruised, but once an idea is born, I believe it to be invincible, as long as decent people hold it dear. We all know the world loves a good comeback story, and hers is in in our hands.

This is what I wanted to talk to you about. By now, I’m sure you have realised that freedom is an awesome ideal and an excellent slogan. It is also a lovely feeling. I should know. I grew up enjoying mine at the expense of yours. And there’s no need to thank anyone for your freedom. You never owe anyone anything for your own rights.

Freedom goes well on T-shirts, posters and sells loads of books, paintings, airline tickets, hotel rooms and seats in stadiums. Freedom has even been known to cause dancing … it is good for the soul … well, at least until the rumblings in your belly begin, until your mind begins to grasp the full implications …

You see, freedom has never fed a family, it has never healed a disease, nor employed anyone … it has never paid the rent, nor kept your children safe. It is a higher ideal and worthy of pursuit — but ask a man on a mine today if freedom is at the top of his Christmas list?

You may find some people are prepared to exchange bits of their freedom — for carbohydrates, protein and antibiotics, for a place to stay dry, for a promise that going back down there will be worth it.

I am not writing this letter to say that freedom is not important — it’s a fundamental human right — but something we seek in ADDITION to, not INSTEAD of … and also to tell you that those who brokered your freedom are now presenting you with the invoices … and you need to take charge. Now that we have the beginning of a decent nation, our work has just begun.

You, the ones who are not rich on freedom, but have had some benefits: freedom to move, freedom to learn, freedom to associate, freedom to think, freedom to work and freedom to speak. “These Blacks”, there are more of you equipped to build a future than ever before … you are smart, you are “plug and playing” in the global village, and you want what I do — a life where we treat each other fairly and align our strengths to create a better class of South African.

I know poor old Whitey feels he has been left at the table, holding the bill, while “These Blacks” run off. And in many ways he should pay, as he has been at this table a long time, and was served by “These Blacks”. He grew fat and lazy and greedy on meals served by your parents. He paid them badly and beat them if he caught them pocketing the scraps.

We need to remember that this restaurant was run on cheap labour and serviced a tiny portion of diners. The mathematics won’t support everyone gorging themselves. These days the fat cats look like all of us. We achieve nothing if we simply swap one lot of pigs for another.

Oh, “These Blacks”, now that Madiba’s gift is less shiny and your former heroes are turning on each other, you need to take extra care, just know that we are many brothers and sisters at your side, we are eager to share the work, and face these vultures with you.

All the best


Tags: , , ,

  • The Place of Sara Baartman at UCT
  • Some Remarks On A ‘Good’ University
  • Reflections on my life on Robben Island
  • Are South Africans really all capitalists at heart?
    • russell

      Bravo John. Well said.

    • Lennon

      As more of “These Blacks” join “Whitey” at the table, profits should increase thus enabling more of “These Blacks” to come to the party and dine on an ever expanding menu. A wonderful future of good food and good company methinks.

      Now if we could just get management to stop diddling the books as the previous proprietors did, things would be peachy.

    • Granny Weatherwax

      John, you have concisely and rather poetically expressed what so many feel – thank you!

      I particularly like “I am not a fan of the Old Testament: a God that smites innocent women and children, hates gay people and justifies the owning of slaves goes against what I look for in an unending source of love. The New Testament sits a little easier with me, but has been so hacked and spliced that calling it the word of God is like calling a Big Mac a cow. And if I am ever called before said God, I am quite prepared to stand and argue my case. I am pretty sure that if God is half the man they say he is, he’ll take a minute to hear me out.” At last, a precis of what I believe!

      But perhaps the most important sentence: “just know that we are many brothers and sisters at your side, we are eager to share the work, and face these vultures with you.” As a ‘whitey’ struggling with her place and purpose in the ‘new’ South Africa, this perhaps should be in BOLD.

      For some of us, when we criticise the president, we do so not because he is ‘black’, but because he is corrupt. We love South Africa, we want to help build an equal and prosperous society, and we want to use the skills and benefits we have (yes, achieved under and because of Apartheid) to do this. Being told we cannot be part of the solution because we are ‘white’ is crushing. Many of us have everything invested in this country – our hearts, our families, our futures. We want to play our part, too!

    • Sean

      I am quite surprised by how much of this article I associate with, but I must say that your warm fuzzy invitation to build a future together is very naive and idealistic and ignores the natural human tendency to look after ourselves when the opportunity arises rather than working towards the greater good.

      Arguably mans greatest failing and a good part of what is wrong in SA and much of the rest of the world today.

      It would be great if we were all so idealistic and naive as the world would be a fantastic place, but people who seek power are hardly ever naive and idealistic, so we will always be led by people who will abuse the priveledge if allowed. The only solution is to have checks and balances in place and independent organisations with the power to maintain them.

      Appealing to the good in our leaders is a bit of a waste of time.

    • Dave Harris

      I enjoyed reading this!! Your analogies are right on the money 😉

      Describing apartheid as toxic with a half-life EXACTLY describes the wake of the destruction it still wreaks on our society. Whitey somehow doesn’t think he has to pay the bill or clean dishes in lieu! Therein lies our problem.

      Note how Lennon disingenuously tries to deflect by point fingers at other “rich” blacks, instead taking responsibility. This self-destructive tactic is now peddled by the DA and its media mafia as the cause of all our problems.

    • carlos

      very interesting and hilarious,refreshing,keep it up man

    • Trevor Winer

      I am sending your article to everybody I know. You said it all!

    • http://- Yvonne Marais

      Shame! must have had a terribly pampered childhood!So glad we did not -had to WORK for everything and anything.Still do!

    • Kgosi

      Lovely piece, it is always interesting to hear or read a well observed position of ‘white’ in our society, because many merely parrot out what they have heard their peers and parents speak. For a very long time the black person has had to carry the weight of white imposed race; a race which has at some points in history deprived him of his humanity, a race which later deprived her of her home, and race that now deprives her of her equal right to every opportunity that exists not just in our society but the world at large.

      Perhaps, we need more people like you who [I assume based on this piece] are aware of the contribution white people have made towards the black individual’s social position, and how the state South Africa is in today is the manifestation of a deeply historical inertia that plays itself out in the most destructive of ways. White people must understand that black-centric policies aren’t there to displace and marginalize the white S.African, but that it is a means of playing catch up. when the ‘Whitey’ realises that he is not the victim, he will begin to find a place and an important role in the re-construction of this society. The ‘Whitey’ must give up some of his power and privilege if he wishes to be an equal in this teething society. I think sometimes ‘Whitey’ forgets the forgiving capacity that ‘These Blacks’ demonstrated; the fact that you have access to such a platform is testimony this. This is a good piece well done.

    • Wilberforce

      John, ‘Now we have the beginning of a decent nation’ ?. Keep taking dem pills!!

    • The Critical Cynic

      “He didn’t realise that Whitey is a collective term for a mindset, not a colour”

      My friends and I used to use the K word in much the same way to describe the mindset of the people upholding and defending the apartheid system. We seldom use it now that we understand how offensive it was to those who didn’t understand our context, but ‘back in the day’ I can remember black people also understood that context when we described their apartheid ‘masters’ in those derogatory terms.

      @Lennon – the best way to stop management diddling the books will be to replace them. Methinks the current management is incorrigable.

      @John – so much said so succinctly, bravo! I recall my father telling me that his mother, who was a maid to the English aristocracy, came to a similar realisation after the so-called emancipation of the English working class. She maintained that the people had traded their security for this ‘freedom’. I’m guessing that the poor, unemployed, and downtrodden masses in SA are probably feeling similar as their freedom was meant to add to their security not subtract from it.

      I think your line “Heritage is a lazy way to let people rule from the grave and avoid doing the work ourselves.” is a classic that will be completely ignored by the step backwards move to restore trabalism to rural SA.

    • Guinness Holic

      People who say they do not judge are not just liars they’re cowards, giving themselves a get-out-of-an-argument free card. It’s gutless.

      Until we as humans denounce bad cultural practices: de-clitoring innocent girls, chopping foreskins with rusty blades and blaming colonialists for your lot in life (See? Your belief that the dead should have no sway works against you), we condemn ourselves and our fellow man to a life of acceptance, and NOT one of improvement.

      The British abolished the practice of Sati in India when they colonised it, denouncing it as savage and having no place in the world, and they were right. And India – to it’s credit – accepted it and I’m sure 100’s of millions of widows have been thankful ever since.

      But what of ‘These Blacks’? Should they be molly-coddled, excused and patted on the head when they deserve criticism? What makes them so special? And of what service do you do them when you continually excuse the most horrid of acts or neglect, by NOT correcting them? Do they not at least have the right to be treated as grown-ups, and held to the same standards as the rest of us, or would you simply prefer taking the easy, yellow route?

      Low productivity, casual acceptance of criminal acts against whites and base savage behaviour deserve to be corrected, but it won’t be while we have Vlismas en kie finding excuses for them, or blaming whites for not being more understanding.

      And no, I don’t blame Apartheid, I blame NuSAns of today.

    • Mila22

      John, your views are the opposite of ‘barbaric'; this piece reads like a good, rich chocolate mousse to my senses. What a treat, and departure from the common fare of vitriol-thinking. Thank you.

    • JadedJawz

      @john: nice read. I especially like your 4th last paragraph. “… a life where we treat each other fairly and align our strengths to create a better class of South African.” Had this discussion recently with a bunch of friends, and we all came to the same agreement. We want to align ourselves with like-minded individuals as you describe, to build a better country; from personal experience though, we inevitably dismiss most “white” opinions because of the reality. This country speaks of “mutual respect” which should read “blacky respect whitey”. I find it increasingly difficult to engage with my white counterparts (even guys i considered best mates since childhood) as everyday it becomes increasingly obvious there is no mutual respect. Most whites can’t even greet in a black language. when you engage, it has to be on THEIR terms. They have no concept of black culture, beyond what they were taught (by non-blacks). Take Guiness’ comments about rusty blades and circumcision or, de-clitoring of innocent girls. In most SA cultures this is unacceptable. But the myth is out there: blacks get circumcised (and should the sentence end here, it would be hard to criticise) with a rusty blade (that last bit adds some other flavour doesn’t it; never mind that it’s bs in it’s purest form). How does a black man/woman honestly engage with their white counterpart, when that counterpart doesn’t even have the faintest, honest idea of what black culture is from a black perspective?…

    • JadedJawz

      ..Continued.. And this attitude, is not lost on us either. Western culture has been pushed on non whites for a long time, so blacks certainly have a better understanding of western culture, than whites do of African culture. And I’m not debating whether that’s a bad or good thing. I can think of reasons for both. But it’s hard not to pick up on the “white is right” attitude, simply because we don’t shout on white platforms our disdain of certain acts. We do, within our communities, but it’s very rare to find whites engaging blacks on a black platform/perspective. Most don’t know how, most have never even tried. Most approach it from past experience, which is, why should i? when has my opinion ever mattered? And deep down, we actually hope you don’t criticise our president because he’s black, but it’s hard to believe that, when your everyday experiences shout different. It’s not a chip on the shoulder, it’s real. When you hear “Those people” when criticising a black individual’s behaviour but “That guy” when criticising a white individual’s behaviour. That’s not lost on us either. I truly love and agree with your article above; but I find myself asking at what point can I start expecting my counterparts to honestly start engaging? the onus is always on us. speak their languages. set your respect-o-meter to their bar. use their platforms to speak out. they will set what’s acceptable and not. They will inform what’s a strength and a weakness. It seems that…

    • Lennon

      @ Kgosi: “…a race which has at some points in history deprived him of his humanity…”

      I would say that this applies more to “Whitey” since his humanity would have had to have been shredded in order to carry out such inhumane acts against other human beings. I think that “the forgiving capacity that ‘These Blacks’” have also demonstrates that they didn’t lose their humanity even in the face of such tremendous adversity.

    • Jack Sparrow

      I suppose it’s ironic when Thoughts and articles on the real problems assailing South Africa like unemployment, lack of service delivery, investment, violent strikes, corruption and incompetence generate 20 or so comments but every race based article trotted out gets two or three times that. Maybe we are fixated on race by ongoing indoctrination and ignore the real and more difficult issues. Vlismas, like many comedians, is not slow to jump on the band wagon and off we go. Does anything useful or even factual come out? I don’t think so. SA is still in the mire and squealing about race ain’t going to move us forward.

      SA proves that adage coined about Africa: “Good people, bad leaders”. Unfortunately that includes many Thought Leaders, like this one and most of those about race issues.

    • Grace Berton

      YOU ROCK!!!!!!

      Thanks so much for being one of those that knows just how to say what most of us just pray about……. whether it’s in your comedy or blog. Blessings in abundance to you and yours!! There’s hope for our children with teachers like you around!!

    • TumiM

      @jadedjaws… On point. This article is interesting and has some ‘nice ideas’… But the issue is, on whose terms should our ‘new’ nation be created, who sets the rules about what’s right and wrong to believe in?? I criticize the President all the time with my Black counterparts, but find myself wanting to defend him in front of those “white is right” whiteys… Freedom may not feed our people, but it’s hard to think that I would ever want to Kou Tou to western ideals of what I should believe in, and how I should act. Respect should be mutual…

    • Benzo

      @TumiM:…”But the issue is, on whose terms should our ‘new’ nation be created, who sets the rules about what’s right and wrong to believe in?? I criticize the President all the time with my Black counterparts, but find myself wanting to defend him in front of those “white is right” whiteys…….”

      As a European import of several decades, I am -like you- waiting for the answer to your question: on whose terms to create this new nation. I would have hoped that a 90% majority would have come up with a model, acceptable to the remaining whiteys to live in harmony. Instead, I see a ruling party in tatters by infighting, lies and other unsavory practices, many of those in principle unacceptable to me. Then I bow my head in acceptance, saying “TIA” and live on, making the best of it.

      Standing up and simply query (not protesting or commenting) with the best intentions to try and understand, I will soon be labelled “the racist”, which I am certainly not. “Acceptance” is the word. When asked, I will contribute my ideas whole heartedly but…from my background, both here and in the past, cause that is the only thing I have to contribute.

      Watching the ANC show of the week, I feel partly sad, partly amused and partly looking forward to a surprise Christmas package, well beyond my simple mix of European and African expectations.

    • Blogroid

      Allow me to add Bravo to Russell’s: the openings commentator’s.

      I would humbly suggest this as the “thoughtleader blog of the year”.

      No wonder you had to be a comedian… what glorious irony.

      Thank you.

    • Sean

      John, I went to school with a John Vlismas, were you at Parktown Boys matriculating in 87 ?

    • Judith

      Great article as usual John – thank you

    • Dillon

      I dont know where to begin my praise of this piece. I love the practical and logical angle. I love the unapologetic nature to most views expressed. I love it when people stand for something, irrespective of what it is. There is value in this kind of conviction.

      Well Done John. This kind of outlook is exactly the antidote to the virus that has been consuming us for so long in this country. And its has never been rocket science: If you make a mistake, you apologies and endevour to set it right and not repeat it. You ensure you kids do not fall in this same trap and you leave this earth having made a positive impact.

      And quite simply: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    • PinkiD

      Ha!……Ha!……. I never thought I could ever read anything so in this country. Just love it. Thank you John, we need this.

    • Bovril24

      To say, I didn’t think you had it in you, may sound as a criticism – but it’s not – it’s congratulations for a brilliant piece that seems already to have stirred slumberers from the past.