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

John

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