Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

Black story, white lens

Thapelo Tselapedi recently wrote about how “black stories are in the form of service delivery protests, which are characterised by angry mobs stealing electricity, invading lands and tossing poo”. He goes on to share many other ways in which black stories are warped and twisted, noting that: “Such stories don’t engage black politics in any meaningful way — they are not written nor seen through black people’s experiences. Any meaningful engagement is left to artists like Simphiwe Dana, Thandiswa Mazwai and critical theatre performances, which are relegated to cultural spaces while the content of their work is not adequately engaged in mainstream debates — a space which black experiences have yet to stand on their own without being viewed as radical or angry, also as if primitive forms of expression are the only mediums through black people channel their dissatisfaction with the system.”

Tselapedi’s analysis is evidenced to be spot-on by this distasteful Mail & Guardian piece, “Love of rugby trumps racial stereotypes”, which celebrates the dehumanisation of black people by highlighting the nobleness of black learners who “answer racist taunts on the field with points on the board”. The article romanticises the racism surrounding the black rugby players at Hoërskool Ben Vorster, completely ignoring the historic oppression undergone by black people and the continuing demeaning of our persons through the use of that word.

Nowhere in the piece are racists called out and chastised for their deplorable behaviour. Instead, effort is made to point out that some of the black learners are there because members of the “traditional school community offer a ‘helping hand’ ”. That they are assisting some of the learners should not be used to suggest that condoning racism is acceptable, which the writer seems to be doing.

While some may argue that the parents of the black learners being so abused are okay with it, I would argue that it’s evidence of the inequality of our country. Choices do not happen in a vacuum, especially for us of the black working class. And having to choose between one’s child getting a chance at a better education and furthering their talent or getting it and being subjected to such dehumanisation is not a choice anyone should think is acceptable to make.

In a country such as ours, where racial oppression and segregation were entrenched into everyday life in the most horrific of ways, racism should never ever be made to seem okay or more acceptable under any circumstances. Lest we forget, this system led to the deliberate underdevelopment of black communities; the dispossession of people from their land and in turn housing, and discrimination in the quality of all basic rights and services including healthcare, education and social security. It led to mass murders and unspeakable torture for black people. I will never in this post be able to adequately describe the full horror of it all — horror which continues to follow many till today.

Any critique of media in South Africa is often met with a response about the role of the media in furthering democracy and the entire issue of the right to know. This is a role that cannot be denied and one that is extremely important. However, this also points out to a notable flaw in the question of the right to know. While it is without a doubt a fundamental right, it cannot be adequately furthered outside of constant critical analysis of WHAT it is WHO wants us to know.

Now, I am a black woman, mother of two precious black children and sister to two black brothers. Every community, in which I have lived — informal settlement or township — is made up entirely of black people. So my own blackness and that in the world around me, makes up a fundamental part of my world — how I experience it and my understanding of it. I personally would never want my children, my brothers and community knowing that acceptance of our dehumanisation is in any way “heroic” or “noble”.

As Tselapedi rightly notes “ours is a legacy sharply moulded by racial superiority, racial inferiority and class oppression. It must be confronted” and this will not happen as long as the story of South Africa continues to be seen through a white lens — a lens that excludes the majority of the country’s citizens.

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