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Prejudice, racism and entertainment

“South Africans here in New Zealand have a reputation for being aggressive — especially the Afrikaners,” groaned Mark, a fellow English-speaking South African, over a beer.

“Why Afrikaners?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. “They arrive here with a huge chip on their shoulder, walk into our workshop demanding a WOF for their car and demanding everything, insisting they get served straight away.” “They can be bloody rude,” another (also English-speaking) “Saffer” chimed in, “insulting Kiwis in Afrikaans, talking behind their backs”.

The apparent aggression of South Africans is a comment I often hear in New Zealand. This time it was at a braai, I mean a barbeque, except now Mark and his other ex-South African mates were averring that it was Afrikaners that gave other Saffers a bad name. “And then there’s still the odd Afrikaner around who even now has the old SA flag above their house. They are very cliquey and don’t let anyone else in, which pisses off people here,” finished off Mark with relish, swigging back a Tui.

I shuddered a bit. I didn’t like what I was hearing, and thought of the friends I had made in SA who also just happened to be Afrikaners: their hospitality and humour. Surely it wasn’t just the Afrikaners, but English speakers as well? I thought of the road rage in SA, especially in Joburg, and did not miss it one bit.

Yes, too many of us Saffers can be very aggressive. I feel it is from living on the edge all the time, from being products of a violent society, from living in “cluster homes” with high walls and electrical fencing and so forth, and from being so uncertain about the future.

Perhaps putting stuff like the above on Facebook is not a good idea for your “image”. Maybe it is a good idea, as it is the raw truth, showing the “real” persona of the writer, not a packaged article that is designed and sanitised for a specific market. But the next morning I happened to read an article tweeted to me about a moerse brawl between Afrikaners in a pub/restaurant in Pretoria. Both parties laid charges of assault against each other. And it all started because there were not enough chicken strips on the blerry pizza.

One skattie even (apparently) gave the bar owner a snot klap. Hell, I thought, wish I could have been there, just a fly on the wall. So I Facebooked the article along with the seemingly innocuous remark: “And Afrikaners unfortunately have a bad reputation for being very aggressive in New Zealand, giving other South Africans a bad name … ”

Well! Most of my friends and my “friends” on Facebook who responded (the latter being purely online acquaintances) took fiery exception to my post. I was rightly accused of generalising, of using ONE incident to support the argument that all Afrikaners are aggressive. My mistake was not to contextualise my remark: that it is a common perception in New Zealand that we South Africans are bloody aggro, and that English-speaking Saffers in Kiwi land seem to argue it is only the Afrikaners. Hey guys, I remonstrated, I am only delivering the message, so please don’t shoot the messenger.

Eventually friends and “friends” made peace with me (very good friends have the right to be very blunt with you about flaws in your otherwise winning personality). One old friend signed off saying that after our fight she felt, and I quote “ … replete! xxx”.

The online brawl about my prejudice had been entertainment, an interesting, even obsessive, distraction (which is 90% what Facebook is all about). Prejudice, in all its forms, including racism, is online entertainment. Heck, just look at the blogs on Thought Leader alone: anything to do with racism or so-called “vile white practices” have relatively massive hits. This is because people are entertained by prejudice in all its manifestations, including, of course, racism in South Africa.

By “reducing” racism and other beasties to entertainment, an interesting subversion occurs. We relish that which we should be appalled by, that which we should find horrific, repugnant. Don’t believe me? All too often we can’t see the wood for the forests. Look at the obsession with horror movies, violent movies, zombie movies (the last my absolute worst) or endless computer games to do with the slaughter of Iraqis or Americans or … and how did slice and dice directors like Quentin Tarantino rise to fame?

Julius Malema, a scary, enormously prejudiced character if there ever was one, was massively entertaining. Simultaneously, for many the thought of “Julius Seizure” gaining truly substantial power in SA was nightmarish. That was before his demise.

Prejudice is rife and extremely enjoyable.

Many years ago I went through a “church-going” phase and was sometimes, as were many others, looked down upon by “fellow” Christians because I still drank, smoked and helplessly noticed enticing women. Church goers lectured me and told me I needed to keep my eyes on Jesus. I used the words “Good God” a lot and “fellow” Christians implored me and others not to use that word as it was blasphemy (?) and it hurt them.

Hurt them? Well, let me tell you now: deep down inside, that kind of Christian thoroughly enjoyed accusing me and others. They relished their feelings of prejudice towards my unholy behaviour. It’s Psychology 101, projecting one’s own issues onto others. It’s so much easier than having to deal with one’s own “stuff”. Just find scapegoats. There’s always plenty.

What is sometimes more personally satisfying than pointing out that someone else is a bloody racist or that all Afrikaners are aggro or that YOU are being judgemental? The earnestness with which people enjoy our finger-pointing recreation (especially safe, online slacktivism and clicktivism) reminds me of a remark attributed to Benjamin Disraeli: “What is earnest is not always true; on the contrary, error is often more earnest than truth.”