Ndumiso Ngcobo
Ndumiso Ngcobo

Of racists, kaffirs and coconuts (part one)

It has always been my assertion that the phenomenon we call human intelligence is as real as Santa Claus, leprechauns, tokoloshes and a politician’s conscience. Yes, yes, I’m generalising, but I think it’s a fair generalisation if it is true for the rule. Bugger the exception.

One feature of human beings that illustrates this is our propensity to hold ourselves up to much higher standards than we are capable of living up to — and then we spend inordinate amounts of energy beating ourselves up over our inevitable failure to live up to said standards. It is behaviour that almost certainly leads to deep unhappiness and misery. Recent developments in our midst have moved me sufficiently to get an uncontrollable urge to repeat an assertion I have made a few dozen times (yeah, yeah — generalising again):

1. Human beings are irrational idiots.
2. Human beings are racists.

I have always felt that these features of the human race do not need to be specifically stated. I personally just take it for granted that when I meet people, they are dumb and racist. And these two features of human existence are intricately intertwined. There is a predictable intellectual limitation associated with people who hate others because of the concentration of their skin pigment. I personally try to hate people for more rational reasons, such as whether they are arseholes or not. Yes, yes — of course you don’t think any this applies to you. This is because God, in Her infinite wisdom, blindsighted you to your own paradigmatic idiocy. It’s the same principle that makes the skunks and halitosis sufferers among us unaware of their aromas. I’m no exception either.

Granted, these are not the sort of facts that are always top of your mind. That would be like walking around all day reminding yourself that your limbs will end up on a maggot family’s dinner table as “leg of human” one day. But I’ve always assumed we were all aware of this. Or so you’d think. The history of this country since around 1652 has been one long orgy of retarded racism. In fact, a case could be made that prejudice was here long before those high-calibre occupants of the Dromedaris with impressive beards ever docked off the Cape of Good Hope. (Note: prejudice/racism = tomato/potato.)

So it is with perpetual befuddlement that I always read people’s reactions to the sporadic racial skirmishes we have from time to time. In recent times we have witnessed:

1. The head of the World Cup organising committee passionately describing someone’s actions as “behaving like a kaffir”.
2. Black journalists stretching “freedom of association” principles almost to breaking point.
3. Other black journalists taking other black journalists to task for calling them coconuts.

I call these the good times. These times give us the opportunity to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask some tough questions. When life gives you lemons, pour yourself a double gin, lemon and soda, I always say.

I take it as a personal challenge to reduce seemingly complex matters to their simplest level. But I take it as an even greater challenge to try to argue strongly from a contrarian view on any issue. You’re about to witness me dazzle you with my impressively simplistic ways.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya wrote a piece in support of Irvin Khoza that I thought was even more passionate than Khoza’s original emotional outburst. He makes a very compelling argument in defence of Khoza. Fikile essentially argues that it is the responsibility of black people to avoid behaving in a manner that will make white racists “feel vindicated” in their racism. He may well have a point. But I’m struggling to agree with him.

The basic tenet of this argument seems to be that there are certain behaviours exhibited by black people that are peculiar to them. This has to be the premise. Only black people are called “kaffirs”, right? I mean, if other races also engaged in exactly the same behaviours, it would surely be disingenious to call black people “kaffirs” when they did the same. Fair? Okay then. Let’s take a closer look at the examples Fikile cites, shall we?

1. Bantustan leaders oppressing their black subjects to please their bosses in Pretoria.
2. Black people who believe that having sex across the colour divide enhances their self-worth.
3. The Umoja creators who apparently reinforce the stereotype of the “we sing and dance when we’re happy and sing and dance when we’re sad” darkies.

I’ve been sitting here staring at these “kaffir” behaviours and I can almost feel my notorious ignorance blocking my view. I’m struggling to see it. All I can see here are universal human behaviours. What I see is:

1. Arse-lickers doing their damnedest to please their colonisers. Human history is littered with examples of people collaborating with their colonisers at the expense of their own kind. I feel kinda silly posting this link — but how many of these Nazi collaborators were kaffirs?
2. Once again, under the yoke of brutal and sustained colonisation, it is just part of the human condition to start to believe that the coloniser is superior, isn’t it? You don’t suppose that Agamemnon, the Greek goat herder from Athens, didn’t sit under a tree dreaming of Roman vagina in 150 AD, did he?
3. This would make Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola kaffirs, then, for perpetuating the whole Mafia stereotype among the Italian-Americans with the Godfather movie trilogy.

I’m always open to the possibility that my opinions are retarded and wrong. I’m wrong about things roughly 40% of the time in any case, and I could be wrong again here. But I have always just assumed that racists are people who, in the throes of their own cognitive dissonance, reject any evidence of equality in races they deem inferior and hone in on evidence that they think supports their bigotry.

The problem is not as much these negative behaviours as it is the quantum leap in logic that then leads racists to the irrational conclusion that stupidity = kaffirdom. I unfortunately have no inclination to stand on a soap box on Speaker’s Corner and pontificate due to my pathological laziness. But if I did, I’d probably join the Khoza-Fikile chorus and also shout: “Stop being dumb with all that oppressing your own people and hunting white veejayjay. It’s just dumb.” But I wouldn’t be able to come to the conclusion that this was kaffir behaviour. I’d just call it dumb behaviour.

As for Umoja reinforcing “the caricature of blacks who sing when they are happy and even when they are sad”, I don’t know. I saw the show and I liked it. Perhaps I was a bit blindsighted by the short, topless girl who was in the front row for most of the numbers. But I guess you could throw in Mbongeni Ngema’s entire career into that pot as well using the same criteria. Sarafina was just one long song-and-dance. Although once again, I can’t help but think of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s career. The people in his plays sing when they’re happy and sing when they’re sad. This is otherwise known by the term “musicals”, I think. Opera is the same — essentially telling stories (happy and tragic) through music. It just seems to me that something is amiss with the reasoning of the racist who stereotypes black people as singing-and-dancing buffoons when this is clearly a universal phenomenon. This is where I’d personally choose to expend most of my energy if I had soapbox inclinations. Or is there something different in the way that black people sing and dance?

My plan had been to tackle the Coconut Wars in this piece, but this is already 1 200 words long. I have listened to the voice of my racist readership accusing me of writing in the African oral tradition.

For my own amusement I’ll write up the coconut piece in any case. I might might not name and shame all the coconuts in the public eye. DJ Fresh should be ducking out of sight round about now. Bring on the Human Rights Commission if you want to.

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