Tony Grant
Tony Grant

White man’s blues

Mr Vincent Maher: Sir, this letter is my response to your blog entitled “Thought Leader and racial/ gender representation“.

The first trick in the book (as far as I understand) is that you’ve got to have something to say, and that I personally believe is what you’ve been overlooking when you ask: “Do you perceive it (the fact that 70% of Thought Leader‘s contributors are white males) as a problem?”

My favourite current columnist in South Africa is a black woman by the name of Mohau Peko. She writes for the Sunday Times. I know nothing about her, but I like the way that she makes a clear point, and especially the fact that she actually has a point — she has something to say. Also, her writing (in my opinion) is distilled, to the point where it is almost completely devoid of bullshit.

I appreciate that, as I struggle to exorcise bullshit from my own writing. Also, when I read her, I do not feel that her words and ideas are dressed by Stoned Cherry, like the voices of so many black South African women today — I feel that they are rather wearing a sari and leather sandals, and, well, I like that. It seems that she never takes to the soapbox; rather, she takes the stage, even when she protests. I enjoy reading her dignity, and her unpretentious individuality.

Now when it comes to yours truly’s writing, well, I have never attempted to write professionally. I am a salesman who just happens to enjoy reading and writing. I entertain no illusions that my handful of blog entries to date amount to anything more than just singing the blues, but I’m OK with that: I like the blues. I do believe, though, that I also, like Mohau, have something to say — and that, for me, is what really matters! I make mention of myself for the reason that I fit into that categorised 70%.

It is my understanding that the best writing is always born of “suffering”, and that this suffering could be anything from extreme poverty to fiscal insecurity. Is it not the suffering that gives the writer something to say? Who has ever heard of an artist who has not suffered in some way? Some crazies such as George Orwell and Henry Miller have even chosen to suffer on purpose in order to find something to say.

Would the Israelites ever have produced the Torah or Talmud had they not been enslaved by the Egyptians and the Babylonians? Is women’s literature in general not a reaction to chauvinism? What about Irish journalism in the 1970s?

Does the entire culture of popular music not owe its very existence to the blues, which was sort of the blogging of the slaves (little stories, thoughts, pieces of information, the asking of questions, the striving to understand things, protests and so on, exchanged in an informal sort of way) in the southern US? Slaves had a lot to say!

The best letter I ever wrote was when I was locked up in a Germiston jail over the weekend for shop-lifting. I smuggled a pen into the cells and I wrote it on the back of two Stuyvesant 30s packets. It was supposed to be the first draft of my statement, but it was so good that on reading it my legal-aid attorney (whom I’d only just met) got me off of all charges (including resisting arrest) without a record or even a fine. The letter was so good, I imagine, because at that moment, I really did have something to say!

People don’t write for you because you’ve got the numbers straight, or because you’re working the distribution of politically correct racial or gender representation; sometimes people don’t even write for you because you pay them. People write because they need to. They may be good, they may be bad; but that’s why they do it. The American business philosopher and motivational writer Tom Peters once wrote: “Businesses don’t work, people do.”

And now for the two-part bullshit bit that I can’t exorcise because they are my questions and my point.

First question: Mr Maher, you suggest that most of the black people that were invited to blog on Thought Leader did not particularly respond positively. You also mention that they are mostly members of the elite. I am here responding by asking whether the black elite in South Africa today have got anything to say? That is my first question. Maybe if I grew up in a township, moved to the suburbs, was given preference for a good job because I was black, became basically the only race really represented in real government when previously I wasn’t, was all of the sudden sexy when previously I could never dream of being so — maybe I’d also be speechless. Maybe I’d say to myself: when you’ve got a good thing going, shut up and enjoy it. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Maybe you should find some talented poor black writers who do have something to say, and exchange computers for content with them.

Second question: I think that white men do have something to say. OK, before I start I can already hear the sighs of disinterest, and they do make me feel rather emasculated. I’m not saying that white men in South Africa are exactly suffering. There has been much talk, though (I’m sure you’ve heard) of “feeling marginalised” or “culturally sanctioned”.

White men who feel this way may well only have themselves to blame for this feeling, it’s true. The world that we are living in now is a totally different one from the one that we grew up in, and that’s enough to deal with, isn’t it? To be at the bottom of the social and political food chain doesn’t help. I don’t know. This is my five cents’ worth. This is why I am singing the blues, because I am feeling uncomfortable, nervous and paranoid (sometimes I feel like a freak): I have something to say, and I don’t think that I am the only white man who needs to blog for these reasons. Blogging for me is therapy.

Thanks for your time.