White guilt, Coloured faith

by Dan Roodt

What was that T-shirt that got SAB Miller so hot under the collar? “Black labour, white guilt.” Now, even that sounds politically correct, but still the world’s second biggest beer company felt strongly enough to sue the T-shirt maker right up to the Constitutional Court.

Hence my title, by way of response to someone I encountered by chance on Twitter today, Sarah Britten, and who had offered us the latest sigh of white guilt in a blog entitled, Why white South Africans should learn the grammar of blackness. It is a case of white guilt, Coloured bad faith, for she is responding to Eusebius McKaiser, the self-styled metro man who vacillates between blackness and whiteness like a chameleon on a swaying branch. McKaiser is so confident of playing whites and blacks off against one another that he could go and work for the CIA or MI6. They could use him to promote factionalism among Arabs in the Middle East.

Sarah Britten, a wayward white gal who at one time managed to emigrate to Sydney but came right back to this cesspool of human misdemeanours, confesses to us:

:”The pervasive ignorance of the grammar of blackness is analogous to the monolingualism of English-speaking white South Africans, who expect everyone else to make an effort for them, but can’t do the same. I know this, because I am one of them, and I am trying to change. So yes, I practice my twerking. I get involved in conversations about towning with Khaya Dlanga.”

I beg to differ here. According to statistics, about fifty percent of English-speaking South Africans know enough Afrikaans to pass for bilingual, the highest percentage of any English-speaking population in the world. English white identity is a fascinating topic in itself, but I want to save that for some other occasion.

Roland Barthes or someone once said that he did not care about any other language besides his own, and one has to respect monolingualism too. The issue here, as ever, is not language but race. Eusebius McKaiser, that narcissistic Coloured who mistakes himself for “Black”, first employed the term “grammar of whiteness” in the Independent papers in The unbearable whiteness of being. I could discourse at length on the pretentiousness of that title, with its allusions to Milan Kundera and whatnot, but attention spans on the internet being what they are, I would rather skip that and get straight to the point.

I think I speak on behalf of all whites when I say we are just totally sick of all the race-baiting going on in South Africa. And all over the world, for that matter. I cannot remember the number of times some idiot on a radio station asked me a question like: “Would you let your daughter marry a black man?” and such drivel, meant to embarrass whitey on the spot. In fact, in this case McKaiser has sufficiently embarrassed Dr. Britten to offer us her sincere undertaking to “correct her racist ways”. As she states:

“In a way, to use the expression used by Eusebius, I am dabbling in the grammar of blackness. This is not about being patronising, or adopting blackface, or trying to be something I’m not (I’m decidedly white and middle class). I’m just … interested. Because here’s the thing: at the most basic level, paying attention to others — and paying attention to what they are interested in — is a way of saying that they matter.”

What is this "vock"?

The problem is, there are just too few whites and too many blacks to practise this form of courtesy in any meaningful way. And blacks would never reciprocate. I remember someone telling me about a black employee at the Cape Archives – inevitably an affirmative-action appointment as she knew nothing about history, archiving or anything else. The one thing about the Cape archives is that it is almost dedicated to the Dutch East Indian Company, or the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, abbreviated V.O.C. The archive is filled with documents, maps, drawings and whatever from the early part of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Cape history. Just about everywhere you look, you can see the letters V-O-C inscribed somewhere. After about a year on the job, the black “archivist” if you could honour her with such a title, asked one morning with a slight air of irritation: “What is this VOC?” pronouncing it “vock”. What is this “vock”. You bet.

None of the black celebrities strutting about on television in their flashy outfits or tweeting away every day has ever, to my knowledge, taken even a remote interest in the indigenous white culture of this country. I am not saying they must act like Afrikaner novelist and historian Karel Schoeman and spend years in the archives, in order to write dozens of books afterwards, including his latest 2 500-page magnum opus about the first fifty years at the Cape. For blacks, and more importantly, their white liberal ventriloquists who constantly feed their racial resentment, everything that happened before 1994 is simply “apartheid history” and therefore not worth knowing. Apart from the bits where blacks can claim victimhood, of course. Or rather, blacks are being prodded into moral outrage against some whites by other whites.

Admittedly, there is a kind of incongruous, fantastic quality to black life that is sometimes interesting, but then mostly in an ironic way. For example, the other day I chanced upon a Nigerian song called “Pop champagne”, celebrating the champagne culture of Lagos. Apparently, Nigerians living in shacks would spend the equivalent of 5000 rand or $500 on a bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal or Dom Pérignon. Once one starts digging into the black world, I am sure you could find lots of titillating detail like that to marvel at, but ultimately it is not very edifying to the white mind to know all of this, let alone contemplate any form of deeper meaning there.

I have the opposite feeling to Dr. Britten. It is not that blacks do not matter to us. South African whites are the kindest, most humane people on earth. But our lives have become overly cluttered with factors over which we exert no control but over which blacks hold sway, such as the litany of social and political failures that one reads about in the media. So we are under no obligation to pay blacks any more attention than they are already getting.

I much prefer delving into Karel Schoeman’s five tomes on early Cape history. Having also written extensively on Cape slavery, he has unabashedly dedicated his present series to “the white colonists”. Good for him.

Regarding Eusebius McKaiser, I hardly think that he has mastered the “grammar of whiteness”, if by that we understand European culture. My 17-year old daughter probably knows more about art history than he does and rereads Nabokov novels, as well as Afrikaans poetry. The problem with blacks and Coloureds in this country is that they have bought into a superficial kind of colonial expat culture which they imagine to represent “the white world” or “the grammar of whiteness”. They think it is a matter of speaking the right high-school English slang or driving the right brand of car. In a sense blacks have liberated all whites from hankering after expensive German cars as we now see them as the accoutrements of corruption and senseless ostentation, a bit like drinking champagne in a Lagos shack.

The Afrikaans Coloureds who are now organising themselves into the Bruinbelange-inisiatief or BBI deserve more sympathy, in reaffirming their identity, especially in the face of African discrimination against them.

But McKaiser’s brand of pseudo-intellectual race-baiting is very much passé. I wish all whites, including Sarah Britten, could see through his verbiage on blackness. He is no more black than you or me, but has made provoking white guilt his special vocation.