White guilt, Coloured faith

What is this "vock"?

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.

  • Boerseun.Z.A.R

    McKaiser might be the new Benny X or J.R from Pollsmoor..

  • Gods-princess121

    Dear Mr Roodt,

    I read your commentary as well as Mr McKaiser’s column on the language of whiteness and from what I gather you simply misunderstood the piece, much like most, if not all the people who commented on what Mr McKaiser was saying,you were quick to judge (more like jumped the gun).

    As far as I’m concerned what he was referring to was more than the literal language of
    “blackness” or “whiteness” any first year student in the humanities faculty could have told you that- but rather a shared meaning . It’s the way in which we communicate. In other words it’s not WHAT we say (“bru”, “shap”, “oke”,*fist pump* ,*claps one* etc ) but how and when we say it, and how it should not be a: “to who we say it” situation because all South Africans should be speaking the same “language” and understand it without further explainations (again I use the word language assuming by now you’ve gotten my point- a shared meaning that goes across all cultures and race. I guess much like a high five) .

    You see as a student,which I am at one of our country’s more liberal tertiary institutions, I’d like see your reaction to his commentary as what “the spear” (actual painting) was to the untrained eye- taken out of context it became an offensive painting of our president to the majority of uneducated South African loyalists. But from an artistic point of view it was an artwork a small percentage of our country would have understood as a representation of our presidents masculinity yet vulnerability etc (you see where I’m going with this). To someone who clearly hasn’t seen the interaction and constant mingling of cultures between both race and culture of today’s young adults on a daily basis you wouldn’t understand what Eusibius’s point is and you clearly saw his commentary as a personal attack on the “white” race for not having learnt any “native” languages which it wasn’t, (see the parallel with controversial “spear” here?) . Yet another example (trying to break this up as much as I can so please stay with me on this one) would be the recent varsity confessions taking place on Facebook. In fact a perfect example would be how a “white student”(we will call him student 1) commented on another students confession(student 2) who’d relayed his experience of brief student poverty and how his (student 2’s) desperation to get drunk lead to him and a friend drinking water instead of Vodka out of shot glasses and then acting drunk- the student responded “oh the struggle” (I’m hoping I don’t need to explain the reference of the word “struggle” in South African context and the reclaiming of it by a younger generation,both black and white, South Africans who have subverted its meaning and now use it as an ironic word?) In this instance the “white” student learnt and used the language of blackness as historically the word s “the struggle” are more identifiable to black people, at least it is in this country for some strange reason, however, I digress that is a topic for another day. What I’m trying to say is- the only race baiting that took place was the comments that followed his piece. Eusebius did his part by explaining to a “mature” audience his idea of what was previously identified as radicalized language which has now become shared and common looks like and how its used on a daily basis by many South Africans across racial,cultural and linguistic divides, of which the majority of readers (white, I might add) took offence and started firing the loaded gun -with blank bullets. The piece was never about white guilt, it was never about pointing fingers to who knows who’s native and first language BUT you do know what they say don’t you about how- “if the shoe fits…”.The column was simply an explanation and hopefully clarification as to what *claps once* meant and how it fit into our country in terms of a means to communicate and how this whole mix up(offence taken by DA supporters/officials) should not have happened in the first place because we should all be familiar with the way of communication (be it in language of “blackness” or “whiteness”) of our country as a people with a shared culture.I hope you finally get what I mean.

    Which brings to my last point.

    What disappoints me most about your generation is that we’re supposed to be learning from you how to make this beautiful country work, instead of wishing you’d die already so that your stupid ideas of race and stereotypes and uber sensitivity could go with you. So that we can eventually get out of the damn dessert- I’ve had just about enough of this 40 years and being a wondering Isrealite already. Looking forward to the land of milk and honey.

    P.S – not that it should matter but apparently it does in our beloved country I’m a black female whose mother tongue is isiXhosa and third language is Afrikaans, but am proud to say that I’m fluent in South African

    YOU’RE WELCOME :)

    • Moor

      M’am, I am a pretty liberal sort of chap (came across this blog by accident, but will bookmark it) and would like to respond.

      Without wishing to offend, I must say that I have never found anything in modern African culture which is of any value to me or, in fact, to any black for that matter. There is nothing there. It is all bling, ostentation and victimhood. Shallow, false and hypocritical.

      Remember I did say “modern African culture”, as epitomised by those loud, jovial, back slapping, Blue drinking, guffawing tenderpreneurs who gather at overpriced clubs and hotels with their paid-for consorts.

      My hat goes off to those hard working Black mothers who slave to educate their children to a level denied themselves. I only hope that access to university will enable and educate those children to accept the morals and ethics lauded since ancient Greek times and not “modern African culture”

      M’am, which culture you accept is your choice.

      • Boerseun.Z.A.R

        Moor,we white europeans are wrong in my opinion to expect the black africans to accept the ways of the white man and the children of Hellas.

        • Die Vader

          you confuse me by referring to yourself a european.but your user name boerseunZAR.i thought you were an Afrikaaner.yes a descendent of europe, but an Afrikaaner!please enlighten me

          • Boerseun.Z.A.R

            You and me are both children of Hellas.

  • Boerseun.Z.A.R

    @ Gods Princess
    The fact that you are at one of the countries liberal tertiary institutions speaks volumes to me.Enjoy.

  • Amanda

    I have not read the article of Mr Mckeiser and thus can not comment on that however I would like to add my thoughts on this article. I do agree that blacks and whites should take time to read up on each others history, at the end of day we are living in the same country and a mutual understanding of each others background will do us all a world of good. Personally I also read up on other cultures in the world and from that I have a rather good understanding of other cultures just besides my own.

    • Moor

      Amanda, read black history, there are many great books on it which read as easily as novels. Stirring stuff, great wars, huge human tragedies, internicene struggles and back stabbing.
      None of it really of world interest except where the interfaced with the Brits, Voortrekkers or capitalism.

    • http://www.praag.co.za/ Dan Roodt

      I neglected to put the link to McKaisers’s column up above, given that it is in Sam Britten’s piece, but here it is:

      http://www.iol.co.za/the-star/the-unbearable-whiteness-of-being-1.1529686#.UbXZbJXaTZs

  • Picadilly Circus

    Oh dear Dan Roodt, you simply just don’t get it, do you? I am not sure what kind of denial you are in but you really can’t seem to reflect critically on your own priviledge. Sorry that race talk upsets you so much and that you feel so uncomfortable by it. The reality is that the white minority still carries the social capital in South Africa and many white SA’s are still so ignorant about their own privilege and whiteness that continue to entrench racism. You only doing white people a disservice with what you are saying and allow probably, most whites to wallow in their self pity rather than taking real responsibility. So Mr Roodt, I think you need a reality check before you open your mouth and perhaps you need to be a bit more self critical rather than so self indulgent. Please start taking responsibility, read Pierre De vos on being white and feeling ashamed http://constitutionallyspeaking.co.za/on-being-white-and-feeling-ashamed/

  • Yashveer Jhugroo

    ok