Join the fray!

Wed Mar 29, 2006

I am extremely grateful to my good friend in the U.K, Adam, who sent me a delightful critique of my article. I reprint it here (edited for content) including my follow-up, without his kind permission, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. I invite other South Africans to share their opinion on the issue!

Adam wrote:

Seems to be written (very well I might say) for an academic audience of Liberals. That would be my conservative tendencies coming through (possibly fostered in the politically right wing climate in which we grew up, but tempered in my experiences since). Not something I’m ashamed of either - I take pride in it, especially after being witness to the disastrous effects of a liberal ideology on this country’s education system!

I would certainly not wish to be cynical or jaded by our experiences, but you paint a rather perfect picture of something which is even today (12 years after democracy) still far from perfect. ‘Colour fell away’? - this is just as much an issue in SA today as it was then! Some would say more so, as a society tries to come to terms with itself, the present regime’s social engineering, political correctness and a ‘corrected’ view of History. And I am talking specifically about the classroom environment from my experiences of teaching there as recently as 2003.

As for my part, I certainly have never felt any ‘hot shame’ - that would be a pointless regret, especially as we were not even of voting age during any stage of the Apartheid years. That doesn’t mean to say that I would have voted for the NP. No. Perhaps you could clarify who you mean by ‘us’? What about shame for leaving? Do you ever feel any of that?”

My reply:

In my defence, the article was never intended to be more than a puff piece. At the very least I wanted Canadians to realize that racism is not a black/white issue. I wanted to illustrate through my own experience that racism sits in a socio-political context and that it is a dynamic and three-dimensional issue, so dynamic that I am not ashamed to have once been ‘racist’ in the technical sense of the term. Yes, I skirted issues, yes it was intellectually flaccid and was not supported by any research whatsoever. However this article was anecdotal only and thus you can forgive me for the numerous oversights. Also, you are entirely correct in assuming it was written for an entirely liberal audience. Perhaps it was the gay couple making out on the front page that gave it away? I was very sensitive to the fact that I had to oversimplify and omit certain facts in order to be overly positive and to fit within the format and rhetoric of the magazine. I freely admit this.

And now to concede some points to you.

I would certainly not wish to be cynical or jaded by our experiences, but you paint a rather perfect picture of something which is even today (12 years after democracy) still far from perfect. ‘Colour fell away’? - this is just as much an issue in SA today as it was then!

Point conceded. You have experience with this, whereas I do not, so I concede that implying racism is no longer an issue is not only erroneous, but a gross simplification of a complex dynamic. However, implying racism is still rampant in South Africa, or perhaps even worse, runs counter to the tone of my article. Saying “colour fell away” may be sentimental and trite, but is just so poetic! Remember, from my point of view, open interaction between the races was a vast improvement over segregation in the post 1994 era.

As for my part, I certainly have never felt any ‘hot shame’ - that would be a pointless regret, especially as we were not even of voting age during any stage of the Apartheid years.

Point conceded. I too, do not wake up every morning filled with guilt for being even remotely connected with the politics of oppression. That would indeed be pointless.

Perhaps you could clarify who you mean by ‘us’?

Ah, the crux of the matter. By ‘us’, I refer to the collective consciousness of post-apartheid South Africa. By this I mean all the self-reflexive post-modernist literature out there which proves a “hot shame” does exist. Or at least exists on paper. Think of J.M. Coetzee’s superlative “Disgrace”. The metaphor of the sacrificial rape of a nation and the almost benign acceptance of a rapist’s child. Think of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yes, I admit there was a telling lack of interest in these proceedings by the South African public, but in the international arena, we are almost compelled to bear a yoke of some sort. We are expected to feel shame, even if individually we do not, and thus it must become part of the collective consciousness.

What about shame for leaving? Do you ever feel any of that?

If I believed for one second that staying in South Africa would have been beneficial for the country or myself, then yes I would. I do not, however, believe this at all. I am not that idealistic. I don’t believe I could have had any say in a “rebuilding process” because I had no power in that regard, especially as a young punk fresh out of high school. I am painfully aware that a prosperous and “developed” country like Canada is built on inequity and exploitation but I cannot deny that I love living here. I am grateful to live in a place of such peace and beauty and I feel no shame in it. I suspect you too share these sentiments living in the country that started all that colonial BS in the first place.



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