Archive for the ‘Race and stuff’ Category
I stumbled upon a blog that I’ll probably check out regularly from now on. It’s called Black Skeptics Group. One of the posts asks questions about the reality of being a skeptic/atheist who happens to be black — Black atheists survey.
I’ve been an ‘out’ atheist since before my 16th birthday. The Bible made me do it… So here goes with my answers to the survey:
What is your current identification (atheist, agnostic, etc.)?
I identify as an atheist but I call myself a ‘heathen’ when I’m in safe company.
What is your cultural/religious background (i.e. were you raised in a religious household)?
Our household only became religious during my high school years.
How has atheism or freethought shaped your world view as an African American?
I don’t see the relevance to race here. Being an atheist has shaped my world view and it influences how I fit into my community — I am an atheist so I don’t always feel that I fit in. Nearly everyone is religious or appears to be religious. It can get lonely but thank god for my friends who are atheist or heavily sceptical of organised religion.
As an atheist/freethinker what are some of the main issues you’re concerned with?
I’m concerned that too many atheists are still in the ‘closet’. I’m also concerned that not enough people know ‘out’ atheists so they’re surprised to find out that atheists do not eat babies…
How can atheism and/or secular humanism be promoted to appeal to larger numbers of African Americans?
I’m not sure that we should promote atheism for its own sake. (I feel kinda proud for finding atheism on my own and can’t imagine what it must be like to be an atheist by default.) I believe that religion can still play an important role in people’s lives. I would, however, promote critical thinking skills, humanism and skeptimism. Some of the best ways to ‘promote’ atheism/secular humanism is by living a good life. I know, I know, some of them [religious nutwings] suffer from confirmation bias so they’ll think that atheists who happen to be good people are flukes. That’s the problem. So the other good way to ‘promote’ atheism/secular humanism is through the media. Many of us have that power — we’re creative and can create characters that question the status quo over things such as religion. How awesome it’d be to watch a movie about a black female scholar/con artist/writer/hooligan/poet/architect who just happens to be an atheist…
If you are an “out” atheist what has your experience been with black family and community members?
It hasn’t been positive.
If you are “closeted” what are some of the main issues that keep you from revealing your “orientation”?
If you have children how have you (or will you) negotiate their upbringing with regard to organized religion? Have you had any experiences with religious folk that reflect this difficulty?
I am happily childfree.
Does religion have any role to play in African American cultural life and communities?
I presume that the writer wanted to know whether religion ‘should’ have a role in African American cultural life and communities. My answer is ‘does it matter’? If people feel the need to be religious, then let them be religious. But they should be tolerant of those who do not share their views.
On a scale of 1-5 (1=tolerant, 5=intolerant), how tolerant are you of organized religion’s role in African American cultural life and communities?
I blame old age for becoming more tolerant. I’m probably a 4 on that scale.
What are some reasons African American women should question and/or forgo organized religion?
African American/black women in particular? Christianity worships a [white] male trinity and unless their representatives have grossly deformed the message, the trinity appears to not be all that loving [of women]. I’m not even going to talk about their followers’ actions because apologists will tell me to judge the religion on its sacred text instead of its followers.
How can atheism and/or secular humanism aid African Americans in developing a moral outlook on life and the world?
We shouldn’t look to atheism for our morals. Humanism can teach us that we should be good because it’s the right thing to do, and not because we fear that we’ll burn in eternal hell if we’re bad. It’s something I realised when I was 12 years old or so…
What role does atheism have in politics? For example, are you involved in advocacy efforts or groups that address separation of church/state issues?
I am, yes. And thank god that I am a South African who benefits from our wonderful constitution that promises that separation between church and state.
What kind of visibility would you like to see from black atheists/agnostics/freethinkers in the African American community?
I want to see them everywhere. I want to see them run for president. I want to see them on school boards. I want to see them on television/youtube/blogs/twitter.
If you have traveled and/or lived in other areas have you noticed any regional differences in acceptance or “tolerance” of black atheists?
I haven’t travelled much so I can’t speak about the differences.
Have you noticed any regional differences in the numbers of black atheists who are out of the closet (more on the East Coast vs. West Coast, etc.)?
I can’t say but I guess it’d follow the familiar old pattern — urban blacks are far more likely to be atheists/freethinkers.
So just what is this alleged real racism that people are talking about? They speak of real racism as though it’s so much better than fake racism. Fake racism could be white people who dress up as Native Americans aka Injuns, for Halloween. And then Native Americans complain about it and they’re told to rather focus on ‘real racism’, which is so much more offensive. And so much more ‘real’.
Same thing with ‘real sexism’. Could it be that people who wish we could rather focus on ‘real’ instances of sexism or racism are unaware of how these bigotries actually work? Because there are too many people who claim that a remark is OK as long as it is not horrifically sexist/racist. And that we should not be offended by such ‘benign’ statements. I always wonder how they distinguish between ‘horrific’ and ‘so-so’ examples of bigotry. And this one guy claims that anecdotal evidence aint evidence. Pity he doesn’t realise that sexism is the sum of many small injustices. It becomes a pattern, as does racism. One sexist lyric/video/blog post/internet forum comment/book could still be ignored; many sexist lyrics/videos/blog posts/internet forum comments/books means it’s a state of emergency. Something’s wrong and we need to fix the system.
Sometimes, though, a member of the privileged group will acknowledge that they might not be the best ones to determine what or who is sexist or racist — for the very reason that they belong to the group with the most power. But this doesn’t happen nearly as often as should.
You see, sexism and racism are both overt and covert. Overt sexism would be job ads that specify ‘men only’. And covert sexism could be someone being idiotic — though sincere! — who claims that women are the ‘nicer’ sex. It sounds like a compliment, no? But it reveals as much about the speaker or writer as that exclusionary job ad. It’s similar to hearing that you’re so ‘pretty for a black girl‘. On the surface it sounds like a compliment. But dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that it isn’t a compliment at all — it’s racist. It’s racist because the writer or speaker is surprised to encounter such a good looking black person. So they’re experiencing some cognitive dissonance — “Hold on! How can this black person be this pretty? Aren’t blacks ugly?” And then comes the compliment: “Wow, you’re so pretty for a black girl!”
Real racism is at play even when you, liberal white man, refuses to see it. Real sexim is at play even when you, liberal woman, laughs along with the sexist jokes.
Sure, you do not think it’s racist or sexist. But it doesn’t mean that it isn’t. Real racism doesn’t just have to be a burning cross on someone’s front yard. Real sexism isn’t just sex-specific job ads. Think about it.
And let’s hope you’ll be less inclined to tell the aggrieved party that the ‘offender didn’t mean to offend’, is a ‘nice person’, and ‘couldn’t possibly be racist/sexist’. ‘Cause guess what? Their actions hurt someone else. Surely that’s bad enough?
Why should anybody want to define himself by what he is not? — William Safire
I recently received an email from Jason, one of my readers, who wanted to know what POC and WOC are. So I gave him a short explanation. And then I wrote that if he doesn’t know the terminology, I might have to do a post about the two acronymns’ meaning.
I remember my introduction to the term in 2006. I was on a date with an older guy who is a Kenyan expat. He called me a woman of colour. Something in the phrase made me uncomfortable. I have no idea what it could have been. But I didn’t like it and for that week I kept introducing myself to my friends as – “Hi, I am Joy-Mari Cloete and I am a woman of colour.” We thought it was funny.
Fastforward to 2009, only 3 years later, and I have done a 360° on this phrase. I now realise that the word black isn’t always descriptive of the majority of people in this world — many are something else: Creole, coloured, Jews, Latina/o, Indian, Native American, Aboriginal, Inuits. And the term ‘black’ has negative connotations in many parts of the world. So it makes sense to call myself a woman of colour instead of coloured when I’m speaking to my Canadian friend who flinches when she hears what she calls the C-word.
POC means either person of colour or people of colour, depending on the context. Similarly, WOC means woman of colour or women of colour, depending on the contex.
No-one can safely say when the term was first used, nor do linguists know who had used it first. But an 1818 pamphlet, ”Report of the Committee, to Whom was Referred the Memorial of the President and Board of Managers of the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color of the United States.”, may be one of the earliest known usages of the term. French colonies have used gens de couleur liberes to speak of emancipated black people. And the oldest known usage is from 1781, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. But I’ll be damned if I can find a credible link on that piece of information.
And yes, immigrants and refugees could be people of colour. The term has expanded since it first became en vogue in the late 20th century, when Frantz Fanon and Martin Luther King Jr used it.
Activists created it as a counterreaction to ‘non-white’. Why do white people [get to] set the standard? And we have to define ourselves on what we are not? But perhaps my initial dislike of the term stems from yet again being ‘othered’. White people are just that — white. They don’t seperate themselves into categories, as they did with people of colour: quadroon, mulatto, quintoon, octoroon, Eurasian.
I have incorporated the words into my vocabulary but am still more than a bit reluctant to call myself black, even though I can identify with Steven Biko’s definition of black as everyone who had suffered under Apartheid.
Meritocracy, noun, “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.” — Merriam Websters.
The internet is not an equal playground. I thought this is obvious to all but I was wrong. Many think that as long as you’re online, you are just a line of text. And that your awesome content, eg, will rise to the top. This thinking claims that we cease to exist as men and women, white and black, African and American; we become citizens of the net. And that we can all be achievers, if we’re good enough.That’s what the Internet Founding Fathers thought back in the beginning.
But that isn’t true. There is plenty of misogyny online; POC bloggers are still left behind or shunted off to virtual reserves; and expensive bandwidth still prohibits many people all over the world from becoming active on the internet. It helps to be a white man in a white collar job who has access to fast broadband that doesn’t switch off every half an hour or so. It really does.
So please do not think the internet is the Great Big Hope. Yes, sure, we can’t see that someone is fat but when you write a fat acceptance blog or when you write a personal blog that upset people — for whatever reason — you do put your safety at risk. Even software programmers can receive death threats.
This myth of meritocracy is so entrenched that very few are aware of it. Similar to fish swimming in water. Or the Matrix. And everyone has been born into this prison for the mind.
Racism on the internet
Blogging While Brown isn’t always fun. Whenever someone at a newspaper or an online media house makes a list of the top blogs, chances are that the list will feature very few POC bloggers. Gina McCauley, a WOC blogger, said that
There are few such studies on this subject, and David Sasaki’s blog post caused a big fuss in SA last year. But it’s true that white bloggers have mostly white blogging friends to whom they link. Either that or they just tend to read blogs that other white people write. There’s no branching out to read voices other than theirs, with experiences that differ to theirs. These apologists will claim that they read the best of what the web has to offer, regardless of who the author is. And they’ll probably also use the all-too-familiar catchphrase to ensure that we know they aren’t racist — “My best friend is black, ya know?”.
Sexism and the internet
Women are slut-shamed for the tiniest thing. Many comment threads — on blogs and on forums — start off civil but descend into chaos. Few of the tops users of any social community are women. Why? Could it perhaps be that men still have greater access to technology and that they still have more free time than women do? Women still do most of the household work and this means they have little time left for themselves, never mind editing Wikipedia. But, I forget — “There are no women on the internet.” And the few women who are on the internet — who aren’t men with boobs, or boys — tend to get demotivated when they constantly observe how male-centric, ie, old boys club, the intertubes is.
And yes, social conditioning is also at play here. How often do young girls not feel that they aren’t qualified to speak or write about a topic? I see it in myself, too. I’d far rather edit a Wikipedia article than post a new one. Unless it is client related, of course. And most of the time I would only correct the grammar, not the facts. So perhaps it is based on personality and on gender. Not sex. Gender constructs shape our world and we all have to dance along; gender is a performance. And the perfect version of female gender — as per 1950s magazines and books — is unfortunately passive, coy, intellectually dull, and sexless.
Bandwidth isn’t cheap in most developing countries, some websites are considering limiting content to developing countries, and sometimes that interesting video you want to watch isn’t available or can not be viewed in your region. Other sites that restrict access based on geographics are Hulu, Pandora and Spotify. Techcrunch did a great article on how to get around these restrictions; however, the people who read Techcrunch are still an elite minority.
Lo-fi sites and broadband access
Computers are as big an indicator of economic success: not everyone can afford a Mac; fewer still can afford or be bothered to get proper software.
So yes, our hypothetical internet user has a 3G-enabled cellphone on which to use the internet. But the screen is tiny and the keyboard is as tiny; 2 things that might deter them from commenting on blogs or writing their own blog to promote their brand. Yes, they benefit by being on the internet already but very many things deter their full enjoyment of what the internet can offer: Flash websites, web browser compatibility, censorship, broadband cost.
Mobile web browsers are far more advanced than they had been 2 years ago. But they’re still getting a couple of things wrong. And the general public does not know that these browsers exist. Especially not with companies building ‘lo’ versions of their sites. These versions are supposed to bring the internet to the masses. Um, OK. How will that happen when the masses can only access a ‘lo’ version of a news site?
Internet reception is one of the biggest factors that limit uptake. South Africans get different signals, depending on where they are. The signal could change from 3G to EDGE by just moving the cellphone around a bit. That messes with the user experience and could lead to frustration aka ‘watching paint dry’. A few European countries — France, Switzerland, and Finland — have either declared internet access a ‘human right’ or have declared it a ‘legal right’. Other countries that have short-term and long-term broadband speed plans are Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Denmark and Taiwan. And the UK government has a 245-page pdf available on their Digital Britain initiative, which aims to introduce a universal 2 Megabit/s line internet access by 2012. And the Federal Communications Commission — US-based — released a 168-page report on how to get all American citizens wired up, and by when.
I’m not even going to contrast this to South Africa — with promises of broadband for the masses; however, there are a few private initiatives that wants the South African government to adopt a broadband strategy.
Nearly two years ago I read – finally! – Steven Biko’s I write what I like. One of the items that most stood out to me was his view that we as POC sometimes try to ingratiate ourselves with whites or with those in power. These could be our white friends, colleagues or people whom we’re dating/seeing.
The people whom we’re trying to please could even be ‘acceptable’ members of our own race.
One of the ways in which we can do this is to dis our own people. We’ll say things such as “Yeah, coloured people are racists”. We do this so that the white people can feel better about themselves. No longer are they the only racists; their lone coloured tjommie told them that coloured people are also racist. This is, of course, a logical fallacy – coloured people [in South Africa] can be prejudiced but they can’t be racist. Racism = prejudice + power. But that’s a different argument for another day.
Another way to dis their ‘own’ is to beam whenever a white person says that they are so different to the other coloureds: their hair is so much prettier than; their accent is so much fancier than; and their way of thinking differentiates them from gam.
I do it, too. I was speaking with someone at the weekend when she mentioned she dislikes places – bars, clubs, and restaurants – that cater to gam. And I nodded. And then I felt bad – am I like ‘those people’ of whom Biko wrote?
This is similar to the N-word and how many African Americans use it to describe lesser members of their community.
This needs to stop. Today still. Next time I speak to that woman who distinguishes between herself and gam, I will say something instead of nodding. Next time someone mocks the alleged Cape Flats accent, I will say something instead of burying my face in my laptop’s screen. Next time I won’t write Cape Flets instead of Cape Flats. Next time I won’t get angry when someone thinks I’m from Delft or Bonteheuwel. Next time I won’t laugh along when someone jokes about how easy it is to get robbed in Mitchell’s Plain. Next time I won’t make fun of someone without front teeth. Next time I will make a bigger stink when Die Burger makes fun of coloured people. Next time I will make a bigger noise when someone complains about some other POC’s hair’s texture. Next time I won’t mock the structure of my nose. Next time I will get indignant when someone mocks a POC’s English accent. And next time, next time, my friend, I will wear my fluffy hair with pride.
This quote sums up District 9:
The humans’ treatment of the “prawns,” which is clearly modelled on the Apartheid government’s actions, as well as the local masses’ recent xenophobic behaviour, is quite horrible – but it’s also difficult to stop laughing if your tastes in humour are cynical and politically incorrect..
I enjoyed it. I really did. It couldn’t have been the rational part of me that had enjoyed the movie; it must’ve been the irrational part. Or perhaps it’s because there were many South Africanisms in the movie, especially Wikus’ use of ‘fok’, ‘fokken’ and ‘kak’. Another thing, and this I read on someone else’s review, is that neither the Pentagon nor the White House had any involvement. How’s that for awesome and refreshing?
But there were many scenes that upset me – visually and morally. Hakeem Kae-Kazim, the Hotel Rwanda actor, criticised the movie; and Armond White also criticised the movie. Other reviews give it far more praise than scorn: NYT says it is a “smart, swift new film from the South African director Neill Blomkamp”;Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 89%
The movie does have many flaws. And, let’s admit it, it’s a racist anti-racism movie. But it did have a few scenes that stood out.
Another quote that sums up what I think about the movie: “But I don’t think that means we can give it a free pass from the charge that a significant aspect of the film IS racist or assume that because some of the film is anti-racist, nothing in it can be racist.”
So, besides the plot holes, here are the things that I noticed – and that alarmed me – about District 9:
We see few women
Christopher’s son doesn’t have a mother. The only women we meet are connected to Wikus – his wife, his mother and his colleagues – or they are witch doctors or prostitutes. But we don’t even get to meet the prostitutes: we only see them doing the things – interspecies sex – they do. And the witchdoctor looks scary, no? “…she might as well have had a bone through her nose and been muttering “unga munga”"
When do we get a woman [of colour?] as a main character? And when do we get a woman who has more than a couple of sentences in a Sci-Fi movie?
Soweto’s citizens are barbarians
Does Blomkamp not know that Desmond Tutu lives in Soweto? And that there are many middle class people living in Soweto? Surely they do not all riot?
The Nigerians speak Xhosa
Nigerians are not Xhosa; Nigerians speak Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Kanuri and English, among others. I understand that the drug lord could’ve used South Africans to work for him but we never know for sure; all we know is that the Nigerians run the cat food scam, not South Africans.
The fast food manager had a gun
Why would any fast food manager have a gun hidden away in case someone like Wikkus limps in?
Black people – Nigerians, mostly – are uncivilised.
Yes, there are Nigerian drug lords living in South Africa. But there are also many Nigerians who live legal lives. We only get to see the bad ones; we don’t see ‘good ones’. Why not portray one or two ‘lesser evil’ Nigerians?
Contrast this to the white people whom Blomkamp depict as rational and civilised, even though they are evil. Their characters are a bit more well-developed – one even has a family! – and more thought out than the black characters.
The lone good black character is yet another cardboard cut out figure and we don’t even get to see much of him.
The riots reminded me far too much of 2008′s xenophobic riots
It was uncomfortable to see how black people are once more depicted as savages who run around with sticks, looting everything in sight. They could’ve shown one or two middle class people in their middle class Soweto home, talking about how they’d rather the aliens leave for good.
But no. He doesn’t want to depart from the familiar trope of African savages – he probably reckons that his mostly American, mostly white, northern hemisphere audience doesn’t understand anything that differs from their preconceived ideas about Africa.
This be no Apartheid/District 6 allegory
I’ve heard this one so many times, from so many different people. I don’t agree with it and I’ve only encountered one or two dismissals of this theory.
The aliens and real South Africans of colour only have two things in common: they lived in shacks and they weren’t welcome. And not all POC South Africans lived in slums during the 1960s and 1970s; many lived in neighbourhoods similar to ones we see in white areas.
POC in Apartheid South Africa didn’t destroy trains for ‘no reason’; they destroyed property in protest of their treatment by the NP government.
I’d love to hear a good argument for why I should see District 9 as an Apartheid allegory.
You’ll enjoy it much more if you can switch off your brain by ignoring – or celebrating – the racism, the gaps in the plot and the needless action scenes.
On 5 April I posted
Shalil responded that yes, anger does help to get things done. Let’s name a few angry people: Martin Luther King (both of ‘em), Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Germaine Greer, Nelson Mandela., Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
I doubt that all [WOC] activists are social butterflies. These women are often three things that the patriarchy detests: young, female, and black. They aren’t afraid to speak up about the issues that affect their communities and this is something that most members of the patriarchy just isn’t used to.
We’re used to women being docile, servile and quiet. And WOC especially so. So when they aren’t as castrated as we would prefer them to be, we get scared. We’re scared that these WOC will overthrow everything we had worked for. We’re scared to confront the possibility that we might be racist, sexist and homophobic.
And we aren’t, are we? We are good people. We look after our spouses’ parents . We pay our taxes and we attend church services. So no, we are neither racist nor sexist.
We’re also afraid that WOC will attack us. We imagine their anger is directed at us and our shortcomings, not at the patriarchy and its shortcomings. We’re afraid of offending; many things offend POC and we’re afraid others will think we’re ignorant.
And yet we do not realise that WOC are not angry at individuals; WOC are angry at the system that allows the privileged few to control the majority. So speak your mind and when we call bullshit, know that we are not saying “Fuck you”; we are saying “Fuck the system”.
I have never been the victim of ‘real’, ie, overt racism. I was brought up in the platteland and we moved to Cape Town some years later. I attended a well-known high school in the northern suburbs of Cape Town: D.F. Malan.
I like to think I received a good education there, even though I had been pretty damn impossible and had never studied for exams.
But one thing that DF cannot lay claim to is my accent and vocabulary. Come on, I’m affie plaas af; that’s how plaasjapies speak. And my accent isn’t that ‘suiwer’, even; my accent contains a bit of the Cape Flats. But I’ll never admit it in real life.
So it’s difficult to speak to Afrikaansspeaking people. Even liberal ones. I don’t want them to make certain assumptions about me. Impossible, yes, that’s true. But some assume I had learn how to speak in high school. Yes, people whom we could call enlightened think that. And even though my pronunciation isn’t always all that. I’ve even been contemplating telling people I had attended Kasselsvlei Hoërskool, just so that 1) I won’t differ too much from other coloureds who hadn’t attend former Model C schools and 2) so that they can marvel at this girl from Kasselsvlei who speaks die Taal so wonderfully. See, that’s a form of racism. It isn’t the Eugene Terre’blance type of racism; it’s the sort of racism that no-one will admit to.
The South African media doesn’t acknowledge the different social classes in the coloured community. Worse, the media doesn’t want to acknowledge that there are coloured communities in other parts of South Africa, too. The image of the happy Cape Coloured is imprinted in people’s minds and they’re reluctant to let go of it. And the accent gets mocked by all, especially by us coloureds. I do it, too: I assure everyone that I do not speak like that.
So what should we do? What should I do? Well, I blog. I want to start a conversation about race, gender and social status in South Africa. Cause we need it. It’s time that we start talking to those outside of our circle. We now have the opportunity to create our own history, to write our own story to tell our great-grandchildren. And there are many tools that we can use: blogs, vlogs, podcasts — do SA use this, though? — community forums, and all the other social media tools.
It’s time that we have some positive role models. Sure, we have Jo-Anne Strauss and Felicity from 7de Laan… but we need more. How many more? Um, as many as possible until the average South African realises we are all multi-dimensional people. Until the time when the average South African won’t think all coloured people live in Mitchell’s Plain. Until the time when my landlady won’t enquire from me where I had gotten my accent. Until the time when the coloured actors in 7de Laan speak Afrikaans with their own accents, and not ‘white-sounding’ ones. And until the time when we – I, too — won’t even think there is something like a ‘white Afrikaans’ accent.
And after that? Well, we can’t ever stop.
- Being coloured means being watched by the store security guard much more closely.
- Being coloured means being expected to like Gatsbys.
- Being coloured means Afrikaansspeaking tannies are surprised about your ‘nice’ accent.
- Being coloured means the waiter assumes you’re European when you order steak tartare or a ristretto.
- Being coloured means spending too much money on hair relaxers and other straighteners, never mind the amount of time it takes to blow dry your hair.
- Being coloured means you were probably brought up on the wrong side of the tracks.
- Being coloured means people are surprised that you hadn’t been brought up on the wrong side of the tracks.
- Being coloured means people are surprised that you blog about grammar, language and stuff.
- Being coloured means car guards call your white friend Ma’am but they call you sista.
- Being coloured means being ashamed to admit you like R&B music to your white friends.
- Being coloured means people expect you to be happy. All the fucking time.
- Being coloured means getting shitty service.
- Being coloured means other people call you a ‘coloured’.
- Being coloured means you have to be strong[er].
- Being coloured means you might codeswitch.
- Being coloured means you live in two different worlds.
- Being coloured means having friends assure you that “you’re not like those other coloureds”.
- Being coloured means the SA Media only shows one side of your culture: the Cape Coloured.
- Being coloured means you should watch Girlfriends, not Sex and the City.
- Being coloured means denying that you’re a typical coloured.
- Being coloured means everyone dismisses your culture as non-existent.
- Being coloured means you have few positive role models in the media.
- Being coloured means you’re called a ’so-called coloured’.
- Being coloured means your blog does not get much linkjuice.
- Being coloured means having a R10 000 chip on your shoulder. Always.
- Being coloured means that ‘flesh colour’ stockings and bandages are too light.
- Being coloured means having to work harder at being nice.
- Being coloured means you always wonder “Is it cause I’m coloured?”
- Being coloured means people think you’re on Mxit when you’re posting a link to Twitter or Friendfeed.
- Being coloured means getting the table in the corner near the kitchen.
- Being coloured means you’re the only POC (person of colour) in the restaurant.
- Being coloured means your [white or black] friends don’t always get your cultural references.
- Being coloured means no-one comments on your blog.
- Being coloured means kak espressos and not getting a ‘Thank you’ from waiters. Ever.
- Being coloured means people are surprised that you read [books, blogs, newspapers, magazines].
- Being coloured means you wonder — sometimes aloud — where the coloured bloggers are hiding.
- Being coloured means people roll their eyes when you say something is race-related.
- Being coloured means you should go to Galaxy, not Asoka.
- Being coloured means acting more white when with whites, and more black when with blacks.
- Being coloured means being invisible.
- Being coloured means the waiter is surprised at the small/modest/large tip you give.
- Being coloured means people assume you got your accent at a Model C school.
- Being coloured means people assume you are religious.
- Being coloured means people assume you speak Kombuis Afrikaans.
- Being coloured means people assume you speak Kitchen English.
- Being coloured means ’shopping while coloured’, ‘driving while coloured’, hell, even ‘walking while coloured’.
- Being coloured means hoping to marry a white person so that the future children will have lighter skin, grou oë en ‘n betere draad hare.
- Being coloured means having to defend AA and BEE ad nauseam.
- Being coloured means not knowing who you are.
- Being coloured means tipping too much cause you want better service next time.
If you follow me on Twitter — @joycloete — you’ll know that customer service is something I tweet about often. It could be because I used to be in some sort of customer service job for more than 6 years. Or it could be because of that R10 000 chip on my shoulder. I have been in search of that perfect shot of espresso or — if I can find it — ristretto since the beginning of last year.
So I go everywhere: restaurants, coffee shops, hotels. And I sit down, hoping to get good bean juice. And sometimes I’ll get it, too. Good bean juice. But what I get most often is indifference from the waiter. And that’s on a good day. A bad day could mean not getting a ‘Hi’; it could mean getting a table tucked away from the rest of the diners; it could even mean being called ‘dear’.
True, these aren’t all signs of racism. But when all of them apply to a single dining experience you start to wonder “is it cause I’m coloured?”. And then you wonder whether it would help to enlighten the waiter or the manager. It’s often the small things you notice: not getting as much attention as the rest of the diners; a frown on the waiter’s forehead when you order or ask for anything; and not being offered bread or given a menu.
I’m a single POC woman, which means I dine alone. Mostly. I could spout many statistics to show that waiters and retailers do not care much for my group. Come on, we eat alone, which means the bill won’t be high. We’ll probably sit there for more than an hour reading the newspaper or posting updates to Twitter. And — stereotype alert — we’re not great tippers (this is true for most of us, btw). We’re difficult, too: we’re angry coloured women.
So I’ve been trying to dispel this stereotype. I’m not overly pleasant but I’m possibly one of the better customers your brand can have — I know what I want and I’m not afraid to ask for it. Mediocre service gets 5% – 10% – if that much — and a love letter about why I had given that little. I know how waiters moan when they get pathetic tips; I used to be one. Good service gets 15% – 20% and excellent service gets anything from 25% – 40%, depending on the size of the bill. On a few occasions I have even tipped the waiter more than 100% on a small bill.
Now, see, 25% – 40% is waaaaay above the average. Hell, most waiters would be happy with a 15% tip. But I somehow got it into me that tipping more than the average would get me better service. Wrong. It doesn’t. Whoever told you that is a fool. Or the person who told you that is white and has probably never had to deal with stealth racism.
POC should really up the amount they tip for good service. Come now, people. There’s no need to go overboard. Just tip decently so that we can get rid of these stereotypes. And then we can finally enjoy an espresso at the fancy restaurant and not demand to see the manager.