Monday, August 30, 2010

Diane J. Savino: The case for same-sex marriage | Video on

What a stunning talk. Viva Diane Savino, Viva!
Diane J. Savino: The case for same-sex marriage Video on

The Blog of Hope...from Benoni

Benoni. Apart from the fact that Charlize Theron was born there, Benoni is not generally considered a place South Africa is proud of. It has such a reputation for prejudice, backwardness and general close-mindedness that most Joburgers don't even believe that Benoni is a part of Joburg. My own experiences there had done nothing to contradict this reputation. The sole time Zwe and I have been there together previously was to go ice-skating in Festival Mall. We got hostile glares, rude comments and disapproving people closing in around us. And that was just from the black people.

Therefore I was not feeling hopeful about our next venture into Benoni on Saturday: we were on our way to my cousin's fortieth in Farrarmere (for the unenlightened: a suburb in Benoni). We took a wrong turn off the freeway and turned off to the very North of Benoni. The barren fields exposed the endless miles of flat, red soil, and the slow-moving traffic down one badly-maintained road past dingy shops made us think we were about to become unwitting stars in a red-neck horror movie. Needless to say we turned around very quickly.

We found our way to the right place and ended up in another mall for a quick drink after the drive. I felt that old (paranoid) feeling return when the large, red-faced man with protruding stomach stared me down the entire time: emitting his disapproval for the race traitor in his midst. I found myself laughing nervously until we had moved out of the range of his bull-about-to-charge vision. Oddly enough however, a few minutes later, we spotted another multi-racial couple. In Lakeside Mall, Benoni.

Zwe dropped me off at the party: we had decided that the fortieth birthday is not the best time to introduce the black boyfriend. My family does not have a problem, but I could not speak for the gathered friends and extended family there, and someone's fortieth is a special occasion. It's about making the day the best it could possibly be for them, and introducing a factor that could cause acrimony is not the way to do that.

Again, oddly enough, I discovered that my cousin's wife's younger sister - a Benoni local - is still dating the black man she was dating when I met her almost two years ago. Her mother (a Benoni local of the older generation) says he's good for her.

It was a good party. The children were noisy and boisterous in the best possible way, and the people were friendly and talkative. The family - of course - were just wonderful.

It was on our way to the Joy of Jazz festival (more on that in another blog) from the party that I experienced yet another piece of evidence that Benoni is changing (or perhaps was never as unremittingly prejudicial as people say). We had driven over a nail and had to stop and change the tire. Zwe has only had to change a tire once, and not in the car he was driving, and I have never had to. Our process was going a little slowly as a result.

Th next thing we knew, a large, white Afrikaner was making his way towards us. He asked us if we needed any help, and we explained the situation. He told us he worked for BMW, and was always called out for things like this. He proceeded to take all the tools from us and calmly changed the tire for us, saying we didn't need to do anything. I crouched next to him, talking and watching his nimble hands do something that my spoiled self has never got the hang of. After he had finished, he smiled, shook hands with us and went off on his way again. He helped us like helping people was just something one did like brushing your teeth twice a day.

My previous blog about the racist made me sad to my very core because it was so disappointing to see that racist, Afrikaans stereotype that I didn't want to believe in played out before my eyes. Many racists - like her - are still people who help other people, as long as they are white. This man explodes that stereotype, and shows - I hope - that for every real live racist, there is a real live person who is an anti-racist, an anti-sexist an anti-supremist. He just helps out where it is needed, no matter who you are.

There are still stories of hope here, even in the most unlikely places. Things are changing, and for the better.

Monday, August 16, 2010

on being an artist

I would not call myself an exciting person. I don't partake of any illegal substances (dagga, cocaine, mescalin, sleeping pills, crushed Ritalin, socks (although smoking them probably isn't strictly illegal - ooh, double brackets!), heroine or the odd Ecstasy pill). I hardly drink anymore and when I drink, I don't get drunk (the night I drunk myself into a stupor in something ridiculous like three hours at Radile's party aside). I cannot hunch over a manuscript, scribbling furiously whilst clutching a cigarette and looking tortured with my unbrushed curly hair tousled by the wind (but then again my hair is so straight it probably wouldn't even be tousled by a hurricane). I don't write through the night and go through to the kitchen desperate for a caffeine fix, looking at the window-glass at my own reflection staring out of the darkness and thinking existential thoughts. I don't drink coffee and I go to bed at eleven. I get tired early.

I don't really party (I get bored after about twenty minutes in a club like Friars, but maybe that's a poor example of a place to have a good time) and I don't dazzle exclusive people at exclusive restaurants with my extraordinary wit and charm (although I like to think my dry sense of humour can charm some people). I enjoy house parties where I can meet interesting people and talk to them, but even that often gets dull after a while as the things that drunk or high people find amusing are often not as entertaining to someone as sober as I (usually) am.

What I do find entertaining, tragic, amusing, intriguing, puzzling and enormous good fun is learning more about the infinite variety of people in the world by watching them, reading about them, listening to them on the radio or reading what they have to say in newspapers and magazines. What I am enjoying even more is describing what I see in the fabulous fund of words that are available to me.

And that is what I find exciting about my life. It is not wild or "artistic" in the traditional sense of the word, but if I can create messy, exciting, dangerous art; why do I need to live a dangerous life?

That may make it sound like I wish to live vicariously through my art, but that is not quite it. It gives me great satisfaction to have beautiful, nourishing relationships with people that are not sustained by wild parties or psychedelic trips onto other planes. I love talking and finding out more about the world, or going for walks or runs in green valleys or on rocky mountains. I love going to a dance class and then coming home and after a therapeutic shower (another of life's little quiet ecstasies), getting into bed with book, pen and paper. Of course sharing that bed with someone else is a not-so-quiet ecstasy that is an important part of my life, but that's another story.

I have often heard it said that some people's lives are so incredible that their lives are like works of art. Those people - although they may wish to - often cannot create art because they live art. My life may not be the stuff of a Hunter S. Thompson or even a Conradian adventure story, but it enables me to observe and minutely capture the intricacies of life around me and preserve them as though in rich, warm amber. I would not call myself an exciting person, but I would call myself an artist.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

the real live racist

I finally met a real one. A real live, honest-to-goodness racist. You don't meet one of those every day.

Now I don't mean the kind that protests, "But I have lots of black friends"; the white businessmen and women who talk about the forty-year old "girl" who brings the tea; or even the one who smiles at the black kids in their class but goes home to their braai on a Friday night to complain about the "coolies" who no-matter-how-fast-you-squash-them-just-keep-popping-up (FYI: that's also a real live experience). I mean the kind that is the unashamed kind.

She is the unfortunate stereotype that has been satirised so many times you half-doubt that they really exist. Surely someone just told a story and in the re-telling it got more and more embellished? Surely?

So I was working in Pretoria (it had to be in the figurative shadow of the Union buildings) and I was working with this Afrikaans girl (she had to be Afrikaans). She and I were the managers in training, and there was pressure on us to perform. On our way out of the centre one day, she told me she was happy to have me there, and although I was confused by her evident enthusiasm at the fact she was "no longer alone", I thought she meant she now had another trainee manager to work with and I smiled tentatively back.

Her enthusiasm waned a little as we approached the parking lot. We were both waiting for our boyfriends and I saw Zwe (my handsome boyfriend who also happens to be black) as soon as I came out. I walked up to him to take his arm and smiled and said I would see her tomorrow, indicating that this was the afore-mentioned boyfriend who was taking me home. She looked momentarily confused. and then the smile froze a little on her face, but she walked on.

By the next morning, I had forgotten it, but she cornered me that afternoon whilst I was shelving DVDs and told me that she wouldn't say it wasn't a shock. This time, I was the one who was momentarily confused. She said she never expected she would see me with someone who was black. She said each person must do what they wanted but she wasn't brought up that way. I was suddenly reminded of people who sniff disapprovingly and say that they weren't brought up to murder anybody, or to pick their noses at suppertime (or any time for that matter). I also suddenly realised she hadn't been talking about having another manager on the floor, but another white person.

Now, white people do make these kind of racist statements to other white people. It's not uncommon (although unusual to be making them to me once they know I am not only quite liberal, but actually dating someone of another race).

But this racist - when asked by a black colleague - whether she would allow her daughter (now two years old) to date a black man, said absolutely not. She would disown her if she did, but anyway, she would bring her up not to. She is so blatant I practically gasp when I think of it. And people wonder why the new generations are not yet free from prejudice...

She is so racist that her black colleagues want to believe they have misunderstood her (because again, surely, those kinds of racists only appear in Leon Schuster send-ups?). I have heard a girl say that she "thinks she is racist". I could only smile sadly at her attempted kindness.

The final straw, however, came when she heard what Jube-Jube did. She was horrified, said it was terrible. "I mean, I know they're just black kids, but they're just kids, you know?"

I know...just black kids.

But I was reading this article by Jonathan Jansen (the black Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State) and he was saying that perpetrators of racist statements are victims of their hatred.

And this racist really is a victim of herself. She is an over-weight girl with bad teeth who hates her job but doesn't have enough skill to work anywhere else. She's had a child with a boyfriend with whom she lives but still hasn't married her (and this in conservative Afrikanerdom). She craves friends but cannot get any because she is imprisoned by her racism and her out of control emotions that threaten to over-whelm her almost every minute of the day. No-one respects her and few people like her of the black or white staff.

The real live racist is actually really lonely. And alone.