Hues and cries

If you’d tuned in to Talk Radio 702 a few days ago, you’d have been forgiven for believing you’d accidentally happened across some odd fundamentalist religious station. The show was premised on asking listeners: what would you like to ban?

The array of targets for banning was huge, but it was the terminology that was most revealing. As lighthearted as the intentions were, it’s still weird to have a body of people who think that the word “banning” is common parlance and that problems can be solved by forbidding something its existence.

It is an appealing idea, though, especially in a world as uncertain as ours. If we ban it, we can stop worrying about it. Many South Africans aren’t entirely sure what the median is for acceptable civic behaviour. They know they need to avoid, like, racist stuff, but at the same time, they understand that they always have to have race at the forefront of everything they do and think. It must get very boring for those many South Africans who are just trying to live their lives.

There are those of us who find it fascinating, this constant evolution of a hyper-racial, non-racial society, but the poor sods who don’t have that much time to indulge themselves must be suffering.

I’m not saying it’s not a necessary anxiety. It is. But at the same time, it must be nice to live in a country where you don’t automatically check the white-to-black ratio when your rugby coach announces the national team. And where you don’t get accusations of racism from pro-affirmative-action people because you include “race” as a category on your online forms.


It’s all very confusing, this quest for an equal society. We can hum along to the jolly old-school stylings of The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up on the radio, but we can’t sing Shoot the Boer. We can run adverts on television portraying women as asinine trollops who drool over men when they get a whiff of their deodorant, but we can’t refer to 22-year-olds as sluts who spend too much time on their backs.

And we can belong to religions that tell us homosexuals are abnormal deviants, but we can’t refer to Julius Malema’s beret as gay without causing a storm in a fine china teacup.

How is the man/woman/other in the street supposed to make sense of it all? Most societies have acceptable (in their context) levels of stereotyping and oppression built into the way they live and can get away with it because the majority are fine with calling French people cheese-eating surrender monkeys. But poor Bheki Cele can’t get away with calling an English murder suspect a monkey, in a country where we actually have monkeys to make the insult tangible.

Ah, it’s a tough life in the rainbow nation, a land where every topic has too many hues and cries. It used to be that nothing was certain except death and taxes. Now we only have death left. No wonder we crave the moral certainty of the demagogues.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisRoperZA

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Chris Roper
Chris Roper

Chris Roper was editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian from July 2013 - July 2015.

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