/ 20 May 2014

We’re listening to you, Zille – in stereotype

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille.
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille.

When the Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema called Democratic Alliance head Helen Zille a madam, he was probably right. Remember the outrage from the four corners of the earth when this happened? 

*Shock! *Horror! “Oh Julius, you and your archaic tendencies when it comes to race and people and Helen and botox.” Or, “How dare you?!”

The truth is though, Zille doesn’t need someone like Julius Malema to call her out on her incessant need to perpetuate these stereotypes.

The word “stereotype” itself is a contradiction. Derived from the Greek word “stereos”, which means firm or solid, and “typos”, which means impression, the direct translation is solid impression. However, as we know, the evolution of the word has changed its meaning to something a little less solid, a little less firm. And the “stereotype” as we know it now implies an idea that is oversimplified yet widely held when it comes to a person or thing.

Zille is old school. It doesn’t matter how many young, black leaders she harnesses and grooms and brags about. She does tend to give off the impression that she comes from the same school of, “I will send my maid’s children to school, but I will still have a maid. She will care for my children, and then at dinner parties where she serves us, I will point and brag about how good I have been to her.” Malema was right, even though he didn’t need to say it.

It’s always been sort of obvious: the outbursts, then the negating of the same comments, the “oh no, but I didn’t mean it like that”. The coy, self-righteous leaning on the “I-should-have-known-better-but-I am-white-so-forgive-me” tree, and “Look, look how many black people I visit and talk to, and I even kiss black babies. I even do that.”

Lest we forget my personal favourite: the ever inappropriate “I will speak to the people through these pseudo toyi-toyi dance moves, because they are for everyone.”

No, Helen. Sit back at your dinner party table with your help and your posing tendencies. It’s time to hang up the doo-rag. Your bullying tactics whether they are alleged, leaked or whatever, still taint the public image you try so hard to maintain. But the image is a bit skewed, isn’t it? And let’s face it, true or false as these allegations may be, denial is in and of itself a terrible colour on you – on anyone really.

I realise that the majority of what I am saying is spooning quite comfortably with that word we all love to hate – “stereotype”. But the truth is that stereotypes often perpetuate themselves, whether they are just or unjust.

In his book, Public Opinion, Walter Lippman expands on the idea of stereotypes: “For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see. In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture.” The book is about social cohesion, functional democratic governments, self-serving behaviour and group stereotypes. 

Lippman explains that the stereotype, in light of the greater public opinion, is an unfortunate position. He writes that we can’t judge without knowing what the “speaker” thinks they know. But it is a true occurrence – it does happen – on the part of the receiver and the giver, and in this case, on the part of Zille.

In light of this, it does seem that perhaps the warmest place for Zille’s true blue would be in the safety of her home. The wise thing to do at some stage would be to hand the reins over to someone who brings some new dynamic to some other stereotype.

Hey, it could have been Lindiwe Mazibuko – the other stereotype according to Malema, who called her the tea girl – had the time been right.

Let me be clear, Zille, it looks like you have ruined it. And by ruined it, I mean perpetuated the stereotype once again. You will share your caviar leftovers, but not hand over your kitchen? The white “progressive” middle-class housewife of the days of yore wouldn’t have either. Ma’am.