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Friday, February 16, 2007

Stereotypes and assumptions about Saffas

In my last post about South Africa, I mentioned that many British people are surprised to meet a South African who is proud of their home, and not a cynical racist, etc. And on Wednesday, I had an unfortunate encounter that provided an excellent example of the stereotype we need to fight:

I was making a follow up call to one of our potential sales clients, going throught the motions with my supervisor next to me, when the guy I was talking to suddenly interrupted to say:

guy: I love your South African accent!
me: oh, um, that's great. well spotted! Its not everyone's favourite accent...
guy:do you speak afrikaans?
me: um, ja, I took it at school, but its not my first language *glancing over at supervisor, shrugs*
guy: we had this hysterical man who i used to work with who was South African
me: oh, um, really, that's great *thinking, how do i get this back to work, before boss kills me*
guy: he used to do this hysterical (second time in two sentences) thing. Spoke like a totally normal guy, until he was talking to anyone with a little more than a tan, know what i mean, *chortle*, then turn on this thick accent, and start calling them Sonny or something...hysterical(yes, third times the charm)! *nasal laugh, blockage, snort*
me: *oh, shit! i dont want to laugh along, but I cant call him a bigot with my boss sitting here*
guy: anyhoo (yes he actually said that), nice to hear a South African accent from a lovely lady
me:*oh, my god. he's trying to flirt with me. laugh about racism to a total stranger, then hit on them - what the hell is he thinking???*
me: okay, nice talking to you. give us a ring if you have any more questions. *hangs up*

I've had this in South Africa a couple of times, when people assume because I'm white, I'll hold the same views as they do, but from a Brit it was just fecking weird. And I can only assume that it is because this man's exposure to Saffa's has reinforced this for him, and note that he never questioned what colour I was. He just assumed that I was white, maybe because I said I took afrikaans at school??

This stuff tires me out. And I've got to stop blogging about racism - it gets me down, but I think we need to look at ourselves and the image we project. I want to be the person who breaks the mould. If Joe Brit has only met negative old-south-africans before, I want to open their eyes. I wanted to cringe and die when I saw people waving the old flag at the rugby last year. I wish people who feel like that wouldnt identify themselves as South Africans....

Sorry this is turning into a rant. Its over. Promise.


Dave said...

You shouldn't apologise, that was a really good post! I enjoyed reading it.

In my humble opinion 90% of South Africans abroad are far more sensitive and aware about rascism than 90% of the British population. We understand what constitutes rascism and we are far more cautious of the things we save in case they are misconstrued to BE rascist.

Case in point, the recent Big Brother debacle. Most Saffas would never openly discuss social stereotypes because it is insensitive.

How people truly feel is a different matter to what they express and Saffas are normally very cautious about what they say even though they may think otherwise. Generally the English say what they think.

Kate said...

Thanks, Dave. I was panicking about this post because my blog has been so focused on crime and racism lately and they are "downer" topics.

I think you're bang on about saffa's vs brits and awareness and sensitivity. and i also feel that britain is way more segregated than they like to believe...

Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed getting it off my chest.

hawk said...

:) Most places are far more segregated than they like to believe. I have a friend in the states who I've been chatting to about racism and she is constantly amazed by the extent of it in the South (where she is now - but has not grown up).

South Africa has always been more open about things - we made apartheid law, others did the same things but more subtely. Maybe we lose out as a result but at least we know where we stand. And can laugh about it - Zapiro, Madam and Eve, etc.

And the random SA kiddies and ex-pats who claim that their attitude is normal and ok are a problem. They shouldn't be allowed to talk.

Then again, I don't think most professionals I work with should be allowed to talk without consulting me first. I guess the reality is there are stupid people everywhere and some of them happen to be South Africans who are overseas. All we can do is prove by example that we're not all like that!

Keep it up, Kate!

belgatherial said...

Hm. Interesting that this came up today. Last night I was at a Johnny Clegg concert in Dubai, and the crowd actually made me sick. Clegg did a very beautiful and moving shpiel about Mandela and the crowd was barely paying attention to him. Then he mentioned Mugabe's name and it was like they realised, "hey, I know that name - that's someone I can boo!".

The majority of Saffas I meet here are very clearly the kind of people who left because the "nasty blackies took power". NOT ALL, I must emphasise. But a lot of them. And their attitude really bugs me. There is a good reason I have very few Saffa friends out here.

And last night reminded me of that reason.

Jak said...

I don't stand for it Katie, and neither should you. But I don't think that means we should scotch all discussion about race - all that does is chase it to supposedly "safe" social backwaters of presumed like-minds. I have an interesting time of things, because I often have to battle the casual racism that is common currency amongst the immigrant cohort of the SA kids I grew up with.

As much as racism in general gets me fuming, racism amongst my fellow Jews makes even more ill because if anyone should know about the ugly dangers and irrational basis of negative social stereotying, it's kids that spent a fair chunk of high school learning about the holocaust.

A few weeks back, some chain letter article was passed to me through some ex-pat mail chain , blathering about how affirmative action was making SA unsafe to fly. The fact that it was dicey, poorly worded and reputedly written by "Jani Allen" hadn't stopped these morons declaring how frightening and "real" this was. Once, I might have just told myself I couldn't change them and moved on, but this time I lost it.

20 minutes of internet research on key terms, chat forums etc revealed this to be what it was - a piece of racist claptrap written for an american Neo-Nazi/White Supremacist website by an ex-rhodesian who had once worked as an informant for the Bureau of State security under apartheid.

I hurled these facts at the guy that sent me the mail, with a great deal more rage than I think I've ever poured into the keyboard, because it sickened me that a piece so clearly (and badly) written to play on racist sympathies rather than logical faculties had seemed so plausible to him.

He apologized pretty profusely - but that may have been for my benefit.

I head back in less than a week's time - and one promise I've made to myself is that I don't just ignore this kind of crap anymore.

We SHOULD be free to talk about race. Being a major JS Mill fan, I don't even believe in banning racist speech - rather have it in the public realm where it can be visibly opposed, and deny the hateful fools who peddle it the delusion that their "truth" is being kept from the world of state oppression. But freedom of speech also means freedom to attack bigoted idiocy - and I'm inclined to start visibly doing a lot more of that.

Katie Possum said...

Here, here! Wonderfully said Jak!

I dont think we should have to back down from this ever! I feel pretty bad about this one, but since I'm so new to this job and quite keen on paying rent I did - and the sense of failure I have from that has dogged me since.

Do you know the impression the last South African who worked for my company left behind her? After a full day rearranging the furniture, and reworking the filing system at a new office just opened, she turned to her boss (now my boss) and said, like it wa the most natural thing in the world, "whew, its finally starting to look like a white person works here"!

She actually said that! The mind boggles! I cant even begin to think what went through the boss' mind when my South African cv landed on her desk!!


kabintsimbi said...

Well said...I like that you're passionate about it. You're exactly the type of person that is needed to curb the unnecessary banter re: racism etc.

Don't you find it hilarious how people don't even realise that they are being racist? They don't even realise that they are part of a race...I say this with specific regards to white folk. I look at my mom, she doesn't mean to be racist (really) but she is when she says certain things like 'their culture is so behind'. That is racist & she doesn't realise that she is part of the western culture & that other cultures sit back & say the exact same thing about westerners! It's all so fucked up it's crazy.

I don't like it when ex pats etc go on about the state of SA, they're not here anymore, they have no clue! Rather go on about where you're at now! Fuck you all, you left so shut the hell up then! I get equally upset as you do & it irritates me so much when I come across racist people. We live in the most beautiful country with amazing different cultures that can each provide some sort of learning to other cultures. Get what I'm saying here cos it's kind of higgledy piggledy!

Anyway, I'll stop ranting!

Nice post though, keep it up with talking about this stuff!

Katie Possum said...

Thanks Kabintsimbi!
I'm loving the feedback at the moment (even though its not really a representative sample) because it reinforces for me that I am part of the generation where its all changing and the future looks good!

Poly said...

I always think its interesting how the intrinsic racism that plagues disillusioned expats manifests itself in their attitudes to work. For example, menial jobs are unacceptable to them in South Africa, but these same people end up doing them in 'first world countries'.

Tash said...

And as for my favourite favourites, the whiny white brats who go overseas and bitch about 'the immigrants' taking 'our' jobs...the mind boggles.

It's strange and unsettling to me that my skin colour should automatically have me pegged as a sympathetic racist. And I have no issue turning around and tuning someone if they do start the 'this country is going to the dogs because of those blacks, but I'm not racist, it's just a scientifically proven fact that they don't have the brains to run a country' ramble @ me.

"Well, don't get me wrong, but I think you're a class A fucktard, and it's a scientifically proven fact that I can fit my whole fist up your nose. Amazing, neh?"

Have you approached your boss and asked what she thinks of bigotry? In other words, how does she think you should handle it? You'll probably win her respect for being concerned about it but willing to follow company procedure before blasting a client.

Katie Possum said...

Poly & Tash: I know the frustration. Especially when I was living in South London (where all the saffas and aussies settle), you couldnt get away from the old-sa attitude. I do think it'll start changing. With the number of Saffas till going to London, surely a new positive gneration will start out-numbering the racist jerks??

P.S. Tash: good advice. I'll definitely do that!

Don said...

Hopefully they all leave here, then you can come back and it'll all be ok!

Here's hoping.

Katie Possum said...

Don: there's always hope ;)

Anonymous said...

PRIFTY: I really don't like the term Saffa.
Maybe because it seems to define just this kind of stereotype rather than the subtle and nuanced race that we are.
I was fortunate enough to be in the company of some of the aforementioned type of British person and one of my South African acquaintances introduced them to that ubiquitous "k-word". I was mortified. The British guys thought it was great fun and bandied it about until I politely but abruptly told them that they didn't have any understamding of what it meant and could they please not use it because it offends me. They got the idea pretty quick and the culprit came and apologised to me afterwards. I think it had sunk in that he was totally off sides. I can accept that. But the South African **** who brought it up needs a fist up the nostril and a one way ticket to Australia. On the whole the rest of the British folk I met that evening were none too bright but genuinely interested in What Is A South Africa and How Does It Work.

Attilathehun said...

Are you deluded freaks for real?

Katie Possum said...

yes. get used to it. we are the new south africa. we reject you and your racism. we're not blind or naive. we know SA has a serious crime problem, but want to be part of the solution.

Ricardo said...

Greetins from Brazil.

Anonymous said...

I've come across these really 'nice' south africans who simply believe that because of one's colour you necessarily suppose to behave in a certain manner? talk a certain way? a sort sub human specie with no ambition, who does nt belong here? Talk loud enough to their peers about what and how 'coloured' people are like??? WTF? Imagine I told my friends that all ' white' South Africans are racist? Thats my experience working a bar job over the weekends to put myself through law school! What ass holes!