Fighting the Man and Losing

Okay, so to paint the scene, a few weeks ago i’m watching TV on sunday and this chatshow is on, called Chatroom. They’re talking about whether or not english should be spoken across the board in SA. It’s a show where there are two teams of two debaters, a panel of expers and a live audience, plus one presenter.

Never mind that there was not a single white or coloured face in the audience. Never mind that people repeatedly spoke of 9 indigenous languages in SA when there are 10 (official, anyway). Never mind that one of the debaters was Indian, so they obviously felt that non-indigenous, non-official languages like Hindi should be represented, but afrikaans which is both indigenous and official, should not. Here’s the problem I really had:

The presenter’s opinion is very obviously biased towards the ‘no’ camp. She argues with every statement for, and agrees with every statement against. Then one of the experts, an author and economist who speaks 5 languages (english, japanese, german, and two african languages) states that his daughter speaks to him only in english. The presenter asks if he encourages this. Yes, he says, he wants her to be able to communicate effectively and so began speaking to her in english from a young age. The presenter is obviously disapproving. Isn’t his daughter going to lose her heritage? No, he replies, she speaks to her father’s family in one african language, and her mother’s in the other, and to her father in english. She is fluent in all three.

The presenter is not impressed. She turns to the audience. ‘Let’s hear what some other non coconuts have to say.’

Um, excuse me? For those of you not familiar with the term, think of the imagery. Coconut: brown on the outside, white on the inside. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me that this term is inherently racist as it relies on the distinction of race for its meaning. Black skin on the outside, white thoughts and viewpoints on the inside. This term is not used as a compliment, believe me. It’s an insult. The intention is to dismiss the speaker’s view as ‘white’ and therefore not legitimate. Zenstar, who was watching with me, agrees. This is not the kind of objective, respectful behaviour a presenter should display.

So I wanted to say something about it. I know they have an email address to send comments to, but i missed it. I email the South African Broadcasting Commission, who air the show, to ask for it. No reply. I email again. Still no reply. I ask some other people if they think the comment was out of place. They agree. I decide to give the SABC on more week to reply, and then i’m going to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

Still no reply. I lodge a complaint with the BCC. Today, I get SABC’s reply. It’s pathetic. Their defenses can be summarised as follows:
1. This term is commonly used amongst black people so it must be okay.
2. This term has been used on other shows so it must be okay.
3. An audience member brought up the term earlier, so it must be okay.
4. The presenter meant it in jest, so it must be okay.
5. The term isn’t racist because it means you have western views, so it must be okay.
6. The presenter was introducing a street term to make the show more ‘real’.

Now, let me answer these:
1. So? I can think of some other terms that used to be common in SA for black people, does that make them okay?
2. Because a daytime soapie that strives to show realistic tensions between characters uses it, does not mean it is acceptable to use it in a live talk show where the host has a duty to be respectful to her guests.
3. The audience member also said that she was called one all the time because of her views and she has just had to get used to it and that other people’s opinions don’t matter to her. Does that sound like she’s talking about a term that isn’t insulting or dismissive of her views? Why does she have to get ‘used’ to it if it’s okay?
4. Oh sure, she got a laugh from the audience at the expense of a guest’s dignity. That makes it all better.
5. Think for a second about why the term is ‘coconut’. Coconuts are not western on the inside, they are white on the inside. It has to do with race, and it’s meant as an insult, and it is therefore racist. Get a clue.
6. WTF? Have you people never heard of a thing called appropriateness?

Well, the BCC said i was welcome to appeal against the defence, but I replied that i felt it would be in vain. I added some comments of the sort above. They’re going to pass them on to the SABC. To be honest, I don’t expect anything to come of this other than some letter from some SABC toadie attempting to tell me again that i’m wrong because i’m white and so obviously can’t understand inter-black culture. You know what? I get it. I get that it might be okay on the street for one black to call another black ‘nigger’. That does not make it okay for a professional presenter to call her guest a nigger! Context, god damn it!

Anyway, that’s my rant for the day. Just had to get that out there. Let me know if you agree/ disagree with me.

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