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Racial slurs will set us free

2009-09-23 10:47
This was a line from a standup comedy show I performed during a Grahamstown arts festival for an almost all-white, mostly liberal audience, sometime back in the mid-nineties, when the internet was still a nerds-only experience and nobody had yet begun to regret voting "yes" in the 1992 referendum.

I'm proud to say that line usually worked just as I had intended. The audience squirmed in their seats. The laughter was uncomfortable, sometimes shocked and embarrassed, and I always had to follow up with 10 minutes of penis jokes to make up for the verbal assault. But after the show, I'd invariably be approached by a rare black audience member telling me how much they enjoyed that bit.

"Dude," said one guy after a show, shaking his dreadlocks and laughing like Eddie Murphy, "you are so kaffir..."

I still consider this to be one of the best compliments I've ever received.

As the late, great George Carlin said, there is no such thing as a racist word. After all, a word is just a word. It’s the racist asshole using it that we should be concerned about. The word "boy", for example, can be a term of endearment when used by a parent, but it takes on a whole new meaning when it's used by a policeman whose fingers are mere inches away from the two grams of coke you have stashed in your underpants.

So when I read the story about Jeandré Kruger, the Vanderbijlpark school kid who greeted a classmate with, "hello, kaffertjie", and got himself stabbed by fellow black classmates for what he maintains was an innocent exchange between friends, I have to admit, I felt a bit sorry for the "boertjie".

I can relate. I call my closest and most endearing friends hateful names all the time. I don't think I have a single female friend I haven't called a slut, bitch, or a cock-juggling whore at some point in our friendship. My best male friend is a not only a hook-nosed, Christ-killing kike – but he's also fudge-packing, shirt-lifting DA-voting maggot queer-boy to boot, so I have all sorts of fun with him.  Ramadan is a great time of the year for me, because not only do I get to call my towel-headed buddies dune-coon terrorists, but they're too weak with hunger to fight back, even when I email them pictures of delicious bacon sautéed in white wine and butter. But the best of all are my Afrikaner buddies. Those hairy-backed, rockspider, half-brick Dutchmen sure know how to take a joke. It's a lot of fun.

The only difference between me and the recently stabbed school kid is that I'd never say these things in public - just like my friends would probably never call me a cracker-head, whitey, rooinek settler in a crowded room. As an aside, I would have thrown "soutpiel" into that list, but given the fact that so many boere, zots, coolies and hotnots are now living aboard, the insult doesn't really make sense any more. 

Racist slurs can be a lot of fun when shared between friends who are in on the joke. They can even be empowering, and play a small role in diluting the oppressive power of "forbidden" words. Slowly but surely, the word "nigger" is turning into a great success story, with both whites and blacks calling each other "my nigger" as if it were synonymous with "my brother".

Similarly, "boer" is also getting there. With so many Afrikaners now embracing the word in terms like boeremusiek, boerewors, and ‘' boer maak ‘'plan, the word has become about as benign as its original meaning.

But "kaffir"? I don't think many would argue that this one still has a long way to go. It must be worth at least a couple of stabs in the back to even out the balance. Maybe three or four.  And a kick in the nuts, just to get the point across.

Now I'm not saying that Kruger deserved to be stabbed – but I can understand why it happened – and that’s only if it happened the way the media reported the incident.  And since we've had no comment from the black student, or the stabby students, I guess I'll reserve judgment for now. After all, I have no idea what I’d do if I heard some stranger calling my kike homo friend a kike homo. I might very well get violent.

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