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Stop racism! You first...

2009-10-21 10:58
With the exception of most of the people on my cellphone contacts list, I still have the tendency to see humanity as 99 percent spiteful moron and one percent trans fat. So I guess I'm still the same negative creep I was going in.

But let's avoid floccinaucinihilipilification of the process. After all, I get paid by the word, and I'd hate for you to go away thinking that you don't need no transformation, because to tell the truth, you probably do.

This is not to say that the average corporate training workshop affair doesn't make me want to inject mayonnaise into my neck. It's usually like stumbling into a Kafkaesque nightmare, only with tea and biscuits. Years ago I attended a team-building session where we were given glitter, glue and finger-paints, and told, "If the company were an animal, draw the animal it would be." I'm not kidding. I put a single dot in the centre of the A2 paper and said it was a flea.
"Why a flea?" asked the convener, dripping with saccharine fraudulence.

"Because fuck you," I replied. I'm surprised he didn't make me sit in the corner for the rest of the day, the condescending prick. The old corporate cliché, "There's no 'I' in 'team'” is one of the main reasons I'm a writer.

My one regret is that I never had the opportunity to do one of those "trust" exercises, where a colleague falls backwards, and you have to catch them. I'd step out of the way as they fell, and expect anyone with a heart to do the same for me. Let's not pretend for a second that anyone we exchange pleasantries with in the tea room is going to be there to catch us when we wilfully fall flat on our arses.

Back at the transformation workshop, a group of left-leaning, well-educated people went through the motions of discussing personal prejudices and an intolerance for others that was conspicuous by its absence from the room. We were shown a video of a discrimination experiment, in which a primary school teacher divided her class of tykes into blue-eyed and brown-eyed groups.  For the first week, the class was told that the blue-eyed kids were superior, and the brown-eyed kids had to wear collars to denote their inferiority.

Almost immediately the brown-eyed group's performance plummeted, and the blue-eyed group turned into horrible little Nazis. In the second week, the roles were reversed, and predictably, the same thing happened. I would have been happy to conclude that all this experiment proved was that kids are horrible little bastards, but the same test has been carried out on relatively sane adults, with the same results. We're a thoroughly nasty species.

We were then divided into black and white groups, where we both compiled a list of what we were told blacks were like while growing up, and another list for whites. When the groups reconvened to compare lists, we saw that our results were almost identical: Both black lists were filled with negative attributes, and white lists glowed with superiority. Like the kids in the eye colour experiment, who ended their two weeks by ceremoniously destroying their collars of discrimination, we did the same with our lists. Most of the group felt this was a cathartic experience. I thought it was bullshit.

"Why are we tearing up these lists when this way of thinking is still a problem?" I said when we were asked to comment. "We should be keeping them as a reminder that discrimination didn't suddenly end when Mandela did his cute little dance."

The convenor smiled indulgently, nodded, and moved onto the next person.

This is why I despise liberalism. In their permanent state of hallucinatory optimism, liberals seem to think a display of open minded understanding will solve all the world's problems, because God forbid they should get their well-manicured hands dirty by giving some racist fool a well deserved punch in the crotch. They're insufferable, middle-class peaceniks, whose closest brush with political activism is to leave a dinner party early when one of the guests turns out to be a homophobe. Those wusses deserve all the bullying we can throw at them.

But for most South Africans – and yes, of all races - liberalism would be a step up.

On the long drive back from the workshop, I heard an interview on CapeTalk with the University of the Free State's new vice-chancellor, Jonathan Jansen, defending his decision to drop charges against the four Reitz residence students who made the now notorious video, and allow them back to continue their studies.

Making all the right noises about 'despicable' actions and 'regretful' incidents, Jansen compared his decision to the TRC process, saying that it was part of his 'transformation' of the university, in the spirit of 'reconciliation'. (Okay, okay! Missed a spot there - the original article claimed he was white. And tempting as it is to edit it to call him a coconut, we'll simply apologise for the error and admit to it too - Ed).

Jansen may want to look into the idea of sending his students and their victims to a similar workshop – preferably together. Pseudo intellectual, useful idiots like me already know that discrimination turns everyone into victims, so we have to examine society at large to identify the effects of racism. The UFS eight would only need to look into a mirror.

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