Monday, February 06, 2006

How to be a South African - Mail and Guardian Online

I read Mail and Guardian on and off, and generally find it pretty informative. Recently, however, I have been finding it pretty irritating. I blogged before on their "White Africans" article, and expressed my sadness at having my identity restricted under an umbrella of white guilt. The article linked to at the top of today's post, however, has a similar slant, though it generally disturbs me less. I just don't really know how to address this issue myself. I guess as long as we continue thinking about and writing about it, we are getting somewhere.

On the other hand, however, the center spread article in this week's paper, to which I unfortunately cannot link, as it requires a subscription, is called, disturbingly, "Where are all the clever Chicks?" The title tells you all you need to know about the quality of the writing. I have always hated nick-names. Not necessarily for others, when they choose them, but absolutely for myself, and absolutely when they generalize about a specific group of people. Calling women "chicks" is just such a tasteless statement. And that really is the mildest of them. When I am classified as a woman because of my "tits" I want to scream.
That this is a fundamentally tasteless article is one thing, however. More relevant, perhaps is that it expresses a terribly cliched suggestion that makes one of the most superb female intellectuals I know object to feminism as a movement. I get the second wave stuff that seeks to understand what makes women unique, rather than "just as good as...", not least because it is the uniqueness that makes me like femininity, of womanness, of whatever, as much as I do (and I really do), but I also agree with the aforementioned intellectual's objection to a movement that seeks eternally to make us a special case, a something that needs to be sensitized, and italicized, and apostrophized, and not simply recognized.

Perhaps it is the same basic premise that makes this article fundamentally distasteful that also makes the concern with white South Africans troubling. I once wrote to someone that I believe that the greatest subversive value of homosexuality is connected with the fact that it is difficult to symptomatize to the same extent as race, of gender, or age are. You have to know something about a person to know that they are gay. That lends a certain degree of dignity to the interaction that undercuts prejudice. You don't have to know anything about a person to know that they are female, of white. But you do to know that they are South African. Does that make us inherently subversive?

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