FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Loutish behaviour gives racism a bad name


There are times when I think that our sensitivity to racism allows louts to get away with stuff. Instead of engaging with thuggish behaviour as it is, we jump to the conclusion that it is racist behaviour.

A manager who is terrible at handling the resignation of his staff, the guy, who because he spends more time working on his muscles than he does on his brain, thinks every disagreement must be resolved by physical violence and the road hog seems to have all been replaced by racists.

This is partly because we are a society that has stopped being interested in complexities. We want simple answers even for complicated problems. As a result, screaming racism seems like an adequate response to all the difficult questions that arise in the course of life.

Even in a racialised country such as South Africa, we cannot pretend that some people are not just plain old-fashioned hoodlums who enjoy visiting misery on anyone they encounter.

One just needs to watch fiction on TV or even read children’s storybooks to know what I am talking about.

Cinderella’s evil step-mother and sisters could not have been informed by racism. The perennial bad guy character with an evil laugh in superhero movies who wants to destroy the world is not doing so because he or she does not like the biological features of the human race he wants destroyed.

That is because there has, there is, and there will always be obnoxious people out there who find their greatest happiness in causing the unhappiness of others. We would prefer they were not like that, but alas…

Sometimes, people are not loathsome, they are just lousy at personal relations. They lack the emotional intelligence to relate productively to others. In simple terms, they are louts.

This being the Christmas season, these two categories will be out there ruining what was meant to be happy family gatherings with their ill-considered utterings and behaviour. Some will probably blame it on the alcohol.

This is not to deny, excuse or downplay the reality of racism. It is undeniable that our history makes our society attractive to racism. I would rather have questions about the competence, intelligence or even mental health of individuals acting in a strange way, interrogated before jumping to the conclusion that the person behaving badly is doing so motivated by racism.

Racism is not even just a South African problem.

The racial slurs hurled at a Chelsea player during an English Premier League match on Sunday just reiterated how entrenched racism is in the world. One cannot help but feel that racism is endemic and will take many generations to eradicate if it ever is.

In general, the so-called race card is a valid response to a society founded and maintained on race hierarchy. As with anything else, it can be abused but it is not an unreasonable card to play given our collective experience.

But before that card is placed, could we at least satisfy ourselves that we are not dealing with a boorish idiot with low self-esteem and save our vitriol for racists and racism for occasions that deserve it.

That is because sooner or later, the truly ugly head of racism will rear its head and it will need all those who dream of a fair and egalitarian society to work together to fight it regardless of the skin colour of the racist.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.