Yes, Blacks Do Read, But Do They Write?

September 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

Originally appeared on The Cape Times in May

So much went on that I have decided to discuss various subjects in this single column. I had the privilege of attending the Franschoek Literary Festival and participated in panels on all three days. Almost everyone who was there had written a book. The last time I felt that insecure was when I was showering with a group of Nigerians. For a writer I sure talked a lot. Instead of covering one issue, I have decided to cover several issues in this column instead. The interesting thing about the festival is how the issues were black and white even though that was not the point.

The first thing I’d like to discuss is the issue of blacks not reading.  Yes, blacks do read, but do they write? That is the question that we really need to be asking. The reason I wanted to address that issue is because of the lack of black writers. They are there, but there aren’t many who have had books published. This was also apparent to anyone attending the festival, there weren’t many black faces. There are several conclusions one can draw from this. 1) Blacks are not interested in the festival. 2) Blacks don’t feel included, (although I felt at home) therefore stand on the sidelines. 3) Blacks aren’t really as interested in literature as white folk.

One of the most important things that was said at the festival was by Anna Trapido who said that it’s time writing about Mandela went to black hands because there are nuances that blacks can get about Mandela and his Xhosa context that white writers may not be able to get. She mentioned that Mandela’s favourite taste was amasi (sour milk) and she said that is something that non-Xhosa writer might miss the significance of. (Although I must add that if she was able to pick that up that goes to demonstrate that she is an insightful writer.) Great writing, it could be argued, transcends race, so it should not matter who writes about Mandela. No matter, I am also of the school that writing about Mandela should go into black hands now (In fact, it’s a pity that we are saying “now”, it should have been so from the get go). However, it has to be a mature black writer, someone who is at least 45 years of age who will have greater insight than a younger black writer. I said as much to Anna Trapido who suggested that I should do it

The other interesting panel discussion I was involved in was with Tom Eaton moderated by Fiona Snyckers. One of the questions that was asked is whether there are things that blacks can say that white’s can’t in satire. I think that everybody can say anything. But there are consequences to what one says. In South Africa if a black person critises the government, they are criticizing the government but when a white person says the same thing, there are times when that person can be accused of racism. Tom Eaton raised a good point and said some times you may have white South Africans who criticize the black government out of racist intent even though what they are criticizing is correct.

The point I made is that in America, you have a case where there is a white majority where a black minority was oppressed. However one finds that when one says offending statements about black people there is a public outcry, case in point radio host Don Imus who was fired after calling black woman “nappy headed hoes”. In the states you have a case whereby the rights of the minorities are protected. In South Africa, especially because of our past, one sometimes finds that things can be said about minorities without much consequence. However we did see Khuli Roberts quitting her column as a result of an insensitive column she’d written. The truth is black people can get away with more than white people can. This has to do with the historical nature of what went through. It can also be easily argued that white folk have been getting away with saying a lot things about black people for centuries without consequence.

The final point I want to make is that we haven’t really defined what the South African voice is in writing. What does it mean to be South African? This question is asked a lot. There is no single South African voice. We shouldn’t try to find one as our coat of arms reads, “United in diversity”. We are not homogenous. We are different. We must accept this and not try to be the same, but we should remain united.

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§ One Response to Yes, Blacks Do Read, But Do They Write?

  • kangopie says:

    Its sad because while I was at school I was introduced to great Zimbabwean, Kenyan and Ghanaian writers but i don’t know the SA writers whose books I should be looking for.

    I love literature from Africa coz its a different way of seeing the world.

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