Are Blacks and Jews too sensitive? Jewish Board of Deputies address

February 22, 2014 § 2 Comments

Late 2012, I was invited to speak at the Jewish Board of Deputies in Cape Town. DT124305

We cannot talk about freedom of expression and hate speech, nor can we ask whether Blacks and Jews are too sensitive or not, without putting tolerance on the table.

But the question arises, if we must be tolerant, how much should we tolerate? Should we have zero tolerance in order to eradicate hate speech?

The problem with zero tolerance is that you allow hate to go underground, when it should be allowed – so that we can see it. Because when we can see it, we are able to combat it. And, to a certain degree, exert some control over it.

Zero tolerance would not only mean the end of hate speech, it would also see the end of the freedom of expression because there would be zero tolerance for opinion in case it goes against views contrary to those held by a majority. There would be no room for dissent.

An end of tolerance would mean that we would have no comedians, no artists. There’s always someone offended by their work. There would be no Spear. (That image … I’m terribly sorry for bringing it up. Do excuse the pun. Or not.)

However, does tolerance mean that we have to tolerate everything? Of course not, that would be absurd. In the words of French philosopher André Comte-Sponville, “To tolerate the suffering of others, to tolerate an injustice of which we are not a victim, or an atrocity that we are spared, is not tolerance but selfish, indifferent, or worse. Tolerating Hitler meant becoming his accomplice, at least by omission or neglect, this kind of tolerance was already a form of collaboration.”

We should not tolerate things that should not be tolerated and use tolerance as an excuse.

Karl Popper in his 1962 book Open Society and its Enemies, notes that “if we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them”.

Since we do not want to be destroyed we have to strike a great balance between what should be tolerated and what should not.

The right to be sensitive
Black and Jewish people have suffered at the hands of others, and for some time, the world turned a blind eye. It could be argued that since Jews came so close to destruction and blacks suffered so much, both groups are living proof of what lack of tolerance is capable of.  Perhaps we have earned the right to be sensitive. If you have never been on the receiving end of an injustice it is easy to accuse the victim of being overly sensitive. To accuse the victim is also an attempt to force him to bury the crime that was committed against him.

Sadly, when you have been a victim of a mass humanitarian crime, the crime of the past becomes part of one’s identity. This is why blacks and Jews can be – can rightly be – sensitive when attacked. It is precisely because all things started out as language before  progressing into actions that resulted in one form of oppression or another.

That is, blacks are particularly sensitive to being told to get over apartheid. Asking black South Africans to get over apartheid is like asking Jews to get over the holocaust. We will never get over it, and we should never forget what happened. The criminal cannot tell the victim to get over it.

But as much as I might not agree with a person telling black people to get over apartheid, I will defend the jack-ass’s right to speak his foolishness.

It could be argued that since Jews came so close to destruction and black suffered so much, that both groups are living proof of what a lack of tolerance can do to a people.

Let us not forget that people who are extraordinarily sensitive to slights can also be the first ones to laugh when someone who does not belong to their group is being mocked. If one is a true advocate of an equal and free society, then we must be equally offended when some group other than the one to which we belong is unnecessarily and unjustly injured. We should not remain silent when the people we do not like are the target of hate speech. You can dislike someone but still respect, protect and be a defender of their rights. If we only demand justice for people we like then we are not just.

It is inconsistent with free speech to only defend it when people are trying to silence you.

It is not enough that we are against hate speech, but we have to support free speech, especially when we do not agree with the content of what is said – within reason. Free speech is not only free when others say what we agree with, it also remains free speech even when we disagree.

Do blacks and Jews people get away with more because of the history of their suffering, for example? Do we allow blacks and Jews to get away with more? Can they say things that others cannot say? We all know that we can. Should we be more sensitive to other people’s cultures when we speak on contentious issues?

Sensitivities have to be considered. For example, when the premier of the Western Cape made her now very infamous “refugee” and “professional black” comments earlier this year, I didn’t think she was racist nor did I think she was abusing the privileges she had been given in the Constitution.

But free speech comes with responsibilities and one must also accept the consequences that may come with that responsibility. The consequences of coming close to the line are not predetermined; they often come up when one doesn’t even expect them to. Helen Zille did not expect the firestorm that came with her saying the things she said. It was just a case of lack cultural sensitivity.

At the time, I said that the premier failed to apologise but instead, went down the meandering river of defending what should not be defended. She failed to be humble yet strong. To apologise yet make a point. Which was not surprising because the humility and sensitivity index is at an all time low in politics.

Considering her position in society, she ought to have been more sensitive about what she was going to say, particularly for someone who is the leader of an opposition that is under constant scrutiny – with the ANC always waiting for her to say something which can make it shout, “You are a racist!”

The unfortunate consequence of the sensitivity deficit is that when one speaks, and the language used lacks cultural sensitivity, everything that was said before or after is lost as we all focus on the cultural sensitivities. And then the point one was trying to make gets lost.

In the case of politicians, leaders have a greater responsibility to be culturally sensitive than ordinary citizens.

We all remember when the ANC organised a march against the Goodman Gallery demanding the removal of the now very famous Spear painting. We all remember the tragic events that a few weeks ago when mineworkers were shot and killed. There was no march by the ANC. A few days after the event I wrote the following tweet, “If only the ANC could be as mad about poverty and the events at Lonmin as it was about the Spear.”

The president was offended and so was the ANC. We too were expected to be offended because the president was offended. And I did find the painting to be offensive, but it still had the right to exist.

The right not to be offended is not in Constitution. As Ricky Gervais so eloquently put it: “Just because you are offended doesn’t mean you’re in the right.” We mistakenly think that because we are offended we must be right. Which of course is not always true.

As I’ve said before, “The office [of president] has to be treated with dignity, for the citizen who holds it is our ambassador to the world. He represents us equally, whether one voted for or against him, he is our president. People do not deserve respect because of the office they hold; they deserve it because of their character. If the office of the president deserves respect, then whoever holds the office should treat with the respect it deserves.”

What is the role of the artist? The artist is not meant to paint according to his or her race, but according their consciousness. Brett Murray was not being racist nor insensitive when he painted his painting. Art has a role in contemporary society to provoke, to say that which others are afraid to say in public. It is also there to reflect the views of a society at that given time in moment. It is there to be a mirror – to reveal to us what we are or what we have become. If you look in the mirror to find a fat person staring back, it’s you!

South Africa is a wounded society. The cut is too recent. The wound is too deep. The scab has not healed. And with each poke, the wound reminds us that it is still there.

We can all philosophise and discuss these things. But people are not constitutions. They are living breathing human beings. All we really have to be and remember is that we are human beings on a human journey. That if we treat people as we wish to be treated then we would all be okay and we might not need to have a written Constitution. But unfortunately we do need it for our own sake.

This is an edited version of an address Khaya Dlanga delivered at the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies “Censor/tivity” Conference: Freedom of Expression & Hate Speech in 21st Century South Africa on September 9 2012.

I have a dream

August 28, 2013 § 3 Comments

Let me let you in on something

The year was 2007 and I had been making YouTube videos for a few months. I was one of very few black video bloggers at the time. I felt very safe to make them at the time because there were no South Africans on YouTube back then. What I started noticing was that black video bloggers always got vicious racist comments all the time, so I made I Have YouTube Dream “speech” (see below). I had never seen such pure hatred in my life. The things said to me were beyond shocking.

Luckily, I rarely ever had to respond and users who followed my videos would respond on my behalf and attack the racists.  I wrote my own version of the I Have A Dream speech, I fumble every now and then as I tried to remember what I had memorised. When I made it, it also happened to be Black History month in the US. The video became popular fast. So, one early morning in February when I woke up, I saw that YouTube had actually featured this video on it’s front page. I was the first South African featured on YouTube’s front page. I even got an email from the co-founder of the site, Steve Chen. I nearly died. Below is the email from Mr Chen. Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 8.32.27 AM

Back then, YouTube looked after the little guys, we were a community. As consumption patterns on YouTube changed, so did the site. The community sort of vanished. I made a great friends on the internet I had never met and will most probably never meet most of them. It was my first social network. YouTube opened a lot of doors for me. If you watch the video, please see it in the context I have described above, it was not meant to demean Dr King’s work at all, it was a response to the racism that was happening on YouTube at the time, and YouTube had recognised it as a problem as well, I suspect that was the reason the video was put on the front page.

Power to the participant, my TedEx Soweto talk

August 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

I was invited to speak at the TedEx Soweto three years ago. My talk was called Power to the Participant.

I wonder if Mandela feels like my grandmother at this point in time

June 11, 2013 § 15 Comments

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Old people die because they are old not because they are sick. On January 27 2011, after Nelson Mandela’s hospitalization, he released the following statement, “I am not sick, I am old.”

His most recent hospitalization reminded me of old people within my family. My mother’s side of the family has been blessed with longevity. My grandfather, Alfred Kaiser Boyce, had four siblings, all of them died over the age of 85 bar one who lived a short life of 66 years. To the rest of her siblings, it was like she died a mere teenager. The oldest was 98 when she passed on, although I have even heard that she was 108 according to some accounts because there was no birth certificate. My grandfather was 87 when he finally made the curtain call.

I remember one of his siblings, Nofour Boyce (yes, that was her name), who got married into the Dandalas, who passed away at the ripe old age of 94, was old as far back as I can remember. She was always old, always had a walking stick, always wore glasses and her hair was always grey. She was never young in eyes.

My grandfather, Kaiser Boyce, would visit her every single day. They lived in the same village some 3 kilometers apart. They would sit on her veranda all day talking, sometimes my grandfather would leave in a huff and get on his horse because of some argument they might have had. Yet he’d be back the next day.

After his wife, Victoria Boyce, passed on, he’d get on one of his horses to visit his sister more frequently than before. More often than not, the horse he rode was Commando, his favourite one. I remember how mad he would get if he gave one of his horses to someone for one errand or another and it was returned with sweat stains. That always told him that whoever rode the horse rode it hard and didn’t much care for it. The culprit would never ever be given one of his horses ever again.

I was not in the village when he passed away a few years ago. He was in extreme pain from his illness for a long time. Seeing him in pain, pained us. It was as if pain was slowly taking life away from him every time he had to be rushed to hospital. When he eventually passed away, there was a sad relief that the pain had finally decided to give him rest.

Nofour was left alone when he died. Her husband had passed away in the early 70s. Perhaps my grandfather felt a brotherly responsibility towards his older sister. He was after all the only male out of all his siblings. As Xhosa culture dictates, he had to be the man of the house now.

Nofour Dandala became really lonely when Kaiser Boyce passed away. There was no one old enough to share the memories of old with. And she became very sickly. Every now and then she would be rushed to hospital after she turned 87. When she fell sick, she would ask the villagers to call a priest for her because she thought she was going to die. When the priest did eventually arrive she would chase him away.

As she advanced further in years, her memory started to fade and so did her eye sight, so much so that even the glasses did not seem to help. She began to forget her grandchildren too. Yet she never forgot me even though I was not one of her direct grandchildren, I was her brother’s grandchild. Perhaps that was because I’d visit her with my grandfather as a child.

One day while I was visiting her at the hospital in Johannesburg a few weeks before she passed away, she said to me, “You know my child, I realized my mind was not what it used to be when I asked for my brother a few years ago. I was angry because he had stopped visiting me. I was so mad at him. I wanted to know why. Then I was told that he had passed away, and that I had been at the funeral. I cannot tell you the pain I felt that day, missing my brother and realizing that my mind is also going. I know that it is time for me to go now to be with my siblings.  When you are old and have no one, you just want to go because you are just tired.” A few days after that she stopped talking all together. My cousin and I would go to her bedside everyday and we’d joke amongst ourselves, every now and then, we’d see a faint smile through her closed eyes and through the pipe in her mouth.

Now, as Mandela has gone on another hospital trip, I wonder if he feels like my grandmother, or as we called her, uKhulu.

English is not my mother’s tongue

May 21, 2013 § 15 Comments

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Excerpt from my book, In My Arrogant Opinion

English is a difficult language with excellent public relations. If you speak English, and have the added bonus of speaking it well with a great accent, you are suddenly propelled into the class of the intelligent. You are not even required to have achieved anything.

I’m not the world’s most articulate person. I hate my voice. I hate hearing it, which seems like a great contradiction considering how often I am caught speaking. If talking were like a speeding fine, I’d have many of those fines because I talk whenever there is an opportunity to do so, particularly about subjects I am interested in.

In the apartheid years, my mother sent me to a Catholic boarding school in the small town of Qumbu in the Transkei. The name of the school was Little Flower Junior Secondary School and it went from Sub A to Standard 7. Little Flower J.S.S. You know you went to a hood school when your school’s name ends with a J.S.S. – and it didn’t have a school song, even though it was probably the most prestigious school in the Transkei.

All children were forbidden from speaking Xhosa or any language other than English. When you arrived at the school for the first time, you were given leeway to include Xhosa in your English until month three. After that you were expected to have mastered the English language. Most of us had never spoken a word of English prior to when we were accepted into the school. Myself included.

The principal of the school was an imperious nun with a slightly short right leg. Her right shoe always had a thicker sole. Her name was Sister Daniel and she was Austrian. She really enforced the use of English in the school despite her Austrian background.

One day, my Standard 3 teacher was off sick. As a result, Standards 2 and 3 had to be combined. We were instructed to remain silent for the remainder of the day. I said something to a friend who was sitting next to me. Then another thing. The teacher caught me whispering and she told me to ‘Shush’ with the authority of a feared teacher. I shut up. Immediately. Unfortunately, I have a very short attention span …

I said something else to my friend. She caught me again and summoned me and my innocent friend to her desk. Then she said, ‘Go to Sister Daniel’s office and tell her that you spoke in class!’ Now, it is true that I had spoken in class. But unfortunately, lunch was an hour away. Let me explain why this was unfortunate. Don’t worry; there is a point to this story.

If you were caught shouting, speaking in class when you were not supposed to, or speaking Xhosa, it was tickets. A piece of brown masking tape would be put on your mouth for three hours. If your three hours fell between meal times, sorry for you, no eating. We ate meat three times a week. And the day the teacher told me to go to the principal’s office to get my mouth decorated with masking tape was one of those meat days. I was not about to go down like that. I must have been 11 at the time. I wanted my meat and I was not about to miss it just because I had spoken in class when I wasn’t supposed to. I guess one could say that there was a thin line between abuse and discipline then.

My friend was the first one to walk out the class. I was very close to the door when I turned back to the teacher and said, ‘Sorry Miss.’ I took one step closer to her desk. She carried on looking at her notes or marking or doing whatever it is that teachers do when they are not teaching.  I inched another step closer and said, ‘Sorry Miss’. Each time she ignored me but I carried on until I was very close to her table. She got up wielding a stick, which encouraged me to get out of the class with great speed.

A minute later, I stepped back into the class without having gone to the principal’s office and said again, ‘Sorry Miss.’ This time, she laughed and said, ‘That’s very manly of you.’ She let me back in the class. Sometimes persistence pays off because I didn’t get any masking tape and I enjoyed my lunch. Yellow samp, cabbage and a boiled chicken wing. It had no flavour, but it was the tasting meat I ever had because I was this close to not having it.

My story is not as tragic as that of Thobile. Thobile was a big, burly, dark young boy. He had the strength of a bull and no one ever messed with him. We had been at Little Flower boarding school for eight months at the time. Unfortunately for Thobile, it took him a really long time for him to learn to speak in English.

One day Thobile needed to sharpen his pencil. We were in Standard 2 and were only allowed to use pencils when writing. Cursive was a big deal back then. Another boy was already standing over the dustbin sharpening his pencil. He was the smallest boy in the class and constantly seeking the teacher’s approval. I saw him hand a sharpener to Thobile and then approach the teacher, Mrs Landu.

‘Thobile just spoke Xhosa, Miss,’ he whispered to Mrs Landu just loud enough for the rest of the class to hear, but faking discretion at the same time. Thirty ten-year-olds looked up from their books in horror. ‘He did what?’ We were all thinking it.

‘What did he say?’Mrs Landu asked.

‘He said, “Khawuthi umshini ndithishwele-shwele.”’ (‘Give me the sharpener so that I can just, quick, quick.’) Upon hearing this horror – a child speaking his mother tongue in class – Mrs Landu summoned Thobile to her desk and picked up her stick. Corporal punishment was very legal back then.

She made him lift his hand and began hitting him.

‘What did I say, Thobile?’ Mrs Landu asked as she struck him.

‘Did you say Miss! Did you say Miss!’ Thobile tried in his best English while screaming from the pain.

‘What did I say, Thobile?’ Mrs Landu asked him again as her stick repeatedly came down on his hand.

‘Did you say Miss! Did you say Miss!’ Thobile failed again to respond in appropriate English. He was struggling to say, ‘You said we shouldn’t speak Xhosa, Miss.’ His bad English still amused us even after eight months in the school, but we didn’t laugh out loud, of course. It was not his mother’s tongue. And I do know that it is ‘mother tongue’ in case you wanted to correct me. I know you blacks. Always correcting someone’s English. It’s for emphasis, dear reader.

Thobile was sent to the principal’s office. Masking tape was put over his mouth and he missed his lunch. We learned that it was bad to speak Xhosa. One’s mother tongue was inferior to English.

Thus we participated in the suppression of our languages from a very early age. No one objected to it and no one saw anything wrong with it. But today I feel for Thobile because I realise that he was being made to feel bad and somehow less than for speaking his language.

What makes learning English doubly tough, are the blacks. Yes. The blacks. The people of the melanin-advantaged sort, of which I am a member.

Why do I say such a thing? Well, for one thing, no one laughs harder at another black person who has just mispronounced an English word than black people. Perhaps the laugh is some sort of superiority complex that makes people feel a little bit better about themselves because they have mastered the master’s language, and so they mock the poor victims of George.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain who George is in case you are wondering – but he isn’t who you expect him to be – if you are a member of the melanin-disadvantaged persuasion, that is.

Funnily enough, no one laughs or mocks another black person who mispronounces a word in their indigenous African languages. There is no pointing, no laughing. Unless, of course, it is about the word ‘ukunyoba’. For some reason, this word takes people back to their schoolgoing days.

The word for bribe in Xhosa is ‘ukunyoba’. In Zulu, the very same word actually means, ‘hanky-panky’ or ‘sex’, if you prefer. Perhaps the two words are rather apt because when it comes to bribery, someone gets screwed in the end. But I digress.

There are many examples of us laughing at other black people for mispronouncing English words. Our most prominent example at the moment is Jacob Zuma. When he makes speeches, people will more often than not comment on his pronunciation rather than the contents of his speech. Words such as ‘management’ depart from his tongue and reach our ears over the airwaves sounding like ‘man-age-ment’. I never laugh at the president’s pronunciation, mainly because I mispronounce about 60% of English words. Although, to be honest, I can’t help laughing at how he reads. We all know how he reads. The following is inspired by the work of that South African fellow now in Hollywood, Trevor Noah.

Pretend that the following sentence comes from his mouth. It is. Very. Diffi-cult to. Follow the. Presi-dent’s. Speeches sometimes.

I, like the president, wasn’t born speaking English. Most black South Africans were not born speaking it either. So it is not, whatchamacallit? It is not our mother’s tongue. This language, which came to South Africa on a ship, has another name. Many black South Africans call it ‘George’, after King George of England. There is something deeply disturbing about how George has taken over the life of the ordinary black South African. In fact, it is not so much that English is here. It is the manner in which we are allowing it to obliterate the rest of the African languages. Particularly for the privileged agent blacks.

Who are the agent blacks? I count myself in this group. We are the ones who went to what were formerly Model C schools after the election of Nelson Mandela as the first democratic president of South Africa. These schools only offered English and Afrikaans, and some an African language, but the African languages were never given the same status as English or Afrikaans.

So we decided to study Afrikaans instead of our languages. It is no wonder then that some schools have decided to drop teaching Xhosa and Zulu even though Xhosa and Zulu are the two most spoken languages in the country. We can’t blame the white man for this one. We have to blame ourselves and our government for allowing it to happen. It is shameful. Can you imagine England deciding not to teach English anymore? We have shortchanged ourselves.

We need to save our languages. Mother tongue languages have to be compulsory in schools. We shouldn’t even be debating this.

Trully Romantic: My grandparent’s romantic story for the ages

May 10, 2013 § 2 Comments

Extract from my book, In My Arrogant Opinion

 

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The very first sound I ever made was neither in Xhosa nor English; it was that universal wail all babies make. I cried, at least that’s what I imagine happened. Maybe I cried because I was naked and was feeling a little embarrassed. Or was it because I was aware of how small my penis was and my hands were too short, and my muscles too weak, for me to stretch my hands to hide it? I will never remember. It could be argued that I suffered a premature onslaught of Alzheimer’s, but it’s something all babies share – forgetting where they come from. No memory of their history …

It was a dark and stormy night in April when I was born. I’m not joking. I was born in a hut in the house of my grandfather, Alfred Kaiser Boyce, uSnama, Rhadu, Somadoda, amalandelwa yintombi ithindizeke nobaawunankomo! (S’nama, Rhadu, Somadoda, the ones who get followed by girls saying, ‘marry me even if you have no cows!’). You will be excused for thinking that Alfred Kaiser Boyce was a white man. He was not; he was as Xhosa as they come.

I was born in the small rural village of Dutyini just outside the small town of Mount Ayliff in the Transkei. My grandfather was married to Marhadebe, Victoria Boyce. The story of how they got married is as romantic as any one I have heard. Xhosa men back then were not known for their romance, not that they are now. However, I imagine I am, rather (Hello, ladies). Perhaps I should tell the story of how they got married, very briefly.

Before they got married, my grandfather (Kaiser or K as he was called by everyone in the village) and grandmother had been dating. Kaiser was very popular with the ladies because of his looks, charm, wit and his above-average education. Unlike many young black men in his time, he had gone all the way to Grade 8. A major achievement.

My grandmother, Victoria Mthimkhulu, wasn’t known as the best-looking woman around. But she had the most incredible sprit of any human being I have ever met. My grandfather had four sisters. As anyone with many sisters will know, they always have an opinion about any woman you decide you like. They could never understand his fixation on my grandmother. According to them, he was far superior to her in looks. They even called her ugly. He would respond by saying, ‘Ifigure yakhe!’ (‘What a fine figure she has!’).

He was also taken with her conservatism, politeness, steadfastness, Christian poise and the fact that she could read and write, something uncommon for women in her village at the time. I’ll never forget that when some white came to our distant village once, my grandfather was away and there was only one person who could speak to that person — my grandmother. I was too young and my English nonexistent, so I have no clue what they talked about.

My grandfather didn’t have much money so he wasn’t able to pay her lobola (dowry) right away. While he was chilling, some other fellow, a rich man in the area, paid lobola for my grandmother. Custom dictated then that if your parents had an agreement with another girl’s parents, you were supposed to marry that person, even though you had never dated. It was effectively an arranged marriage. And so it was that my grandmother was married to another man.

Upon hearing the news, Kaiser would have none of it. He hatched a plan immediately. He was in love so there was no chance in hell that some random dude, no matter how much money he had, would beat him to the punch, even if he had already beaten him to the punch.

He sent a message to my grandmother that he planned to take her from her new in-laws. She agreed to the plan only if he promised that he would pay lobola by a certain time.

In a cavalier fashion, within days of my grandmother’s marriage, my grandfather and his friends invaded the new home of his now married lover and took her. She was basically kidnapped (‘waathwalwa’).

Ukuthwalwa was not unheard of then. But to ukuthwala a woman who was already married to another man was something new altogether.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, my grandfather eventually gathered a few cattle and paid lobola for my grandmother and they lived happily until death parted them.

These were the people who raised me for the first ten years of my life. The idea that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be is something that I observed in them; it’s not something that I would say they taught me.

My mother would come to visit Dutyini from the township of Mdanstane, just outside East London where she worked. I never really knew what to say to her because she was this beautiful woman who I was too scared to touch because I was afraid of making her dirty. She always seemed so out of place and too beautiful to be in the village. Years later, I found out that she would cry every time she left for East London, she found it unbearable that she had to leave her children behind in the rural life while she went back to an easier existence in the township.

My early education happened in this village. The teachers had an inferior education, which meant they transferred inferior knowledge to children who were already disadvantaged by life. One of my classrooms accommodated both the Grade 1s and Grade 2s. There were times when we couldn’t use the classrooms because they were being used for something else.

They say that these early years are what make us who we are. If those years made me who I am, I am grateful for them. By the time I was ten, I was a certified delinquent. I had already quit smoking weed and moved on to other things. I guess what I’m saying is that it is a miracle that I have written this book. And I want to thank everyone who has played a part in my life.

The best exit letter ever. He deserves to be hired.

April 15, 2013 § 2 Comments

This young man, Richard Tseng, is one of 20 people who were retrenched from an ad agency in Canada last week.

The very same agency had to get rid of another 20 last months. He wrote one of the classiest exit letters I have ever read. He is a copywriter. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s someone who writes ads. That’s not all but it’s the simplest explanation. If I were an Executive Creative Director, I would hire him immediately. I wouldn’t even ask to see his portfolio. His letter says everything about his character, sincerity and his ethic. If I made a mistake hiring him, I’d be glad I did. Here is his exit letter:

In Canada’s frozen north, during a particularly harsh winter, a starving Eskimo tribe (Inuit for the politically correct) was forced to abandon their eldest matron on the ice. Being a tough old broad, she followed her clan for several days, making sure to keep just out of sight.

One day, a polar bear happened upon her. Taking her for a straggler and an easy meal it strolled up to her, mouth open, ready to swallow with one gulp. The Eskimo lady waited and, once in range, plunged her walking stick down the bear’s gullet.

Hours later the clansmen could see her, cresting a snow hill, dragging behind her enough meat to feed the whole tribe.

Times are tough, and circumstances beyond anybody’s control have dictated that I must leave. Totally understand. But, as Rahm Emanuel would say, “Never fucking waste a fucking crisis, fucker.” Which is another way of saying that it’s actually an opportunity. And I intend on seizing it.

So thanks to every member of this tribe called Arnold. It’s been an honor and pleasure working with you. I hope our paths cross again. Who knows? I might even be back one day. Hopefully with enough polar bear sushi to share.

In the words of a fellow young Canadian:

Never say never,
Rich Tseng

That’s right, he quoted Justin Bieber.

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