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My White Voice, and that thing called networking

This is something that a colleague at my previous job noted about me. I had to call a client and enquire about something. My voice, even while the phone was ringing, was one way and as soon as the client answered, it become another.

He probably thought it was an exceptional observation, but it was something I’ve been aware of for many years.

This point was brought to my attention again recently when I was chatting online to someone from America. He asked me if I have an accent, and I found it hard to answer. Do I have an accent? I know the way I speak is unique to the part of South Africa where I’m from,   but is there a particularly South African accent? Even Nelson Mandela, our most famous citizen, sounded completely unique. This friend of mine said I “sounded British” and compared me to James Bond (he was being way too kind). Later, he said that it seemed like the more I got comfortable speaking to him, the stronger my accent became. This was an interesting contrast to his story, in which he, as an African American, gets told that he doesn’t sound “black enough”.

Speaking, as a part of our identity, has always interested me. I wrote about the particular problems associated with being “coloured” in South Africa. I experienced a similar issue to my American friend when i was growing up. I was accused of being “sturvy” (stuck up) and “acting white”. Read about that here.

I find it strange that the way in which we speak is so important to others. We are so inclined to form an opinion of someone based on past experiences, and what we think we know for sure. This results in prejudice, which has this way of being unfair towards others. Last year in Cape Town, it became clear that there were quite a few racist (or just cautious, as they might put it) property owners, discriminating against others based on who they thought they were.  Read that unshocking expose here.

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Being in the city of Jozi is strange. Speaking to a few people, I found the things I was saying rather interesting. I am often asked about where I intend to go – which publications I want to work for and what field of journalism interests me. I am not sure yet, but my rhetoric has become particularly ambitious, and I like it. At my first Joburg party (three, in fact, in one night. That is evidently the way it’s done here) I met so many people. I really enjoyed speaking to them, and before i knew it, I was asked what I do, and other such probing questions. I really enjoyed it – the questions, not the probing – and realised that I was networking.

What I don’t like, however, is something else I’ve seen. Networking is a skill I believe I have yet to master. I know of someone who readily says, in melodiously lingering affectations, that he IS a networkeeer. I have an issue with this type of person because what happens is that the people with whom they interact are reduced to a type. No one wants to be viewed as simply what they can do for you. Often these relationships are symbiotic, but we are still people. This is why Joburg gets such a bad rap as a city of people always working. Even when they are partying, it is still an exercise in forging contacts.

What it boils down to is people knowing people, becomes a case of “knowing”. Do these people going into networking sessions (the idea of which I find bizarre) know that they are speaking to people, speaking to people but not treating them like people? This is a part of business, which I understand, but all I want, as usual, is a little consciousness. We are not brands, and this is a big issue with celebrities. Every (inevitable, it seems) meltdown, from Amanda Bynes to Justin Bieber, seems to happen at, or after, moments of success. These people were also reduced to blank slates, types not to be deviated from. We lose perspective on life when we realise that others want us for what we can offer, rather than who we are. Whether it’s money, our business or even our bodies, we are more than what we can give to others.  What’s worse is when people do not realise that they are giving of themselves in this way, or even because it is all that they think they can offer.

While I settle into a city of people who always seem to be working, I hope I can remember to give more than what they think I can give. It’s ok to change who you are to suit an environment. The people who point fingers and judge are often those who are most insecure about their own shortcomings. Remember where you came from, but don’t forget that we are not stagnant beings. And of course, when I was unwittingly thrust into the gyre of networking, what made a deceptive reappearance… none other than, my white voice!

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

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The Coloured Dilemma (Just call me Hotnot)

This is a surprisingly un-contentious issue to my understanding. Except for my immediate circle of friends, many people do not seem to question this term and the associated implications. I hear it often and people throw it around with brazen pride and ignorance.

[While writing this, I happened to read the blog of a journalist friend, check that out here: http://letterstorian.blogspot.com/ It really is a good read and worth your while]

How do you know that you are even coloured?

For this I turn to my own story and the implications of racial categorisation which I have faced. I’m a strange one; really pale and not really that attuned to the notion of “colouredness”. Even before I was conscientised by being exposed to new people and ways of thinking at University, I’ve been ambivalent about this.

How did the term come about? A group of people did not wake up one morning and go “We think we are going to call ourselves…” No. This was a term imposed on a people by an extremely smart government. A history of subjugation came with said imposition and this has apparently stuck.

The dop (alcohol) system was used to keep these people in their place by paying farm workers with alcohol. This kept them poor and drunk. The perfect state of control.

Speaking about a black feminist play at the beginning of this year, a white female student asked why she cannot be a part of the “only black female” cast and said, pointing to her skin, “Is this not a colour?” The colour was indeed a striking shade of beige. It made me think about the stupidity of race like never before.

White people are not even really white. Even the palest person. And black people are really even black. Not even the darkest person. And coloured people… see where I’m getting at?

An in-between middle class was created. Now how you go revel in THAT? How are you going to claim pride in that when you don’t even know the history?

But back to me: really pale!  So what does that make me?

Speaking of history, remember the “pencil test”? That genius method in South Africa’s history (I told you they were smart) to determine what race you were. Families were split up because members were newly categorised according to their hair. Really.

So that left me with light skin, like a whitey and kroes (course textured. My American cousin refers to it as “nappy”) hair like a darkie. And not to mention my semi-ginger beard.

In. the. middle! A veritable dog’s body, half breed.

But I read a lot and was not that typical cool kid, so I was teased for that. On top of that, my Afrikaans was not that good and English was (and still is) my thing. So I was accused of being sturvy (stuck-up) and acting like a white person.

[At this point I direct you to an article that I happened upon by writer and academic Rustum Kozain who delves into this issue and others very similar to what I’m speaking. He does it in a comprehensive way. Read it!! http://www.oulitnet.co.za/seminarroom/kozain_moedertang.asp ]

Do you see how we create impositions on ourselves based on those imposed on us?

Those people who accused me did not even realise the way in which they were putting white people up on a pedestal, as they would also look down upon black people.

Don’t worry; the irony has not escaped me. I realise how ingrained these terms and ideologies are in our thinking of our society. I realise the double standard of even using all the above terms. Believe me I do. I cringe when I’m forced to tick the “coloured” box on application forms. All in the name of equity and redress. If you are going to embrace this, then I prefer you go all the way. Top it or stop it. Rather just call me a hotnot (offensive term, from Hottentot) and get it over with.

When will it stop though?

 

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

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