Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Seeing The World In Grey

I wrote this a few years ago as a response to some of the racism that I found was infiltrating itself into conversations that I was having with disgruntled expats during my time in Taiwan. I was lambasted by quite a few for my viewpoints but I'm made of stern stuff and I've always stood by my views, so I thought I'd put it up here. This may seem like a strange thing to put up on a blog that is essentially about art, music and culture but I think it is completely relevant in that whether we like it or not racism is apart of art, music and culture. It's lurking behind every veiled comment, it's staring at you through artwork and it's something that has no place in society.

I've come across quite a few articles recently trying to portray elements of culture as being based purely on racial boundaries. Some people, who honestly should know better, still seem to be attempting quite feebly to drum home their view that people will always divide themselves in the way they walk, the way they talk, what they paint and especially what they listen to along racial boundaries. Everything always seems to be in plain old back and white for these people, I prefer to see things in grey. Maybe that makes me 'blind' but to me the world will always be determined not by the colour of a person's skin, but by the content of their character to paraphrase the great Martin Luther King Junior.

People who look at the Street Art scene always immediately imagine inner city kids running riot with cans of Krylon while on the way to rob the corner store, which granted in some cases can be the truth but what they don't see is what I saw, and that was mostly rich upper crust kids with trust funds and bags and bags of paint that they didn't have to boost, doing mostly commissioned pieces. Funny thing is when the rich kids got caught they got a nice little slap on the wrists while the rest ended up in tears trying to explain to their hardened cell-mates why they would go through all the trouble of breaking into a building, painting a picture and then leaving without stealing anything. They think it's the most retarded thing they have ever heard of.

Maybe by the time I got interested in the scene during my first years at university it was already the beginning of the end for the first surge of street art in Cape Town. I befriended a guy called Falco after he came to give a lecture at my university organized by a very forward thinking lecturer, Sandra Klopper. I didn't hang with his crew on the Cape Flats by any means , but what I did manage to do was document his point of views for an article that unfortunately never got published beyond on a few websites. It was quite inspiring talking to him, he didn't give a shit about racial boundaries all he cared about was pushing the very essence of what he loved. If a white kid had the necessary skills he was in no question. He saw the world in grey.

I guess that's why I have always been drawn to house music because if you were a kid from Durbanville just outside Cape Town in the very early 90s everything was a very black and white thing. You never had any black kids in your class, hanging out at the underage clubs or even have any black kids playing for your soccer team even though the club's grounds were next to the township. So, going out in town and meeting and hanging out with people of colour was always an eye opening experience for me. They weren't Kaffirs or Hotnots, they were people. They came from the same place as you mentally. They might have taken a left on the highway when you took a right at the end of the night, but for those hours in between everyone forgot about Apart-Hate, everyone just got down bumping along to grooves all night long and having a good laugh as you got up to far too much incriminating behaviour.

I did a few art projects over the years, mostly with Lebohang Tlali, a highly talented photographer who was held back not by a lack of talent, but by the size of his wallet. He is a humble and unassuming guy blessed with loads of heart and an incredible eye for narrative and composition. One photo that he took will always stand out for me, and that was a black and white portrait that he took of a proper Glaswegian brickie during his time that he spent over there during our third of fourth year. He had this rough as nails guy staring defiantly at the camera with the city slopping away behind him. In this photo he didn't portray a man with hate in his eyes as you might expect from people from the region if stereotypes are to be believed, but he captured a sincerity that was quite stunning to behold. He captured the man's thoughts impossibly well. It's the sort of photo that inspires books, exhibitions and discussions. To me, it is quite possibly the best portrait shot that I have ever seen, and it was taken by a man who sees the world not in black and white, but in grey.

It's probably one of the reasons why I hold my friend Pierre Bruwer in such high regard. The man doesn't have a racist bone in his body, he doesn't slow down or walk nervously past people of a slightly darker pigmentation, he usually looks up smiles and greets and carries on as normal. The way it should be done. Going to a party deep in Soweto? What are your concerns? Your safety? The nagging fears that you might get jacked? You might end up being hurt or being killed just because of the colour of your skin? Pierre's only concern is if the music is going to be good and the beer is going to be cold. Simple really.

My lady, Jeni, has a similar friend. His name is Kenny Rose, a teacher by day and activist by night. Just talking to Kenny you'd probably have a lot of difficulty in believing that the world is divided by black and white, now don't get me wrong he isn't delusional. He very much knows the score, but he just doesn't see the point into buying into all the bullshit. Why cut yourself off from an entire group of people? Why limit yourself to the views pushed by those who come from the same city, the same environment? Why not just realize that the world that surrounds you is made up of diversity and that diversity is something to be learnt from. We're not going to be around long enough for prejudice to hold us back.

I'm not really sure how to end this beyond just to restate how it dismays me how people in this day and age still think that it's perfectly acceptable to judge people by the colour of their skin. As cheesy as it may sound its what's on the inside that counts and that's how it should be. End of.

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