I just read a comment by Nolwazi and I can't stop laughing. Let me explain why and weave this post into context.
Black folks have over the centuries of racism created escape mechanisms to deal with the pain and degradation of being oppressed.
Humor is a key mechanism. Music is another. And there are others (literature).
When I was a child my dad used to listen to Gospel Soul. Mahalia Jackson was one of his favorite artists (damn now some Muslim bigot gonna say I grew up in a Christian home).
Well if you consider that my dad's listening habits must have influenced me to the extent that one of my favorite Commodores songs is simply entitled: "Jesus is love."
But I digress.
I remember being about 15 and watching my dad watching a gospel singer on television doing a rendition of "Old Man River" and his eyes were moist as he said:"You must have lived oppression to sing like that. That feeling cannot be manufactured. It must come from deep inside where resistance to oppression is born."
It is for this reason that I cannot fully embrace white artists who are described as soul or neo-soul singers. It is not the same listening to Michael Bolton or Simply Red doing old Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes songs, for example.
But this post is about the art of using humor to contextualize oppression and its politics.
A month or more ago Nolwazi called to talk about this and that and it ended up being a conversation of about four hours.
Somewhere in the conversation we got to talking about sellout black folks who will bend backwards to make excuses for white folks even where they have experienced racist brutality at one time or the other.
It is at this point that Nolwazi said that even where white farmers have shot and killed black folks some would offer the excuse that "Klein baas did not mean to shoot us". (klein bass equals little massa and his father is groot baas, or big/daddy massa)
"No no klein baas just made a mistake. We know klein baas is not like that," she added as I went into laughing convulsions.
Some of these same folks would slash the face of another black person who called them out but yet could hardly muster enough righteous anger to condemn klein baas for his brutality (the white madam too).
To appreciate the deconstruction of white racism and the centerpiece of klein baas (the smaller oppressor who was nurtured by black folk who worked for his father, groot baas) it is necessary to know the race history and dynamics of apartheid, particularly as it played out in rural farming areas.
Whiteness in these contexts constructed black folks to be obedient. Non-questioning and child-like. They did not make a fuss, accepted the divine authority of whiteness and just played along hoping that the crumbs would reappear on their plates from day to day.
If my dad was to describe why I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt and my eyes looked like I had popped blood vessels from smoking crack he would say: 'You can't fully understand what Nolwazi was saying unless you know what klein baas was capable of and how black people were deployed to support whites even in their brutality."
Knowing how brutal klein baas was and still is in many contexts - especially when farm laborers are killed for supposedly looking like intruder animals (dogs and baboons) - it is seemingly ludicrous to make excuses for him today.
But some obedient ass-kissing black skins do exactly that and the system rewards them for their cooperation. Apartheid may not be legal anymore but the structures that it put in place still demand loyalty to the supremacy of klein baas (the racial state and its capitalist support system, for example).
There is more depth and complexity though and despite the hilarity there is also a story about the way in which black folk have taken on a greater humanity to even love klein baas, despite.
That love may be delusional and it may speak to the oppressed mind in Fanon and Biko terms. But Nolwazi's humor captured a tragedy of black life under white oppression and balanced it against a time when Mandela and Tutu and others are telling the still downtrodden to forgive klein baas, despite.
In other words to serve klein baas, still.
She was not degrading the black experience. She lives the black experience and its gender jeopardy as a woman everyday.
Instead, her humor highlighted the tragedy of apartheid in the post-era where that tragedy is still consequential and very much unresolved.
Humor does not erase the pain and suffering. It merely makes it more bearable and it also sharpens the anti-racist scalpel as it must.
Humor about our oppression also tells stories of what we have endured. And without these stories we would simply disappear ...
And for these reasons and more, this blog says Nolwazi is one of the funniest and most serious kickers of racist ass in South Africa.
Onward! sista soldier.
PS: You should be on stage where folks who know can see your brilliance my sista!
And maybe klein baas will get why we still so angry even after Oprah was given a doctorate in White Studies at that University just in case klein baas and his daddy felt bad.
Don't you just hate sellouts?