I had a strange experience the other day. Well, the other night actually… I went to Bassline in the arty precinct of Johannesburg. Well, the old arty precinct, before yuppies established Maboneng. Thursday night. Rocking dancehall. I dig it. Dancehall. Ragga. The music I mean. Boss reggae. Between Bob Marley and Lucky Dube, between my teen years and the anomaly I today manifest as, that shit has totally rocked. There’s something about that music. En, quite frankly, diegene wat groot geword het, veral in Kaapstad soos ek en boom gerook het kan skaars betwis dat reggae in jou brein gevestig is, china. That’s just how it is… There’s something so logical about the partnership of dagga and rocking reggae music and something so grand about jolling to reggae. It’s generally upbeat, positive and rhythm-rich – all things that won’t struggle to be welcome when they step into your life in any moment, even if only for a moment. Hulle het vir seker saam grootgeword, die blaar en reggae. Which doesn’t mean I won’t throw myself into a mosh pit, aging punk that I am. I just enjoy a wide variety of music. I think once you really feel the beat, the rhythm of music, you enter that world of it en dan is daar fokol “Dis kak” en “Hierdie is piele musiek” tipe houding weens (of is dit teen?) die kleur en ooprsprong van musiek – musiek is musiek en alle goeie musiek is goeie musiek.
So, having hooked up a date – a young, buxom black chic called Faith with suitably ‘black’ hair braids and thus ragga credibility (‘credibility’ or camouflage I so obviously ruined by being a bald, white man) we stuck out to Bassline on a Thursday night. Pleasantly surprised to find a Rasta selling doob… bags, prerolled, offer-to-roll-it-for-you right there on the curb, you name it. Doob and stuff. And the cops?
“The cops just take money man” he said. “It’s OK – they look after me.”
“Uuh… Really…?” I asked. “How is that looking after you, ripping your shit or taking your tjeld?”
“Aah it’s all OK man” he said, and then very skillfully rolled us a joint that we toked on a little. Well, me a very little and Faith smaffed the rest like an old pro.
I say “a strange experience” but actually I had a familiar experience of it the other night, at Bassline. “It”, being life… An experience of SA life… It never loses it’s strangeness for me though, no matter how many times I live it out, this thing in this place… I have been a member of a black family, my family, for years now. It all ended late last year when my ex demonstrated that no matter your colour, your tribe, your race, your creed, you can always take a shot at the title of Head Monumental Fuckup of the Universe. That, ignores race. Anyway… It was me. My black ex. And her two black daughters. My kids. OK, not my kids but my kids, you know? Here’s the contract with kids: all of them deserve love and you, the adult, sign up to love them unconditionally until you die, once you love them as your own, whether they are your own or not. Once you become an adult in their lives. As jy dit nog nie geweet het nie, raak wys. If you would claim human intelligence, a heart, the ability to be and do good, then that’s the contract with kids. There’s only one. One only. So, I’ve had black funerals, black church, black jolling, black street parties ekasi, black weddings… Jislaaik. Black life.
Years ago when I was living with a Thai woman, a somewhat jaded and local white guy who had two kids with a Thai woman that he’d separated from said to me at some Thai cultural event at Zoo Lake: “Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re Thai. Once you think you’re one of them, you’re fucked.” I guess he was observing my role as local right hand man to the Buddhist abbot at the meditation center. All of the other local husbands could tell I saw something they didn’t in meditation. In Buddhism. I wasn’t trying to adopt a culture though, a point they missed. I was merely celebrating skill when I came upon it. I was merely returning to wisdom I had known in samsara before now…
I remember being a little taken aback by his scorn, but I took him as a slightly bitter source who nonetheless had a valid observation. It’s been a struggle for me. I am so colour blind I don’t even think of myself as white, nor do I gravitate towards black women, music and suss just because it’s black and I’m uncomfortable in my white skin. I do think the white middle class should all be taken out and bumfucked by a camel, but that’s not the point. Anyway, I’m getting lost here… The point is – it’s taken me years to think in fluid sentences in my brain that, yes, I’m white and OK being white among black people. I’m not black, no, but beyond that observation or statement, who gives a shit? Thanks for noting that. End of acknowledgment. I’m South African, man… God, I’m human. I really do feel blessed to have coloured, black and white blood in me (and having looked at my genealogy once in the Cape Town archives, I totally do) on this strip of earth, having had all of the varied cultural inputs and nuances I’ve had growing up here. Peter, another former Thai-loving local whitey I met at that time had engaged me in conversation one night at his place.
“What do you think we are?” he’d asked. “European?”
“Uuh.. Ja, I guess, Caucasoid motherfuckers that we are, Peter.” I’d said.
“No. We’ve got almost fuck all in common with Europe man,” he’d said “we’re hybrids. It’s gone too far. We’re different to everyone now, us SA whiteys.”
I think he made an interesting point…
So, the few black funerals I’ve been to, wow…. Ek dink ek het al miskien so vyf bygewoon en ek kan seker die whiteys wat ek by hul almal kan onthou op die vingers van een hand tel. OK, OK, dis fokol. Dit sê niks behalwe miskien dat wit en swart nog steeds aparte lewens leef nie en dis OK op sekere levels, né? Daardie tipe ding neem tyd. OK. The ‘meshing’ in of various cultures until one day we look like Brazil. Or maybe Turkey. Where everyone looks Brazilian or Turkish first, and their tone comes after. Their origins. Watookal. Not that meshing in is necessary. I love being different. A different race. And I love being the same too. A people member. But it has occurred to me sometime during the service at a black funeral, or piling onto the back of a bakkie en route to the burial itself or standing in the graveyard when the body is lowered into the ground that I am the only whitey for fucking miles. I do wonder where the cultural blur is, why, when there’s this huge swathe of different, often sexy, very easy going humanity here – black folk – why whiteys are not positively present.
Black weddings? I’ve often been complimented by a handful of white work colleagues who either know the groom or the bride and thus have not been utterly alone in my race at weddings. I say that…. The last wedding I attended was in Zimbabwe. We drove up there through the utterly corrupt shit hole that Beit Bridge is and, sitting at this massive, black wedding (I think the entire district was invited), in Zim, I realised something interesting. Here I was, a lone whitey, at a black wedding with at least five thousand guests (I shit you not), taking place on a redistributed farm (the groom’s father was a recipient of Mugabe’s land reform ideas), going outside for a smoke every now and then to be engaged in conversations with a political twist to them by locals who were obviously at least intrigued if not weirded out by me. Me and my black fiancee. I say all of these things and write about them now, here, not because I am so conscious of being white but merely because it’s taken me years to start noticing when I’m a lone whitey and it has started to fascinate me a little. It’s lekker, because I can dance, baby. I can beebop. I’m not hanging my head around any race on earth, not on that score. Dankie. And I am chilled. And ‘at home’, you know? I can klap Black Label sitting under a tree in Mamelodi like I was born there and have been doing this every weekend of my adult life. So if I am aware of my race at all, it gives me some small kicks to disprove the assumptions I’m normally faced with. White men have small cocks (haven’t publicly disproved that one yet – that’s a personal mission I’m working on debunking on a one-to-one basis), white people can’t dance, white people won’t eat with their hands, white people won’t sit on the ground, white people just don’t generally get the black cultural necessities. It gives me some joy to piss on all of that when I happen to find myself in a position to do so. It makes me happy to be able to assert that we are all different and yet so obviously so much more similar, that any insistence on fundamental differences should just be taken out and shot with heavy weaponry.
Black church is a suffering for me, mostly because it goes on for fucking hours and, man, I do OK not being the lone whitey who stands up and walks out because I just cant take it any more but boy, I avoid it where I can. You can go to church for the whole fucking day as a black person. I don’t think God requires it, but there they go…
Let me wrap up the historical inputs and make my point about the strangeness I mentioned above. What else can I add to this catalogue? I was the only whitey at The Soil’s concert a year or two ago, oddly enough held at Mosaïek, the Afrikaans church stroke rock concert venue. I couldn’t have been the only whitey at Orlando Stadium with my ex to see R Kelly but I didn’t see any other whiteys. Fucking bizarrely, I nearly had a punch up with a coloured guy next to me who was with his wife, because he found my behavior with my ex – slinking to R Kelly and sucking face copiously – offensive. He shoved me and said “Don’t come and fuck your woman here!” when I walked past him at some point to go and buy beer. Ekskuus? WTF….?? To this day, I don’t know what that was really about and, no, we weren’t groping sexually or practicing foreplay, much less fucking in the aisles. We were just dancing lovingly and having a good time. I think he just didn’t dig a mixed race couple being happy. Period. Fokken rassis. If ever you read this, jou ouma se hele ou kont, né? I should have busted your head. Let myself down that night, I feel I haven’t strolled through black townships looking for the perfect kota, stared down whiteys at posh WASP venues when I enter with my sexy, young black lover, told black and white critics alike to go and fuck themselves generally, only to listen to some fucking conservative brown boetie give me shit at a public venue, a concert. Sometimes, I really yearn for the gun and the badge, man, just to be able to cuff them and ram a night stick up people’s arses when it’s so obviously the only valid response.
Anyway, the point… The point is, in a nut shell – where the fuck are the whiteys like me??? We’re all over, ja, us whiteys, maar by die jols of kerke of waddiefok ek ook al bygewoon het, was ek fokken aleen en hier’s die clincher: by fokken Bassline was ek so amper alleen! There was one white chick there. One. And me. I was blown away. No, I haven’t been there for maybe fifteen years but, God… It was kicking man. A fucking great jol! It just blew me away that I seemed to be the most enthusiastic attendee, for one – but that’s a separate issue I guess – the fact that everybody stood around kind of dull, watching, while the music was so rockarolla. But mostly, I was blown away by the fact that I was the only white male. Really? Waddiefok? I completely expected a good, mixed crowd, surely containing all of the guys like me who grew up with this in their lunchbox, surely a few old faces from Rockey Street, maybe my old bonghead mate Adrian… Jislaaik. Someone, something, some fucking ragga collection of whiteys who have this as their thing too… But, fucking no-one?
It left me with a desire to round up twenty whiteys next time and feed them into the venue so that I can be less startled. Maybe a hundred and twenty.
I’m venting a little and not substantiating much, I guess and can see now, as I reread what I’ve written, that the point is perhaps still obscure. Let me just conclude with this then: I was the only white male at a reggae night at Bassline the other night. If anyone can explain why I thought that would be impossible, please let me know. Whiteys are brave. Embarrassing sometimes, but brave in a cosmopolitan sense. Afrikaners is plesierig. How come I was alone there? White folk? Don’t you dig reggae? Isn’t the prospect of a mini Caribbean beach party something lekker?
I’m not the only whitey who would rock there. Any time UB40 comes on in any whitey venue, watch, because people move. That thing, that upbeat dance. Come, whiteys! Come stick it on Bassline next Thursday night!