Sunday January 21 2018

Sorry, Africans, you have earned your undignified status

Alan Tacca

Alan Tacca  

By Alan Tacca

Warning: Some of the language used in this article is not typical of this author or Sunday Monitor. Readers who may be offended need not read it.
Nobel Prize-winning Saul Bellow was indisputably one of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century.
In his novel, Humboldt’s Gift, which belongs to the last quarter of that century, one of the characters taunts another, that he was so daft he could not find his a**hole with both hands.
To portray the condition of a man rather slow at grasping the reality around him, Bellow was gifted enough to invent another image, but he etched one where we visualise two palms with their 10 fingers groping for a body part that even the most damaged imbecile can usually locate.
The image is coarse, but its measured brutish beauty prevents it from alienating the reader.
I am not so sure about Hollywood. The excessive use of gross language – don’t bother counting the number of times the expletive ‘shit’ is used – may reflect a deficit in creativity at a more fundamental level.
The approach: Instead of striving to create new images, throw at the audience the standard expletive. If the expletive no longer shocks them, multiply it.
The fallacy: Confusing repetition with invention.
There is hardly an American swearword that is still shocking. Donald Trump finds his language as readily in exclusive golf club locker-rooms as he would in down-town New York pubs, if he went there. And the word ‘shit’ may be used simply to refer to an undesirable situation where one is ‘wrong’, or ‘disappointing’, or ‘late’, or ‘unlucky’, or ‘slow to understand’, etc.
Side by side with this vulgarity, walks the liberal puritanism that forbids the overt violation of racial, gender, sexual and religious sensitivities.
American (and other Western) political elites are assumed to live their public lives and express themselves within the dictates of that puritanism.
Donald Trump is not (strictly) of that establishment. When he consigns African nations to the shithole, he is using vulgar but fairly common American English. And he may be referring to undesirable African governance features without necessarily expressing anything about the (skin) blackness of most Africans.
Deformed as most puritanisms are, the liberal puritan says that when a White man attacks the African’s undesirable governance or behavioural tendencies, he is in effect attacking African blackness!
Blackness thus becomes a ‘shield’.
Western officials have had many serious governance conversations with Africa’s ruling elites, but at every critical point the African inverts his shame and raises the Black shield and parrots the slave and colonial history.
Meanwhile, Africa remains backward and eternally pitted in destructive power struggles, her restless populations breeding the refugees now troubling Europe.
America is lucky that its ‘border’ with Africa is not a no-mans-land or a river, but the Atlantic. Otherwise, Mr Trump would have an African plague rather than a Mexican headache.
Clinton, Bush, Albright, Chalker, Rice… all those men and women who thought Africa was at last producing leaders more reasonable than the Obotes and Mobutus must be secretly even more disappointed than Trump.
Be you Black, you cannot follow Africa’s goings-on, like recently in Uganda, without being tempted to hold Africans in contempt.
Botswana is not a rogue state. But just as she has summoned the US ambassador over president Trump’s collective insult, Botswana should go to the AU one day and read the riot act to those African establishments whose conduct is making it extremely difficult for other people not to despise Africans.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.