Johannesburg - Talk radio sometimes reveal more of ourselves than dresses at the Vodacom Izikhotana July. In this regard, my most recent radio experience has made me appreciate a truth about our society I pay too little attention to.
Take three different voices that visited Power Talk on the very first show I broadcast.
Voice One: The Aristocrat
“How d’you do?” asked a caller when I picked up their telephone line during my very first hour back on air.
Each letter, each syllable, was distinctly pronounced, with the full awareness that the universe should be oh-so-grateful to hear The Honourable Gentleman address us. Her Majesty must have smiled back in London.
Let’s just say his name was chosen from the same population registration entries where names like Xolani and Sipho come from, and not the one in which Johannes and Christopher feature prominently.
He continued along this aristocratic vein, passionately making his case for why women should not dress “inappropriately” when they enter Parliament.
I was distracted (and possibly enamoured) by Mr Aristocrat’s diction and über-politeness, I must confess, and so cannot now perfectly remember if he succeeded in justifying this control over women’s attire.
All I recall saying was: “I do, fine Sir! How d’you do?”
I last heard chic chauvinism articulated with such perfect pomp by some of the more self-indulgent posh undergraduates at Oxford University.
Voice Two: The Model C Doctor
“I’m a former medical doctor, Eusebius, and I must say that how you present yourself matters! Imagine you go to a dentist and the dentist is dressed in blue overalls? Would you want them to work on your teeth?”
I had no choice but to chuckle. This doctor sounded young, possibly in his late twenties. And he, too, was determined to make a case for why women should wear “appropriate” clothing for their body type.
Not quite as posh as Mr Aristocrat. More, if you will, a case of Mr Model C.
Interestingly enough, he probably would chuckle at Mr Aristocrat, in the same way that his own poor cousins left behind in the rural areas might chuckle at his Model C accent.
But notice the shared attitude about how women should dress in certain spaces. Access to good education, and even private schools, do not reliably correlate with progressive values.
Voice Three: The Housewife
And just when I thought I could surely rely on some of my female listeners to come to DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko’s rescue, a female caller killed that prediction.
“Eusebius, you cannot just wear whatever the hell you want to. I was wearing tights while I was hoovering the house earlier. But I can’t go shop like that! Know what to wear and when. That is why they tell you the sizes on the labels!”
She was practically shouting like an over-enthusiastic character in eKasi: Our Stories.
I was in stitches.
The feminist in me was cringing because this view seemed to undermine the autonomy of women, but I thoroughly enjoyed the comfort with which the caller was displaying her view.
It was neither disguised in complex language nor delivered in a posh accent with an air of learned sophistication.
She simply reacted the way an auntie of mine might react if a cousin wore a dress that auntie thinks will make boys not realise that auntie’s daughter is not like other daughters, and so auntie’s daughter had bloody well better put on decent clothes or else!
I let this caller, who was from a township in Ekurhuleni, have the last say before we took a shopping break.
What does one make of these different voices? For one thing, we obsess about differences between black and white South Africans. And this is understandable, for historic reasons, but has perverse consequences.
Because of the excessive black-white focus, we forget two very important points.
First, differences between individuals and between groups are not inherently a bad thing. If anything, it would be rather scary if we were all clones!
As a society, we need to become comfortable with differences between individuals in the same race group as well as differences across race groups, rather than wish them away with one deceitful picture of a rainbow and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Secondly, differences between black people get the least attention here.
Just as we acknowledge individual differences between a white liberal like Antjie Krog and a racist white pseudo-intellectual like Dan Roodt, so we need to stop anthropologising black South Africans as if they cannot be individuated.
The Aristocrat, The Model C Doctor and The Housewife are all black, but their class differences are obvious, and their individual identities are distinct.
All they have in common – even with whites like Dan Roodt – is a conservative moral outlook on life.
It’s time to stop caricaturing black life.
* Power Talk With Eusebius McKaiser is hosted on Power FM 98.7 from 9am to noon every weekday
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.