I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Ivo Vegter
- 23 Aug 2011 08:15 (South Africa)
If you want to get an idea what people think, say, and do, keep an eye on Google. I wanted to know what one Julius Malema had been thinking, saying and doing, when Google presented me with this charming set of search suggestions:
No wonder he thinks that white people are racists. Perhaps he has a point.
Granted, he has been the subject of much satire and ridicule online, which probably makes Google more likely to associate him with offensive words than most. Indeed, names like Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma or even Malema's predecessor, Fikile Mbalula, do not result in such objectionable suggestions.
However, that doesn't make it any less disturbing.
This isn't a new phenomenon, according to Graeme Lipschitz, a former Google South Africa manager. “I've been using it in presentations for years to show how Google harbours user sentiment,” he told me on Twitter.
It is unclear to me why this particular phrase comes up as a search suggestion. Google Trends shows that the phrase spiked only once as a search term, in late 2010. The k-word in isolation occurs far more frequently, with Cape Town leading Johannesburg – there, Julius, have some ammo – ahead of strong competition from Australia and New Zealand.
However, I doubt Julius Malema will look at the analytics and conclude that it was probably just a once-off event, when a year later such deeply offensive words are still showing up in search suggestions.
The kneejerk reaction would be to demand that Google take action of some sort. However, censorship is never a solution. I'm of the view that banning hate speech only serves to drive it underground, where it festers, invisible and unexposed.
True, that means that like Gwede Mantashe, I have some problems with the Constitution. However, I'm confident that this view is defensible as a matter of principle.
You see, the race card is a very potent rhetorical device. There is no possible response to such an attack, even if it is blatantly ad hominem.
In 2009, I wrote a strongly-worded column about a presentation by the late Shaheen Khotu, who was then the chief information officer of the Department of Health. Upon learning where I lived, he immediately assumed that I was rich. Truth is, of course, that the cost of living in a small town is much lower than in a big city, and he was the one with the fat taxpayer pay cheque.
Then he said I was motivated by racism, and related a sordid tale involving a racist he once encountered in a town some way up the coast from me.
What was I supposed to say to that? “Sorry, if I'd known there was a racist not 50km from here, I'd have moved somewhere else”?
My usual reaction to such racism is disdain. I ignore it, in the hope of getting to the principles under discussion.
I can't take offence. We all know the history of this country. But perennial guilt is no basis for rational debate.
It is easy to note that whites younger than 40 didn't vote in apartheid elections. It's hardly worth arguing that going to a whites-only school was a benefit, but the nationalist indoctrination – and for many, military service – made growing up in apartheid South Africa a mixed blessing for whites too.
It is right to point out that in the 1992 referendum, a large majority of whites voted, despite widespread political violence, to embrace a non-racial future. One can plausibly dismiss the rest as unsophisticates, half of whom have packed for Perth, and the other half of whom probably just feel threatened by competition for their previously-protected jobs.
However, it is no defence against the race card to note weakly that facts do not support the notion that most whites are racist, any more than the published rants of a few prominent black racists support the view that most blacks harbour animosity towards whites, coloureds or Indians.
Soon after my unpleasant search surprise, however, a journalist let it be known that she ditched one of her Facebook friends because of crude racism.
Richard Mulholland, a speaker of some renown, tweeted that Kulula flight crew refused to fly with a passenger who had used the k-word at one of the staff. “Respect!” he opined, as did a lot of other people. I agree.
These reports reminded me that not long ago, I had to order someone out of my sight for using the k-word in conversation. I was not prepared to tolerate the presumption that racism might be okay with me because I am white.
Public opprobrium seems to me the best way to exorcise this cancer in our society. It may be true that neither you nor your friends are racist. However, scratch beneath the surface, and too many South Africans still harbour gratuitous contempt for others based on nothing more than superficial appearance.
We all now and again run into the sort of person who readily lets slip the k-word whenever politics comes up in discussion. Or the person – even supposedly sophisticated acquaintances – who uses “they” as if it was a clever euphemism in an intelligent analysis.
Look, what people think is their own problem. Racism, like nationalism, or religious bigotry, is a deep-seated fear, which is not easily susceptible to rational argument. Let bigots stew in their own psychological filth.
But you don't piss on another man's shoes. What people say and do in public is all of our problem.
That doesn't mean the state – or Google – should censor them. Frankly, I'd rather know about it. If these people poison Google's search terms, you can be sure they poison conversations and relationships everywhere they go. In fact, it's a safe bet that they treat other races the same way they speak about them.
It might be a low blow to play the race card in debate, but is it any wonder when racism remains so frequently on display? Is it surprising that those who suffered oppression at the hands of white South Africans view racism not as pitiable insecurity, but as evidence that white supremacy is alive and well? That they learn to consider all criticism of policy, and even of corruption, to be motivated by racism?
It is up to all of us to change that. The next time you hear someone use the k-word, or any other racial slur, don't just ignore it to keep the peace. Confront them. Refuse to serve them. Leave their conversation. Throw them out of your house. Refuse to employ them. (The same goes for sexist, homophobic, religious or xenophobic slurs, for that matter.)
Making racist speech illegal won't solve the problem. Those of us who truly believe in a free, non-racial society ought to ostracise and shame the racists among us. Use your freedom of speech and freedom of association against them. And for that purpose, the easier they are to spot, the better.
If everyone acted like that Kulula flight crew did, and humiliated racists in public, we might have a chance at dispelling the curse of identity politics, and discussing our many problems in good faith.
And for that optimistic thought, I'd like to thank Google's deplorable search suggestions. DM
- The blockchain: How Atlas will shrug
- The mafia bosses and the gambling cartel
- The planet is getting greener
- The tinfoil hat loonies were right all along
- ‘The cheque is in the mail’
- WWF report proves the sustainability of growth
- WWF alarmism raises even green eyebrows
- Chernodeal: Shopping for discount nukes
- Star Trek, 50 years on: A study in sexism
- Let me mansplain statistics to you
- Free the hippies! Don’t ban their drugs!
- Which principle: precaution or progress?
- How to kill a baby, naturally!
- Miserere mei, the Ebocalypse is here!
- Advanced technology or magic?
- Tourism: Still doing okay? Let’s fix that!
- Green-left messiah desperately seeking spin-doctor
- The gun genie and its bottle
- On energy, environment, and regulatory independence
- South Africa’s schools of witchcraft and wizardry
- Grab shale gas opportunity, but avoid opportunism
- It’s about who you don’t vote for
- Free markets as a moderate position
- Voting: there’s still time to change your mind
- Green tech is cool, but not because it’s green
- How Mmusi Maimane swindled a vote out of me
- The case to elect Malema to Parliament
- The intellectual gnome, Chomsky
- If Malema isn’t Pol Pot, is he still dangerous?
- Do Malema's followers understand ‘agrarian reform’?
- Look ma, I'm defending Shell's record in Nigeria!
- Any weather is evidence for global warming
- U-turn prof finds his fracking fears are avoidable
- Ramphele et al: The world according to angry feminists
- On HIV/Aids and scary-big numbers
- Cherry-picking ‘grey literature’ on rhino horn
- 350,000 reasons to kill a black rhino
- Eight myths about libertarians
- New Year’s resolutions for other people
- All I want for Christmas is a fire pool
- In defence of Donald Trump
- My old South African flag
- Fearful Fukushima fiction fatigue
- Do we tolerate private sector corruption?
- In defence of a lion killer
- Save the rare wine and endangered craft beer
- Forever blowing bubbles: shale gas economics
- Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill: When “certainty” means “wait and see”
- This land is my land: a revolution
- The launch of SA's Libertarian Party: herding cats in time for 2014
- The African case against the ICC
- The fossil fuel subsidy myth
- Think of the little fishies!
- The hilariously misunderstood libertarian
- The sickly history of sweeteners
- Pants on fire, but they’re not mine
- The obstructionism of shale gas activists
- How mind-numbing numbers whip up fear
- Why pick on Khanyi Dhlomo?
- Half-measures will fail the rhino
- Malema’s righteous anger... and naïve confusion
- Lottery licence to go to one lucky winner
- Vaccinations: when the state stabs the people
- Do reusable shopping bags kill people?
- The long walk to serfdom
- The Karoo desperately needs development
- The trials of Samson Shuttleworth
- The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
- Raping the discourse about rape
- Who is the reasonable man?
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey