Trevor Noah, South Africa’s favourite comedian with only 523465 twitter followers, is currently touring SA doing his latest comedy show, called (you guessed it) ‘That’s Racist’. As always, a great show with many laughs…blah blah blah. (Disclaimer: This could be considered a spoiler, so if you’re planning on seeing the show – stop reading).
Trevor Noah says Kaffir. Many, many, many times. [That got your attention, right?]
Near the end of the show, Trevor, for once, gets deep. He explains that words are only as powerful as we make them; that we have the ability to change the meaning of words (in the 60’s, ‘gay’ meant something completely different) and that we allow words to have power over us. Enter, the word Kaffir. In short, Trevor’s message is this: The word was stolen from the Muslims… originally it referred to people who did not believe in Allah. It became a derogatory term for “black people” in South Africa, and is now a highly offensive term – one which quickly separates the racism from … everyone else. Trevor says “enough is enough” – black people, stop letting the word have power over you, and white people, stop using it to express racism. Further, he suggests that South Africa should do away with “National Braai Day” to make way for “National Kaffir Day” – a day where we start using the word “Kaffir” as a positive word – a word that means ‘awesome’. The indians can tune about those kaffir mags; the Afrikaans tannie can bake some “kaffir melk tert”; The gym bunny can have a “kaffir gym sesh ey boet”… etc. You get the point.
I am hesitant to give my opinion, hesitant to post this blog in fact, because without hearing it straight from the horses mouth, it seems like just another person on stage trying to be controversial ; get ratings etc. But no – it did not seem like it. What Trevor had to say made sense in the context, ie, that words are only as powerful as we make them.
Does that mean South Africa is ready to introduce the word ‘kaffir’ into everyday language? I don’t think so. So what’s my point?
It comes back to the power of words, a topic I find myself bringing up over, and over again. The perception, memories, feelings, insecurities – the list goes on – that is evoked by certain words is damaging to individuals all over. This is why I quickly point out that a “wife beater” is an abusive man that should be locked up in prison, not a vest. It’s why I remind my friends that something that is lame can be called lame, weak, stupid – not gay.
All these “words have power” rants of mine are to one end: to ask you to carefully consider the words you use. They may just be words to you, kaffir, but to someone else, they may cause deep pain. Is it worth it?