Let’s Talk Kaffir
I want to open up a conversation.
I don’t feel like we talk about kaffir.
I know there will be many who agree or disagree with me. All good. Discussion is good. It’s healthy. It’s necessary. It’s the silence that stresses me out.
So, let’s talk kaffir. Here are my feelings and thoughts: white people don’t ever get to say kaffir. Let’s start there. White people should be profoundly ashamed of how they lethally weaponise language against us. White people should be ashamed of their beloved word. However, white people do not get to sanitise and soften the realities of the word kaffir simply because they are desperate to sleep better at night. No. Never. You don’t get to sleep well. Whiteness should remain relentlessly haunted – at the very least.
So, let’s talk kaffir. For me, white people simply don’t get to determine what is sayable and unsayable for us all. When did we, as black people, start saying, “k-word”? This simply becomes another way for white people to control language, control us. I’m not a kaffir. I know who and what I am. I am not a kaffir. But when I hear of an “incident” where a white person used that word against a black person, I will not run around saying, “k-word”. For what? For who? No. I will not soften the brutalities of whiteness, certainly not while whiteness is in my presence. White people must feel the horror of their own invention. They must recoil. Their ears should bleed with the very utterance of their beloved word. Feel it. Hear it. I have no reason to go easy on white people. I will not soften the things they created for their comfort. No. I will use the full word kaffir in the company of white people. I will blast it! I will puke it! I will do so to remind whiteness how vile it has been and continues to be to this very day. I will do so because I insist that white people do not get to suppress or sanitise words that remind them of their own ugly history.
So, let’s talk kaffir. White people should not presume to tell black people that we should use their softer substitute words, their palatable proxy words that help lighten the weight of their history. No. I am not willing to help them out with their history. I refuse. Their history is not palatable and I will not be pressured into using palatable words, words that help white people with their desperate desire for amnesia. If black people want to use the word kaffir against whiteness, we should, I do. I choose to. I use the word in the presence of white people to remind them that their sanitised language will never clean off the dirt under their nails and the bloody histories that will forever stain their hands. They can try to hide from their history but I will remind them that they are wasting their time, and I will do so by using the haunting fullness of the very word they invented.
So, let’s talk kaffir. Am I talking about subverting or reclaiming the word kaffir? Am I talking about normalising the word kaffir in our daily lives in order to take the pain out of it, to take the power out of it? No. That’s not it. I do not think kaffir is a word that we can normalise – it came from the abnormalities of apartheid. The history behind the word kaffir is not necessarily the same as nigga, for example. For me, the ways in which African-Americans have dealt with nigger/nigga within their context cannot simply be copy and pasted and applied to the word kaffir in our context. Because of this, we must be careful and aware that we cannot imitate the trajectory and reclamation of weaponised words in identical ways. We have our own trajectories to travel. That being said, I feel it is important that black people loudly and openly use the word kaffir in order to shame white people for their own monstrous creation. A recent example that comes to mind would be “the Leon de Kock incident”. Leon de Kock, the profoundly problematic yet profoundly protected Professor Emeritus of the English Department at Stellenbosch University, went on a racist and misogynistic rampage (allegedly). He screamed “kaffir” at a waitress (allegedly). It was scandalous! An outrage! And during all this scandalous outrage, a lot of (white) people kept saying “apparently he used the k-word”. Fine. Correct. But shit, I’ll be honest with you, I caught myself using that softer “k-word” language. I must admit it, I caught myself being subconsciously policed by white genteel linguistic preferences. Who was I using “k-word” for? Who was I trying to make comfortable? Us? Them? Modimo!
So, let’s talk kaffir. So many white people almost had heart attacks just thinking about the racialised language de Kock (allegedly) used during this violent “incident”. So many white people around me were horrified and recoiled from the whole situation, it was too much to deal with. These days, it seems that so many white people simply don’t have the intestinal fortitude to deal with their most viciously iconic intergenerational word. It’s extraordinary! Kanti, it’s their treasured word! White people created it. White people found inventive ways to weaponise language. Now white people want to distance themselves from what they weaponised? Now white people want to soften the true violence of their own word? Now the weaponised word that white people use(d) for generations is suddenly far too abrasive for their ears and genteel souls? Now white people want to suddenly civilise a word that they brutally used to mark us as uncivilised? Now we, who were marked as uncivilised, must do as they do as a mark of civility? No. No. No. I think not.
White people must be confronted with the fullness of their monstrous history, they must be confronted by the words they used against us. Black people, if they choose to, should use the word kaffir to shame the shit out of white people. Black people are entitled to do so, should we wish to. We should write and speak how we like. We should say the full word to remind white people about themselves. Using “k-word” allows white people to sanitise their filthy and sordid history. No. Say the Unsayable. Use the word. Let white people clutch their pearls and choke on their own derogatory creations. Tsek!
These are my feelings and thoughts but there is far more to be said. I want to open up a conversation. So, come on, let’s talk kaffir.