Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
IN recent days social media has gone into overdrive with memes which poke fun at people from Masvingo or Karangas in general. The underlying messages behind almost all of them is that this group of Zimbabweans is primitive, backward and unrefined. Protesting this characterisation is normally rebutted by, “take it because the people of Manicaland have had it for a while and never protested”. So if a certain group is abused and doesn’t protest we should start benchmarking abuse?
Last year, then US presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton was in the eye of a racist storm. She had made a joke to the effect that someone was running on CP time. This is a long-standing racist stereotype which means “Coloured People’s time”. The normalised suggestion is that black people are not time conscious and their time keeping is suggestive of people that have their own time zones.
While this may sound true or a lot might actually identify with the notion, the more sinister suggestion is that black people are irresponsible. This is the basis of the outrage and umbrage expressed by many over this scripted joke. On the face of it, it sounded innocuous and some might even suggest, endearing, but there is an underlying deliberate demeaning of black people which betrayed Mrs Clinton’s innermost views of this sub-group of Americans.
Bigoted jokes are as old as ignorance itself. They are crude and even witty at times. When the victim complains they are told it’s just banter, chill out. Those protesting are treated as some uptight killjoy. If they still refuse to take it then they are treated as if they are the ignorant bigots themselves who are refusing to conform to an accepted social norm. But every type of discriminatory abuse is underpinned by some kind of stereotype and prejudice. The so-called “banter’ is the most covert but still brazen form of bigoted abuse that’s out there. Well, comrades banter is fun but bigotry is not. It is ignorance. Those Masvingo jokes are not funny, they are tribal and tribalism is bigotry.
It cannot be fashionable to show disdain against a section of our society just because they speak differently or they have different customs and cultural nuances. It is disgusting and those that are trying to justify this are peddlers of hate who are trying to legitimise ignorance. It is discriminatory and goes against everything that make us a nation of diverse groups.
So please, dear reader, don’t ask anyone offended to cheer up. Even if you are a member of the targeted sub-group under this attack, don’t ask everyone else to suck it in or have a sense of humour. It’s no different from a black man asking another to chill out when a white classmate has called them kaffir or the “N-word”.
Banter is humorous. But bigotry is hurtful. This columnist finds the jokes against Karangas or so-called Mavhitori hurtful. It is those who make them who are tribalists and not those who are offended by the jokes. This we have to get right.
But what are the effects of this disparaging humour on us as a nation? Should we simply ignore or even laugh at these disguised expressions of prejudice? No, we shouldn’t because there is an effect on both the victim and our nation at large. This is not just some fun and frivolity. It causes fissures in our national oneness.
These seemingly playful attacks have a tendency to breed extreme group loyalty. When this sentiment of group loyalty is aroused, it will awaken a counterforce of resentment towards the offending group(s). The victims will coalesce against perceived aggressor. In this case it is those who popularise bigotry through memes who for all intents and purposes discriminatory.
The psychology behind discrimination is that prejudice is frowned upon by a normal society. So those who are bigoted mask their ignorance because they will be censured by society which sees this as unacceptable, were they to be overt about it.
But when packed as meme and a joke, this ignorance is given a context in which to manifest as a harmless part of human interaction. In social psychology this is called, “prejudiced norm theory”. This is explaining that there is a serious psychological effect on exposure to disparagement humour which uniquely affects tolerance of discrimination against members of groups targeted by the humour. This has a self-regulating effect on the parties who have been exposed to this type of humour.
The reason why black people were abused by whites either as slaves or as suppressed in colonies was because they were considered inferior. Today we see and hear jokes that are meant to generate a stereotype that people from a certain region of Zimbabwe are inferior, backward, barbaric or simply unrefined imbeciles. But that’s exactly what has been said of black people for centuries. Why have we then accepted this and started using it among ourselves? These are just powerful devices to manipulate and generate hate. If there is no plan to this, if people don’t mean to offend, why do they continue despite others saying it hurts?
These so-called jokes are causing people to begin focusing on a region than a country. This cuts both ways. Those from the region that perceives itself as under attack will focus on their region and its defence. Those who see this reaction will see the other group as inward looking also focus on that region and continue their memes which for all intents and purposes is a hate campaign.
The irony of it is that it is the victims who are labelled as tribalists for refusing to collude with their own abuse. This is synonymous with a white person racially insulting a black person and when they take offence, the white person then accuses the black man of being hypersensitive because they are racists! How preposterous is that?
Whether people are going to accept it or not it’s their choice but pejorative stereotypes are generated by a hostile attitude towards a people. Are we sensing a hostile attitude towards those that hail from certain regions? Of course. Zimbabweans are going to be haunted by this hostility which is now generating a lot of group loyalty as a counterforce to an unsavoury campaign.
Instead of people focusing on the things that make them one, they are focusing on their differences. People are relating to one another because of the hate they feel. If these are attacks are calculated and strategic then it’s a gross mistake. People are getting sentimentally attached to a region, a dialect or a language which they never did in the past.
This is the creation of regionalism which is also bigotry. This is relegating the national identity to irrelevance. Without being melodramatic, secessions have been fuelled by much less, so let’s not be careless. Cultural loyalty has very little to do with negative feelings towards other groups. But if one group is put under siege then that is exactly what will emerge.
There is more than enough empirical evidence that proves that continued attacks towards a group will bring together entities of that group. Once they have this attachment to one another it evokes a bias in favour of people from that one group against the other group(s).
Everyone knows the story of biblical Moses. He found an Egyptian and a Jew fighting. He killed the Egyptian. The attitude taken by Moses is what happens when people feel they are under siege. They are imbued with a fortress mentality. It becomes an Us versus Others. The people will highlight a singular social identity; that of their group. And all individual esteem is tied up to the esteem of the group. This makes everything lose its innocence.
We accentuate very subtle differences in our culture and dialects to our own peril. This writer is not in any doubt that those who peddle hate are tribalists and regionalists. And not those at the receiving end of it. People are creating perceptual biases on both sides therefore hurting national cohesion. Why are we striving to highlight differences among ourselves instead of celebrating our diversity?
There are some people who were never interested in any sort of politics or activism, right now they have taken positions within social media groups because of the said feeling of being under siege. They are becoming unwitting and unwilling members of a cohesive entity that has become extremely protective of their ethnicity or region. Feelings of persecution breed ultra-centrism. This is what leads to every perceived threat to an individual within that group as a threat to the whole. In worst cases the groups which perceive themselves under siege become very hostile to the source of their persecution. Before we know it, we have tribal and ethnic ten- sions.
Zambia is believed to have about 70 ethnolinguistic groups. In 1964 it etched the “One Zambia, one Nation” slogan on its coat of arms to instil oneness. This is the legacy of the legendary Kenneth Kaunda. For he built a nation whose politics does not seem fazed by ethnic groupings.
We just know of its changing presidents but we hardly hear of which ethnic group they are from. They have refused to foment hate. But if we continue on our path of hate which we peddle as humour, we will be an example of how to set up an ethnic discord in a nation. Bigotry is not humour, it’s hate and it hurts.