We are still calling him ‘boy’

We are still calling him ‘boy’

Another day, another person calling a grown man who works in your garden ‘boy’ – these racists are everywhere, right?

Except this time it wasn’t a racist. And in fact, it came in the context of a social justice looking-out-for-people-of-colour post [because let’s face it, i have still to experience a white domestic worker in this country, although i’m sure your friend knows of one] in the form of a Facebook status:

Seeking justice for the country starts with paying your domestic worker above minimum wage. You can’t complain about the government oppressing the poor, when you still pay your garden boy weekly, from your “petty cash”.

Practice above what you preach!

So it was not ‘just another racist being racist’ you know. This was one of the good guys. [spoiler alert: the poster wasn’t even white!] Which can serve as a reminder that this stuff is everywhere. And needs to be constantly challenged.

And yes, social activists have gone a little Hulk with their good intentions of challenging things and so we can probably pull a lot back from make-him-feel-like-a-tit levels to something more dignified and change-enducing [and i fully get how i need to be the first to drop my stone in that field] and so i tried to be a little more helpful in that regard by posting this:

Also calling the 50 year old who works in your garden “boy” might be another of your problems!

If you take any kind of issue with me even raising this, take a look at the picture at the top of this post and try and introduce me to any kind of universe where either one of those men is casually called ‘boy’ around the dinner table.

We are in the business of bringing about change

Perhaps some of us need to change our mindset a little bit. We are certainly not going for this:

angry mob Simpsons

Although it can definitely feel like that at times i’m sure [and sometimes i think there is still a space for angry mob, especially when people are trying to hold on to racist ideas, thought patterns and actions] but for the most part we are not about burning down houses but more importantly about building bridges.

If you’ve called a gardener a ‘garden boy’ [probably because that was modelled to you] your whole life then you will continue to do so until someone steps in and says, ‘That is not okay!’ Although hopefully, if you are starting to think through these race and poverty things you should be able to at some stage come to that conclusion yourself.

But a lot of it is subtle words and actions and thoughts that have crept into our minds and daily practice. It doesn’t mean we are racists, but it might mean that there is some racism in us that needs to be dealt with, discarded or unlearnt.

Whose maid is it anyway?

Words have become so important and at times so tricky to navigate in these spaces of intense political correctness – i have friends who want me to call them ‘coloured’ and others who dare me to call them ‘coloured’ and still others who are themselves wrestling between whether it’s a term they are happy with or not. This stuff is nuanced and sensitive and often can change on a person to person basis and if we are serious about wanting to change then we need to be prepared to have the long, hard. at times awkward conversations…

Another example of this is the word ‘maid’ which i used to use, but don’t any more [except when trying to make a point like above] because someone pointed out to me that the word ‘maid’ comes from the word ‘maidservant’ and we don’t have servants any more [even though in many cases that may just be a semantical observation as the reality may seem otherwise depending on which side of the mop you are standing].

So ‘domestic worker’ or ‘the person who cleans your house’ is what i have gone with.

Which brings me to my last point, which again is another subtlety, but if we’re trying to get this stuff right, maybe worth noticing – would love to hear your thoughts on this one. On one of the comments that followed the above status, one of the commenters started off a share about the person who cleaned her house by saying:

 I found it quite amusing this morning when my domestic worker replied…

The words ‘my domestic worker’ jumped out at me. My dog, my car, my computer, my house… my domestic worker…

Compared to ‘the woman who cleans my house’…

i realise this one might be me being pedantic because it’s language and people are just trying to be clear about stuff and it’s probably quite awkward and bulksome to avoid saying it, but it was the idea of ownership that jumped out at me – this woman belongs to me and comes and does my bidding – yes, that’s extreme but how true is it? Especially when so many domestic workers leave home super early to catch X amount of transports to get to your house to clean it, often leaving their own children at risk and without an attendant parent.

Sho, this stuff is tough and i know we can all be a lot nicer with how we deal with people who are still getting it wrong. There is a case of ‘i didn’t get it until i got it’ with so much of this stuff [and i know i have a long way to go still] and so i do think i and we need to work on that one.

But we also need to go the extra mile and put in the extra work and be extra careful and observant and self-reflective and open to others helping point out our blind spots so that we can move things along.

Incidentally, in response to the original post [Ha!  i just saw the words ‘your domestic worker’ so it’s a tough one to avoid] we have spoken a lot about living wage over minimum wage and this is a very helpful tool – http://living-wage.co.za so if you have someone who cleans your house or watches over your children, take a look, and adjust accordingly. As one commenter suggested, that tool comes in handy in conjunction with a conversation with the person who you are paying it to, because their needs and costs might be different.

We need to do better and we can and we can do this together.

Let’s start by not calling people over 16 who are of a different race to you ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ and let’s think about the way we speak about [and to] those who work for us and how we treat them.

That’s a start at least.

Any other thoughts when it comes to them?

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.

2 Comments

  1. Karl August 6, 2017 at 9:44 am - Reply

    I am not sure if you’re familiar with Masiphumelele township in Noordhoek. But recently someone (actually a black lady on Facebook) asked why the unemployed in the town do not clean up the place. Another lady who does work in the townships (white lady), said, “will you pay them?”.

    Now this is interesting as if an outsider came, they would get paid – for example a city worker. If no outsider came, it would remain dirty and full of litter. Now why don’t the people who are complaining about this litter and mess volunteer and then the place will be nice and clean. If my house is dirty, I must sweep it before sweeping anothers house.

    So why won’t these guys clean their town for free, a few hours per week? There are about 15000 unemployed in Masi, so that is a lot of people who could make the town really nice (even though its possibly not their final home). It could still be nice, just like when I clean my rental apartment.

    So why don’t they do it? Maybe they don’t want to get ill or sick. So I say lets start a crowdfund for cleaning materials so they can volunteer to clean their own town? Maybe overalls, spades, pumps…

    • brettfish August 7, 2017 at 1:26 pm - Reply

      You ask good questions, Karl, but i imagine that unemployment and malnutrition are probably key factors – if you are struggling to eat and to survive, then living in a clean space is probably way down your priority list than if you live in your own nice rental apartment.

      It’s just a really complex situation all round – i have friends who do some work there and i have been but a long long time ago [did some Habitat for Humanity there once actually but probably ten years ago now]. i think the people who are working there [and there are a good number of them] who have relationship with the people there are probably in the best place to help them to move forwards in a way that helps care for their dignity and focus on the problems at hand…

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