Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Respecting People's Constitutional Rights

So I ended up with a rant for today's post. It was not intentional, and may offend some of you. But I don't want to self-censor.

Part of my work online involves taking part in discussions which relate to my clients' causes or issues. That can be a joy, when I chat with people who are happy to agree to disagree with me if we can't find common ground, and a bad disappointment when comments actually consist of name-calling or attempts to strip away people's constitutional rights. Online discussionss this morning made me feel like I was getting too much of the latter.

The issue arose out of SPUD ( the movie) and Judge Edwin Cameron's comment that a comment made by one of the main characters ( that rogering could set lesbians to rights) could contribute to homophobia in our society.  (Luleki Sizwe, an advocacy organisation in Cape Town, can give you more details about how and why lesbians in South Africa are vulnerable to rape where the attacker claims to be trying to cure them)

The author of  Spud wrote an open letter to apologise the judge and explain his character's position. However, it was all said in public ( in the media) so of course we all wanted to comment too.

Comments that I read ranged from:

1. It was artistic licence and stop being so sensitive.
I asked a couple of Black people in the list if they were now comfortable with their parents being called Kaffirs to their faces in the name of artistic licence. Would you watch a TV drama (period piece) where one of the major characters was called kaffir? Do you think any one of our stations would air it?  And if not, why not, artistic licence being equal?

I believe that it's much too easy to dismiss derogatory words as meaningless  unless they bite you personally. We South Africans still shrink when we hear the kaffir word - I wonder what makes us think that calling gay people  names is less damaging and why one constitutional right is more important than another?

And in case you're wondering, a joke is funny when the subject of the joke is also laughing. If he/she isn't laughing with you, you are poking fun at them. And saying they're being too sensitive is no defence either.

2. Gay people are sinners/an abomination
Frankly, in my book, that is not the issue at  hand. Our constitution is not based on any one paricular religion and it guarantees us  all certain rights, including freedom of religion and sexual orientation. That means that by the law of this land, you can't pick on someone because they do something that's against your religion.

I also find it interesting that we Christians ( yes, I am among the believers) choose to elevate one sin over another. Being gay is an abomination worthy of condemning the subject whenever the opportunity arises. Being judgemental, lying, being proud, gluttony, laziness... nah, we gloss over those ones.

I also find it interesting that people who are saved by the Grace of God ( that means, none of us had to do anything to deserve God's mercy; Ephesians 2: 6, I think) are eager to condemn others of a sin Christ never ever mentioned in the New Testament. Ever!

If we are under a new covenant with God, which was sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ, why are we so eager to dig old testament rules to bludgeon other people with them?

3. Love the sinner, hate the sin

Sounds real conciliatory, doesn't it? Except for the fact that you are still sitting in judgement of others, and holding up one type of what is sin in your religion over another person.And if  I remember well, Jesus Christ said Love you neighbour as you love yourself. Does the love the sinner, hate the sin phrase really qualify as the kind of love He was talking about?

4. Judge Edwin Cameron's life

Yeah, a few did comment on what they called his lifestyle ( because he's gay) and there was even a sly remark implying that he probably deserved to get HIV (as if HIV is a gay disease or affects only promiscuous people).

My first impulse was to ask who in their right mind would choose being gay as a lifestyle? Who would choose to be reviled, have whole church sermons be devoted to calling them abominations, have to hide even from family and friends and be in danger of being bashed. But the nature vs nurture argument is totally irrelevent in South Africa, because even if gay people were crazy enough to choose such a difficult path, the constitution still protects their right not to be discriminated against due to their sexual orientation.

So unless we change the constitution, it doesn't matter why they are gay.Just as some White South Africans do mind sharing the country with Black South Africans ( and some Black South Africans mind sharing with White people), we all have to get over ourselves  and our aversion to other people's differentness and build a country.


tiah said...

I haven't read the book, so I find this issue hard to comment on. I have seen where people try to make parallels with Huckleberry Fin.

In that regard, I have read Fin, and can say I find it wrong that they've changed the book. The character that says the offensive language is an offensive character. Yes, these books are fiction, but fiction must accurately portray the time and the people. Sadly, many people in the South still talk like that - and to pretend otherwise...well, we're not writing Si-fi.

That said, to use such language for a cheap laugh, not good.

But again, without reading the book, so hard to say.

Damaria Senne said...

@tiah - thanks for your comment. I had trouble getting into the book and only read it in December after Baby dragged me to watch the movie.
At the time, I didn't give much thought to the statement about lesbians.
But then, it was easy enough for me to dismiss the statement because I'm not lesbian, and the statement didn't sound like it condoned my greatest danger and fear (corrective rape is ridiculously high in SA) and no, I don't think books and movies contribute much to that trend. But reading judge edwin's letter and comments, thinking back on my initial indifference, listening to other commentors be verbally abusive to gay people - it made me wonder if i would have dismissed the statement with the same indiferrence if it talked about my being a kaffir instead? Would it still have been art even when it bites me personally?

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