Please Unsee It, Lerato Tshabalala

I struggle with the semicolon; I never quite know how to use it. And I am always trying to think back to grammar and punctuation lessons to recall just what it was that they taught me to use the semicolon for. I can never quite remember of course, and I often end up using it as a comma substitute.

Lerato Tshabalala however really knows how to use it. In fact, reading her book has given me some invaluable insight on the use of the semicolon.

But really, that’s about it; that is all that reading her book has been good for.

The book is terrible, and of course you already know that, because you are on twitter and you have followed the exchange, the discourse; you have seen its atrocious excerpts and have read the analyses by your various twitter faves.

And, no, she has not been quoted out of context. The whole book is every bit as smug and as superior as the excerpts which you have seen, read and been outraged by.

But the book isn’t simply terrible just because Lerato has appointed herself a better-black prefect and monitor, devoting herself to instructing you on how and where to eat a pie or chicken, for best better-blackness results; or because she takes it upon herself to explain you and your lack of better-blackness; to apologise for you; excuse you. The book is terrible because it just is quite actually poor. It is an exercise in massive miscalculations.

For one, the writer swears; and of course the thing about swearing is that it is only tolerable when coming from someone that you actually like. But, see, you can’t like Lerato, because she is the person insulting you and very big parts of your being. She is the person who is offending you, who is provoking your outrage and exploiting it for a quick buck and cheap publishing thrills, and that is not someone that you can like. The swearing is therefore annoying.

Lerato also employs a casual, conversational, ‘chatty’ style, in writing her book. And this is a great tool, used by some writers, and designed to make the reader feel as though she is having a cool, casual conversation with a friend. Except, Lerato is not your friend; she has already set herself apart, as being exceptional, as being the better other; and she isn’t talking to you, but rather at you; she is addressing and instructing you, as the lesser other. So, the chatty becomes as uncomfortable as it is senseless, and yields a rather awkward result.

And then of course there is the fact that the book is intellectually insulting.

Lerato presents whims and notions and opinions as fact, and doesn’t respect us enough intellectually to even support or substantiate her…assertions. She doesn’t even aim for insight.

Lerato offers us one-dimensional and shallow characters, and nauseating generalisations, and stereotypes: The young lady, to whom she refers as “The Fertile Cousin”, is obviously stupid, sex-crazed and after social grants. There cannot possibly be anything more than that, there cannot possible be a deeper story, a deeper dimension, to her. Obviously. “Hulisane The Hoe” must obviously have an entire life built around dick; getting dick; chasing dick and imposing dick on others. There can’t possibly be more to her.

It is lame, it is insulting, and we deserve better

We deserve better. We deserve better than black writers who insult us, deliberately offend us; paint us as one-dimensional objects, as problems which need to be corrected and explained and apologised for, for an easy buck and a seat at the whiteness table.

And we deserve actual writing, not unimaginative and unoriginal drivel, which could be lifted off any twitter timeline, on any given bored day.

We deserve black writers who realise that this is the time to be awake, to be woke, to be having progressive black discourse, the sort which empowers us and move us closer to our “We Are Coming For Everything” goals. Because we are coming for everything, and we don’t want to leave any of our own behind, not even the better blacks.

And Lerato deserves better. She deserves better than to be so unwoke, than to be spewing vacuous rubbish such as “Let’s stop being our race and just be people. It is possible.” Oh! Yeah? Do you mean that we must take off this glorious costume that we wear on Tuesdays and Saturdays, for fun?

Lerato owes herself an awakening. She owes herself an unshackling from the white gaze to which she is much attached.

She owes herself freedom from being a product of black erasure.

She deserves better than to be a black woman who is so out for approval, and so apologetic in her thinking and being that she can’t express a single thought without a qualifying ‘I know you are going to hate me’ ad ‘guaranteed to offend’

And she really should unsee a lot of this nothing garbage which she presents as obsessed with seeing. It’s holding her back.

It’s a new day. It’s a day for progress.

Writer: Nomfundo Shezi