Friday, August 31, 2012

My little karma on offensive language in writing

Just the other week, I started a spate by taking exception to the use of offensive language in literature. I took exception to the use of the word screwing in a passage a friend and fellow writer, Brian Bwesigye posted. To answer my comments, he led me to this video of Doreen Baingana talking about the role of offensive language in novels/literature. 

Fast forward to yesternight and I am having a conversation with a former boss who has been contacted by an interested employer for a reference on me. She is happy to give me a stellar recommendation but has some questions. Something (s) on my blog gave the potential employer pause about me. One; do I hate mzungu bosses? Two; do I hate my jobs in general? Karma! 

I was taken aback. No, I was hit hard in the face especially by the ‘hate mzungu bosses,’ part. Wouldn’t that make me a racist? Now I am sure my blog is littered with loath and general whining. A happy sunny day at the beach is hardly the sort of thing I might write to the world about. Even if I had one, I would probably only tell you about the part where I get back home to find the power off. That being my inclination then, indeed not an uncommon inclination among writers, it follows that I probably only made mention of my jobs when they sucked, only brooded artistically about life at its lows and I didn’t tell you about being appreciated by my bosses. Would you anyway have stuck around as a reader if were writing about perfection and all her sponsors? 

My writing inclinations notwithstanding, had I taken it so far as to express loath for bosses of a particular race? I had to re-read my posts. I did find two suspects; 

 From April 2010, at the end of a post publishing a video of her cuteness , the then 3 year old Hailey singing the Buganda anthem, I found this; “Now I will explain why I have not been blogging for this long. Naye do you need me to?  Anyhow, I got this job where two of my bosses are mzungus. You have no idea. They think even me am an expat without a life outside work. I hope that explanation suffices. More, next time."
I can see why that is offensive. It expresses a stereotype about mzungus being workaholic. Should I have written it? Shouldn’t I have? Would leaving it out have made me a better person? I certainly have thought it. No, I have even said it out loud numerous times. My life partner happens to be a mzungu, it is quite the running joke between us. He may suggest something like, “Let’s plan to get together for dinner not lunch on Sunday. I have a report to polish off.”  I will roll my eyes, make a face and pipe out something like, “why do you mzungu people work so hard. You make me feel like I deserve my poverty. ” Usually, it ends with laughter. But then, that is within the confines of a personal relationship. Am I allowed to say it out loud? Write it on the internet? And if I am not allowed to? Well, then, what do we do about the fact that I think it?  

From May 2011, I found this: A muzungu friend and I are attempting to have an honest discussion about muzungus in Africa. In past discussions, I have basically told him that, "twakoowa muzungu interventionism". Give me your thoughts on it.

Maybe, that there, is the really offending one. I work in the development world with international organizations that have their headquarters in the West, which makes the majority of my colleagues mzungus. How do I ever hold and publish the thought that their work is unhelpful interventionism? And being the bearer of such thought, why then do I seek to work with them? Merely to advance myself and career? To use them? Why don’t I go start my own thing – an African thing? 

Ahaa… how could I answer that question without writing a book? Maybe I could reference posts I have put up castigating my society and how it conducts its affairs. Yet, I haven’t (and don’t intend to) go out and start a pure clan of my own. Maybe I could give a lecture about why regardless of whether it offends ourselves or others, this particular conversation must be had. But then, I would be headed down the book path already. 

Then a friend reminded me of a piece of advice I have heard many times myself.  “You know, employers now search your online profile. People are these days advised to be careful about what they put up.” Hmmm… 

This is what I advise. Be honest, even brutally so, wherever it is that you have the conversations of your life. It may be in the bar, over your dinner table at home, at the cafeteria at work or online. Be brutally honest. Maybe an opportunity or two will pass you by. Maybe those opportunities should pass you by. What need never happen is that out of self preservation we all shy away from saying what wants to be said. 

And about those opportunities passing by, maybe we will come to a place where employers recognize and respect that possible access to your thoughts as is enabled by online tools, doesn’t actually mean a right to use them. You know, my boss is probably aware that if he got me drunk, he would hear my most honest thoughts. Still, he is not in the habit of following me around to bars.   

And there;  I even managed to say something good about my boss.