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Hagen Engler on Whiteness Mzansi Style: The Most Well-off Working-class People in the World

#STBooks: Whiteness Mzansi Style

By Hagen Engler for The Sunday Times

Stuff South African White People LikeWhite people, don’t you enjoy being the only white person around? You know, those odd occasions where you find yourself surrounded by black people? Tell me you don’t love it! I do!

Like, if I’m in a township, and I turn heads because the locals aren’t used to seeing white folks there? Guy, when that happens I feel like Johnny Clegg! Like DJ Ankletap! It’s all I can do to prevent myself shouting, “Amandla!” out the window of my Aveo, because I feel like the Joe Slovo of Alexandra. Even though I’m just taking a shortcut to Greenstone Shopping Centre.

We are indeed a strange lot, us white people.

Strange enough to warrant a book about our odd predilections, for sure. Several books, in fact. One of the more successful franchises has been Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like.

It began life as a blog in 2008, and totally blew up. The site cracked 40 million views within nine months and was soon adapted into a book. The book in turn was syndicated into the various territories around the world where people of the Caucasian persuasion make their homes.

And so it has become South Africa’s turn. We SA white people certainly punch above our demographic weight, so we probably do deserve a Stuff White People Like.

I think of myself as something of an expert on whiteness. I’ve been white since birth, and I’ve been well accepted by my white brethren. Except for that time in that bar in Bothaville.

That aside, I also have a fair idea of what kind of “stuff” SA’s particular strain of white people tend to like.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’re not like other white people.

It’s a firm belief in our unpretentious, salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar roots that sets us apart. This, all the while accepting that we are worldly, upmarket operators entitled to happiness in all things.

This is pretty much what distinguishes a South African white person from his American counterpart. We are the most well-off working-class people you could hope to meet.

A South African white person could quite easily drive to Menlyn in their E-Class Mercedes wearing tiny Judron shorts, slops and a Bulls rugby shirt.

There, they might purchase a Persian rug for R12 000 because they “need something for the lapa”. So it’s not too slippery when brandy gets spilt.

We can be millionaires while still fondly nurturing a value system inherited from our hardscrabble roots in Uitenhage, Springs or Goodwood.

We dress like bearded hobos while snapping street portraits on a camera worth as much as a car.

Personally, I will deny till I’m blue in the face that I’m rich. But sure, I have a house, a couple of cars and I go on holiday every year. That’s just basics, isn’t it?

I’m unemployed, but I can still drop R2 000 on concert tickets. I mean, hey. Foo Fighters!

The ways of whiteness are indeed strange. From Organic Food to Madiba to Events With Backdrops, we like. From Craft Beer to Camps Bay, we like. Two-Tone Tops, Carol Boyes and Threatening To Move To Australia? We like.

Oh, and Being The Only White Person Around, of course.

Follow Hagen on Twitter @HagenEngler – the hashtag is #STBooks

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