Rainbow Nation Navigation: A Practical Guide to South African cultures caused quite a bit of outrage on social media, especially among coloured twitter. Why? Its navigation of “coloured culture” was so inflammatory that the resulting backlash led to the lead author and publisher, Paula Marais, saying it would be revised, according to Huffington Post.
Marais, who has since deleted her Twitter account, but said that the chapter was based on interviews with people from the coloured community and that each section was written and then checked by people from that culture.
Users on Twitter and Facebook were up in arms about the content of the book:
Personally, I can understand the anger about the content of the book as it plays into various stereotypes made about coloured people and their culture - this book perpetuates those stereotypes. The author(s) are showing their ignorance of what it actually means to be coloured and the beauty and diversity of our community by playing into harmful stereotypes which are inflammatory and downright racist. To say that it’s tone deaf, would be an understatement.
The book was published by Logogog Press in 2010, according to the listing on Alibris.com and Marais promised a rewrite in a post (which has since been deleted) on her site, saying:
“Due to recent feedback from the Coloured community, the publishers (Logogog) have decided to update the Coloured section of RNN. The book's biggest aim is to create understanding between races and cultures in South Africa. So if you identify as part of this community, they are open for your input.
“Please email info[at]logogog.com with any feedback on what you believe most typifies the culture in terms of: traditions (births, deaths, marriage, engagements, rites of passage); dress; food and drink; religion; language (special sayings from the community) etc.
They look forward to making that chapter better with your help!”
Would contacting the publishers really make that much of a difference though? Since they’ve said they’ve already spoken to people who identify as coloured and already gotten this so wrong? Would telling them that the image accompanying the extract (which shows people with no front teeth and a minstrel in bright clothes) offends me make a difference? Would they get that this isn’t okay?
I identify as coloured and am proud of it, but I don’t identify with many of the stereotypes described in the book. I’ve never been to a baby shower where the mom to be was given hand-me-downs and while I love baked beans, I know many people of similar heritage who don’t go near them. Ironically, on the intro page about coloured people, there’s a line that reads “...coloured people can be quite defensive about their culture and their identity.” So Marais and the other authors must have known this wasn’t going to end well.
A petition to stop the circulation of Rainbow Nation Navigation: A Practical Guide to South African cultures has also been created, saying “The information, particularly about Coloured people in South Africa is defamatory and racist.”
UPDATE: Paula Marais has responded to W24 with a statement in an email.
"It is a true tragedy that the intention of the book has been lost. My brother came down from travelling through Africa and felt inspired to try to get to know his fellow countrymen. I did too. We both had or were expecting children and we wanted them to grow up in a more tolerant country.
"We come from a “rainbow” family, and wanted to encourage others to be more accepting. So we embarked on this journey, interviewing people all over the country and getting their input. Every single piece of information was gathered from the community concerned as obviously we felt that we couldn’t speak for that community. Once the information was written up, people from that community approved the chapters.
"When it came to near the end of the putting the book together, I was actually in and out hospital from birth complications so I was not actually directly involved in the “Coloured” chapter – despite the racist and hate mail I have received over the past 48 hours. I’ve also had threats to my personal safety. The interviews were done in CT and the content was written up in Joburg by a staff member. We have a feeling that the self-deprecating humour of the interviewees may not have translated on the page. But yes, I am the publisher, so I take responsibility.
"To give you some context, this book was self-funded and we had a very small budget and tight deadline. Our main goal was not only to encourage interactions between cultures but also to give people more confidence to put out their hands with some knowledge (although basic) about what was important to the other culture.
"It was a brave step, but even at the time we were concerned about not upsetting anybody. Generally the feedback from all cultures bar the Coloured culture has been extremely positive. The book has been around for seven years and this is the first time we’ve heard anything negative. Our aim was always to revise based on feedback and encourage dialogue to build a useful resource for all South Africans.
"All I can say is that reaching out to make a difference has truly backfired. We wanted to encourage children and adults to learn about how to greet, how to attend weddings, how to be respectful at funerals. Just to be kind, which is how I define myself.
"We have made virtually nothing from the project. But it was one we were passionate about. It was entirely an act to make South Africa a better place for all who lived here.
"Regarding speaking to the other authors, I think it would be unfair of me to put them in a position where they can also receive threats to their safety and hate mail. I love my rainbow family and I will not put them in the firing line for doing what they thought was good and right."
Marais asked us to publish the introduction to Rainbow Nation Navigation: A Practical Guide to South African cultures in the hope that it might better explain what the aim of the book was: