Monthly Archives: April 2011

Broader Concerns

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Pardon me friends of Middle Class Concerns, I am currently writing an academic paper on theories pertaining to authoritarianism. This has me tossing and turning, buzzing on espresso and praying that the 26 letters of the English alphabet will miraculously compose themselves into a well structured, coherent and analytical look at North Africa’s transition from authoritarianism to democracy. As such, my latest offering comes as a short but delightful break away from Huntington and O’Donnell (theorists):
What do you call a poor person? There should really be no thought about this, the answer is- ‘a person’. To avoid any more confusion I hope you’ve all done your homework and read up on Oscar Lewis. If you haven’t, open another tab and Google ‘The Culture of Poverty’. Kudos to friend and Anthropology Masters student Nosipho Mgomezulu for introducing me to Mr Lewis. We had a ragging session about his work, which then turned into this blog post. One of the many statements that enraged us was: “I found most of the poor decent, upright, courageous and lovable human beings”. Well Mr Lewis, why don’t you just build a petting zoo for them in your back- yard? This kind of rhetoric is common and pitiful.
Not to get all Martin Luther King on you but he put it best: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” I wouldn’t trade my middle class problems for anything but I never want to forget that poverty is everybody’s problem. Break the status shackles that imprison many middle class South Africans.
I have constant reminders of how middle class is simply a game we play. I had a smart phone two weeks ago, now I don’t. It was stolen and I’m stuck with a phone reminiscent of my first cell phone (Nokia 6110). I went out for dinner at a rather posh restaurant last night and then drove past a man that hadn’t eaten in days. As soon as the winter chill crept in, I threw an extra blanket over my bed. In the coming months, there’ll be news reports about several homeless people who froze to death. I might catch flu because of some snot nose that forgot to wash their hands but I won’t die for not having money to buy the necessary meds.
Middle class existential crisis aside (I’ll save that for another blog post), I hope that your bank statement is not a measure of how deep or shallow your thoughts are. The culture of poverty is no more self- perpetuating than the culture of affluence that defines itself against art, theatre, vintage red wine and anything else which rings to the sound of false sophistication. After all “In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of”- Confucius
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Crocadellic Stride

 
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Everyone has their own ideology of what looks good and bad. Each party takes it upon themselves to critique and ridicule the other. Fashion policies need constant review. Authoritarianism i.e. wearing the same hair and make- up you wore 20 years ago will be challenged by international bodies such as Pringle, Chanel and Burberry. Military action is deemed necessary against all parties wearing pink lipstick and blue eyeshadow in 2011. No to fake Louis Vuittons, bedazzled or saggy jeans, fanny packs, backward caps, crop tops, crack and panty lines. Yes to vintage, patterns, bold colours, textures, tailored jackets, crisp white shirts and street swag. If you don’t know, now you know!
Five out of seven days of the week I’m wearing something from my mothers cupboard. She is my thrift shop and I often get the comment: “you manage to pull it off”. What they really mean is that they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing some of my much-loved threads. Anyways, I love that each morning brings with it the opportunity to mix linens with silks, denim with wool, sequins with feathers. If this weren’t a social commentary blog, it would be a visual diary of looks that I adore. Which probably explains why I’m following more fashion blogs than any other genre. Face Hunter, We Are AwesomeSkattie What Are You Wearing , Paul Smith , Previously-Owned , Pessimiss and All Things Tshitshi add glee and envy to my day.
Back to more important things. I was in Zimbabwe a few months ago and the image of a young man wearing formal trousers and golf- shirt with blue Croc’s is yet to escape me. I was tempted to ask him if I could take a picture but my manners told me otherwise. I imagine he was on his way to somewhere important. He might even have a wife and kids who let him leave the house in those Croc’s (cringe). I was taken aback by the confidence in each crocadellic stride. It might be the very same reaction I get from people when I wear my burnt orange, winter, pencil skirt. It has a matching jacket with gold buttons but I’ve yet to wear it as a two- piece suite.
 

The politics of fashion is such that every stitch, button, zip and plette give away your thoughts and ideologies (without your permission). Those blue croc’s told me that this was a practical man who would raise his middle finger to a make- over. His dress policy is based on comfort and  I have no leg to stand on because just a few years ago (1999) I was wearing grey camouflage military pants. I would have given you the middle finger if you told me that they are a future fashion faux pas. They were a must have and the Waterfront Flea Market  (Jhb) had them in abundance. Myself and bff Tumi Maraba looked boyishly cool but we would wear it with a tank top to reveal our feminine side. Little did we know we were wearing Chinese and Iraq soldier uniform. We were too busy chasing the cool factor to acknowledge that in the same year: the U.S had accused China of stealing nuclear secrets, NATO launched air strikes on Serbia to end attacks against Albanians in Kosovo and two students went on a shooting spree in Columbine High School, killing 15 students including themselves. Tumi and I could have been making a political fashion statement… we weren’t and so it continued.

In 2000, we wore halter neck tops with not- so- see- through bra straps and thanked the gods of Y2K for having spared us another year.  In 2001, George W. Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd president of the United States, he likened Iraq to an ‘axis in evil’ and we were too hot to touch in cowboy hats. In 2002, the peasant top was trending, we were  jamming to Alicia Keyes (Falling) and Bostwana became the first African country to provide antiretroviral treatment through the public sector. In 2003 we shaved our hair off and it was liberating but meant nothing to Liberian’s who were in the midst of a second civil war. In 2004, happy to be done with high-school we stepped into the rest of our lives with ballerina flats whilst the earth rumbled an unleashed a Tsunami. Our idea of fashion was a very selfish one, it was about a right to express ourselves outside of blue convent girl tunics.
As Beverly Lemire says “Political economies and cultural discourses of fashion present equally fertile dynamics, having shaped industries, defined communities and sparked conflicts”. Here’s to giving fashion the credit it deserves, regular reforms that have meaning and the right to freedom of fabric.