Don’t you dare touch me on my mid­dle class

CityPress - - Voices - Gugu Muh­lungu voices@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @GugsM

Mo­torist Clive Naidoo, whose in­ter­ac­tion with a Joburg Metro of­fi­cer went vi­ral this week, is a great ex­am­ple of the sense of en­ti­tle­ment and bad be­hav­iour char­ac­ter­is­tic of much of this coun­try’s mid­dle class.

Our public dis­course is ob­sessed with in­come taxpayers – a valu­able mi­nor­ity in a coun­try with fright­en­ing lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment. We are the per­fect ne­olib­eral cap­i­tal­ist democ­racy that even has ad­verts from the SA Rev­enue Ser­vice thank­ing the mid­dle class for mak­ing schools, so­cial grants and roads pos­si­ble through its taxes.

We stroke the ego of the mid­dle class – one as­sumes to keep its mem­bers feel­ing good about them­selves – and we do this in a coun­try that is also vi­o­lently an­tipoor. We speak of “taxpayers’ money” and “cost to the tax­payer” when what we re­ally mean is in­come taxpayers, which ex­cludes the poor.

We speak of pay­ing peo­ple’s salaries, both in the public and pri­vate sec­tors, in a global cap­i­tal­ist world where money is power. So when Naidoo at­tempts to dis­miss the of­fi­cer by say­ing his taxes pay her salary, he’s be­hav­ing as many oth­ers do.

Fur­ther­more, in a coun­try where the mid­dle class is still poor in com­par­i­son with the wealthy mi­nor­ity – and be­ing in the mid­dle class is so pre­car­i­ous that peo­ple are of­ten only one pay cheque away from los­ing their mid­dle class sta­tus – this soft power, of pay­ing for things and peo­ple’s salaries, be­comes par­tic­u­larly valu­able. It al­lows the mid­dle class to as­sert it­self in a vi­o­lent cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem in which it ac­tu­ally owns next to noth­ing. So when con­fronted with some­one they think is be­neath them, some­one who won’t be bul­lied or “know her place”, mid­dle class peo­ple, as Naidoo did, re­sort to ex­ert­ing their class po­si­tion as a way to as­sert dom­i­nance.

It em­bold­ened Naidoo to de­mand that the of­fi­cer, whose au­thor­ity he re­fused to recog­nise, “prove” his mis­de­meanour to him.

He did this be­cause he knew full well there would prob­a­bly be few or no con­se­quences. Be­cause bad be­hav­iour from the mid­dle class is the norm.

And it is not even shy about how badly it can be­have.

It screams at, den­i­grates, em­bar­rasses, dis­misses, pa­tro­n­ises (of­ten through the English lan­guage) the work­ing class, and very of­ten in full view of other peo­ple who (silently or loudly) con­done its be­hav­iour. In this way, class in South Africa con­tin­ues to be the messy love child of race and cap­i­tal­ism.

He did this be­cause he knew full well there would prob­a­bly be few or no con­se­quences

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