There are some who may argue it’s no big deal and political correctness gone mad, but a South African walking past a shelf in a shop in London with products advertising “kaffir lime leaves” might be forgiven for choking on their gum.
I actually wasn’t aware that in 2017 we could all still act like Britannia rules the waves and the colonies are sending the queen her regular supplies of kaffir leaves for her curries.
Up until yesterday, I wasn’t even aware that kaffir limes are even a thing, but they are, and they look like this:
The ever-helpful Wikipedia says that the kaffir lime, sometimes referred to in English as the makrut lime or Mauritius papeda, is a citrus fruit native to tropical Asia. Its fruit and leaves are apparently used in Southeast Asian cuisine and its essential oil in perfumery.
Wikipedia acknowledges there has been a lot of controversy around the name, since “kaffir” is obviously a “slur against black people that Islamic Arabic traders used for slaves, that became ‘kaffer’, a slur used by the white population of South Africa akin to the slur ‘nigger’ in the United States”.
The article says the fruit is known more generally as a makrut in Asia or even mackroot in the UK, so it’s not as if the people selling this stuff don’t have other options on what to call it. And yet some marketing whizz at Tesco still decided to not only name this product of theirs “kaffir lime leaves”, they were so proud of it they ensured that the “kaffir” part was emblazoned across the packaging in the biggest lettering possible.
I’d like to think it’s just ignorance, but South Africa has been part of the British Commonwealth for a long time and there have been newspaper editorials and even recommendations from The Oxford Companion to Food recommending that the term “makrut lime” be favoured over “kaffir lime” because of the offensive connotations.
So, yeah. There’s a lot to chew on there.
All of this was brought to my attention yesterday when a Facebook user messaged The Citizen in great anger at how Vicky Momberg is apparently being given such a hard time by the media. He couldn’t understand what the woman had done wrong by calling a policeman “a kaffir” after two officers tried to help her following a smash-and-grab incident.
Momberg is now facing charges of crimen injuria after her racist rant was captured on film and watched by hundreds of thousands.
According to the unwelcome Facebook correspondent, though, Momberg was doing nothing wrong, just referring to black people as a form of “spice”.
Here’s a Facebook post from the same guy in which he writes that “Vicky Momberg was just reiterating that the police force was the Spice of Life,” a post he actually put on his Facebook wall at least three times before eventually managing to get one person among his friends to give it a “laughey face”.
Maybe that poor person was just desperate to get him to stop posting the same offensive thing all the time.
Unsurprisingly, of course, of Iain Ure’s 136 Facebook friends, not one is black.
When I asked this Scotland-born middle-aged man who now lives in Sandton if he honestly thinks Momberg imagined she was calling the police “lime leaves” when she was screaming at them, he simply repeated that “perhaps she thought of them as the spice of life”. He shared the fact that he, personally, likes to call black people he’s “having a go at” “HERBs” and not the “K word”, and that he would spell out what “HERB” meant if I needed him to.
“I never use the K word when I have a go at the SA locals. I simply call them a HERB.”
Personally (obviously), I’d rather not know what he means.
He had earlier also tried to excuse Momberg’s behaviour by saying she’d been traumatised.
All of which, though, simply brings me back to my initial surprise that you can still buy “kaffir”-branded products in a supposedly civilised country like the UK, which gives people like Mr Ure the idea that it’s a perfectly normal word, when it certainly isn’t.
A term like “nigger” is at its most offensive in the US, and I clearly remember growing up regularly eating sweets called “nigger balls”, which I didn’t even question. I just thought that was the name, until I got a bit older and a man in a corner cafe gave me a very dirty look when I asked for a few “nigger balls” on his counter.
Apparently, thankfully, we just call them “black balls” now, or “liquorice balls”. I haven’t seen one in years. But no one goes around calling anything “nigger balls” any more even though we don’t live in America. Britain could surely extend the same courtesy.
All I can tell our recent Facebook correspondent in response to his comment that, “the rest of the world uses the K word on their branding”, is good luck if you think a curry product in a Tesco helps to make Vicky Momberg look less guilty.
To me, it just makes Tesco look less innocent.