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25 January 2013

'White trash' and a pizza fight

A vicious fight over R14 on a bill and a 'white trash' slur have led to two assault charges. Why is this seen as such a huge insult, asks Susan Erasmus.

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A vicious fight over R14 on a bill and a 'white trash' slur have led to two assault charges. Why is this seen as such a huge insult, asks Susan Erasmus.

In a country where we seem to be obsessed with racial issues, it is interesting that people are so hypersensitive to class issues, and being called 'white trash'. This seems to have been the match in the dynamite factory in this particular brawl in a place called Die Van der Stel's Kuierkroeg. Maybe a name change should now be considered: what about Bliksem?

What happened

A vicious three-way fight between Kuierkroeg restaurant owner Dawie du Toit, and George and Mimika Coetzer over a R14-addition to their bill has made the news headlines.

That in itself is odd in a country with such a high murder and crime rate. So what's happening here? Before I answer that, it might be an idea to take a look at what allegedly happened.

  • George and Mimika Coetzer went for a pizza at the Kuierkroeg.
  • She ordered extra chicken for her pizza, which she says never arrived.
  • They complained to the waiter when it was added to the bill.
  • The owner came over, allegedly insulted them by calling them 'white trash', and insisted they paid.
  • They refused and a scuffle broke out.
  • Here details become sketchy, but at least three people emerged with nasty bruises.
  • Someone was headbutted, and kicked in the stomach and landed on the floor.
  • Two charges of assault were laid.

The 'white trash issue'

People are extremely sensitive about class issues. It's a worldwide thing. You only have to watch TV to see how stereotypically people supposedly of a certain class are portrayed: drinking, swearing, gambling, having overly flashy or shabby furniture, behaving in an unpredictable manner, being poor (and if they're wealthy they have appalling taste), being unsophisticated, uneducated, having bad manners, driving flashy cars.

In short, people are quick to describe others as 'trash' whom they perceive as being just slightly below them on the social scale. For some reason we have an innate inclination to make ourselves feel better by looking down on someone.

It's odd in a country where we have so many racial issues that people also engage in so-called class wars. Maybe the two are somehow related. Maybe class consciousness, although questionable, is somehow preferable to the ghastly racism with which many of us grew up. At least it shows a 'normalising' trend in society irrespective of colour. 

But let's be honest for a moment – who amongst us has not at least once made ourselves guilty of doing any of the things mentioned above? I certainly have. I remember losing my temper in the traffic more than once and misbehaving horribly – and I am sure you have too.

A nasty brawl

Back to the sad events in the Kuierkroeg. I have a suspicion that we might be dealing with more here than a dispute over a R14 addition to the bill. For things to go so explosively wrong, there must have been a sequence of events leading up to it.

  • The waiter/kitchen forgot the chicken;
  • the patrons complained, but were ignored;
  • they refused to pay; the restaurant owner did not follow the principle of the customer always being right;
  • the owner called them 'white trash' and the battle lines were drawn
  • the aggression levels were sufficiently high that when neither budged, a three-way fight ensued, with Mrs Coetzee apparently acting as kingpin.

This whole thing is wrong on so many levels.

The owner should create a safe space for his patrons. Orders should be double-checked. On R14, the customer should be given the benefit of the doubt. Don't hit customers, ever. The Coetzees should choose their battles more carefully and not have created a public spectacle over such a small amount, whether they were right or not. The damage to one's reputation and dignity cannot be measured in money.  Rather slam the restaurant on the social media – don't slam the owner physically. Avoid the restaurant in the future. Avoid the police. Avoid having your bruised arms shown in the media. Guys, this is just not a classy thing to do.

But the bottom line: before you call anyone else 'white trash' it might be an idea to not do anything that could label you as such. Guys, slow on the drinks, breathe deeply, choose your battles, indulge your customers. Play nicely, come on.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, January 2013)

 

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