Power dynamics, racism and culture determines what is vulgar

The art world regularly challenges 'accepted' standards of decency and good taste in the fight for freedom of expression.

2015 and 2016 saw many student activists using f*ck-word to express their anger towards patriarchy, rape culture white privilege.

Eusebius McKaiser unpacks vulgarity in art and discusses whether offensive or "vulgar" language has a place in public discourse. Ruth First fellow, Lwandile Fikeni and award-winning journalist, Percy Mabandu weighs in on the discussion.

He says the notion of being 'vulgar' is subjective and depends on the context in which it occurs.

Fikeni says there are double standards on how people view vulgarism.

The black body is historically and presently vulgar. Now we talk about a black female body, it's even worse. Before you even open your mouth, you may be the most polite person, but your presence as a black person is vulgar. So, dare you go and say something that is challenging or even swear.

Lwandile Fikeni, Ruth First fellow

Award-winning journalist, Percy Mabandu, says there are power dynamics involved in vulgarity and how it is perceived by society.

He says language may be used to express particular emotions, outrages and ideas.

It depends who is actually saying it. If somebody in power is swearing at you, your role is to be submissive and accept it but when you swear back at him you break that relationship between the two of you and power relations.

Percy Mabandu, award-winning journalist

It's very necessary that we recognise it as equally as we recognise smiling and embrace.

Percy Mabandu, award-winning journalist

Whoever is in power determines what standards of language there is.

Percy Mabandu, award-winning journalist

Mabandu and Fikeni say there is plurality of values attached to vulgarity and language.

They note that the kind of acceptable language differs from one society to another.

There is this value that many people think is acceptable. And it's a value sensibility that is attached to English and I think that's the function of our history.

Percy Mabandu, award-winning journalist

The aspired value in this country is whiteness. You have to assimilate, and in order to assimilate you need to cut your tongue. clean yourself up in order to survive.

Lwandile Fikeni, Ruth First fellow

Listen to the audio below to hear more comments on vulgarity....

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