HOUSTON, TX. – We thought we might not have been fully awake Monday night when Fox News 26 reported that Councilman Jarvis Johnson had assumed a pose of high moral indignation after hearing Controller Annise Parker refer to the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report by the acronym CAFR, which according to Johnson and his media enabler, Fox’s Isiah Carey, made it sound as if Parker had uttered kaffir, a word that (among other meanings in other cultures) was/is employed as a slur against blacks in South Africa.
Although Carey’s report had the logic of many of our dozing-off dreams, it turns out we were wide awake. And after a sound night’s sleep and a day’s somber reflection, it occurs to us that Johnson, who “fired off a memo” to Parker asking her to henceforth refrain from using the acronym CAFR, has his work cut out for him in his campaign to rid the world of the word kaffir. (Out of idle curiosity, we’re moved to wonder whether the councilman has ever used the word “nigger” in good-natured banter with fellow African Americans.* Just asking.)
First stop: Kaffir, Texas (yep), population probably not much, which according to the authoritative Handbook of Texas Online is a “rural community and loading station on the Santa Fe Railroad between Tulia [uh oh] and Happy [yeah!] in north central Swisher County. Kaffir is dominated by the huge grain elevator and loading bin beside the tracks near U.S. Highway 87 (Interstate 27) and apparently was named for the strain of grain sorghum (usually spelled kafir) produced in the area.”
Johnson, preferably with Carey and Fox 26 camera in tow, should immediately drive to Kaffir and demand that the locals change the name of their loading bin stop to something more appropriate. (“Bumfuzzle” sounds good.)
Then there's the kaffir lime leaf, said to be a key ingredient in Thai food (damn, we love Thai food). There are many fine Thai dining establishments in Houston, and hopefully Johnson will organize a boycott of each and every one until their dishes can be certified "kaffir leaf-free.”
And what about the book for young adult readers, Kaffir Boy, which can be found in many Houston-area schools, actually being read by Houston-area students? Johnson needs to root this work out of our schools, and maybe he can grab Dick Gregory’s Nigger and Huckleberry Finn while he’s at it.
We could go on---our son once had a friend, an Israeli kid named Kafir (pronounced kuh-FEAR)---but we’ll stop now. After all, we previously were under the vague impression that kaffir was an archaic term, a Kiplingesque, Boer War-era anachronism, but according to this recent article in The Guardian it still has the power to sting and discomfort.
In South Africa.
It also apparently is still used by some Muslims as a slur against non-believing infidels.
So count us a proud kaffir!
* Or whether he's gotten deeply ironic and used kaffir, as in "You my kaffir!"