Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Month: June 2017 (Page 2 of 3)

Virtue Signalling

A couple of months ago my friend K introduced me to the concept of virtue signalling while we were chatting about politics. It was a new one to add to our growing lexicon of complicated ideas, but it is one that I was particularly drawn to.

Virtue signalling is when you announce the goodness in you loudly; like a white ally, crying white tears and making the issue about your identifying pain. I have been totally guilty of virtue signalling. It is part of the process of acknowledging white privilege and the systemic racism we are part of.

When I think back to the huge deal I made about starting to learn isiXhosa I recognise that I was doing a lot of virtue signalling. I had to be called on it (before there was a definition for it). It was a hard lesson. My virtue signalling goes back a long, long way to my varsity days during the crazy early 80s and the mad and dangerous state of emergency, violence, and real revolution that was starting to play out. Going to Crossroads or Lavender Hill for a UDF meeting was not living in Crossroads or Lavender Hill. Protesting along Rhodes Drive with almost 90% white UCT students was not quite the same as #feesmustfall. My history of (privileged) activism cannot be used as retrospective virtue signalling to gain cred, or political points. I am still learning what virtue signalling is, and what means to be a true ally, and what calling out bullshit in others is. I don’t always get it right. I keep trying.

Virtue signalling is at its worst on social media, where it is easy to have knee jerk responses to things, to have solidarity to half truths and fake news, and where you can signal your ‘virtue’ by ‘liking’ or ‘hearting’ or ‘cry-face-ing’ a thing, with no further action needed. It is also so easy to offend people on Facebook and Twitter (I sure have had a week of it), and I am still trying to decide whether it is useful to offend people, or not.

One of the most ugly and opportunistic and reprehensible spin offs of virtue signalling is crisis advertising, where companies advertise how they are helping in a crisis situation. Take the Knysna fires, for example. Banks and supermarkets and restaurant chains (I am certain with the best Capitalist intentions) seem to have taken advantage of the chance to put their names on the helping hand basket for pure PR purposes. Of course their help is desperately needed, but I do gulp when I hear about this help in paid for ads on the radio. Do you see the irony there? We have to work hard to tell the difference here, but it leaves a really bitter taste in my mouth.

I want to work hard to recognise my own virtue signalling. It is a dangerous distraction from the real work that needs to happen. Who is with me? What do you think? Is this post virtue signalling?

 

The Woman Next Door

I have broken a reading dry spell by devouring The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso in just under a week.

This extraordinary novel is set in a terribly familiar Cape Town, but its angle on the issues of land restitution, racism, culture and aging are so original and thought provoking I will never think about these things in the old way again.

The protagonists are two old ladies, next door neighbours, who live in a sheltered, gated community in Constantia. They hate each other vehemently, but are forced, by circumstances both beyond and in their control to negotiate a relationship.

Through their backstories we get to know each of them and their secrets, lies, and special shames, and then they are brought forward and thrown together, exposing their relationship to a post-Apartheid Cape Town that challenges them in different ways.

I think that there is something so brave in choosing two eighty year olds to be the leads in a story. It is a high risk that pays off though. I was drawn into Hortensia’s stuck ways, and grumpy oldness from the beginning. Marion was also deeply familiar to me, with her broken Jewish background and dysfunctional family.

Mostly, what hooked me and kept me attached to every page, paragraph, sentence and word was Omotoso’s writing. It is beautiful, simple, direct, haunting, deliberate, light, clever, funny and achingly moving.

It is a book that will stay with me for a long time, and I will turn the words and ideas, about loss, and love, and being a stranger, over and over in my mind and heart.

The unsubtle Art of Derailing

I don’t mind a bit of trolling or name calling here, on my blog. It goes with the territory, and it means that my words are reaching an audience who don’t just agree with everything I say and think and write. I am happy for the traction and discussion and, at times, even happy for the feeling of support when others come to my defence.

What I absolutely hate, and it is a huge thing on social media, is when people highjack a post or thread or even post comments on my blog posts that totally derail the conversation.

A case in point has been my last two posts about the fires in Knysna. Most people have shared and commented and been active in the discussion. There have been those that disagreed and who took umbrage at me ‘making it about race’. Those people have been easy to engage with, even when I have been a bit harsh.

The derailers are people who go off on a complete tangent, dragging you into an invisible part of the conversation, insist that you do, or don’t do, something, call you names and accuse you of shopping at Pick ‘n Pay. Out of the blue. And I spend time with these people. I try to explain. I get all hot under the collar and my spelling and grammar go unchecked.

The worst part of this is that I am guilty of it too. Facebum and Twitter never show my ‘audience of friends and followers’ my actual mood when I do, say and write things. I have just pissed someone off so badly they told me to ‘get a life’, because I derailed their good news parking story. I pissed them off so badly they unfriended me. I am sorry. They are right. And so am I.

So, this blog post is a moan in session of its own navel gazing bullshit. And it is also an apology to Craig Freimond.

The Difference

A child is dead and her mother is badly burned, fighting for her life in hospital here in Cape Town. An appeal by the woman’s husband’s employer has been on Facebook. This husband is a good man, from Malawi, who ended up in Knysna to make a life. This man has lost his baby daughter and may lose his wife too. An unbearable loss. I know that people will open their hearts to help this man.

This man’s daughter died because his wife and child tried to outrun the fire. They were on foot. They couldn’t. There was no way. Now I know people who have lost everything they own, but they were able to escape by throwing their children and animals into their cars and outdriving the fire. In fact, there are photos of cars burned to their frames, on the side of the road, or in garages that no longer exist,  and I think it is because there were not enough drivers for all the cars. This is the difference between black and white here, in case anyone was worried that I was making it about race. This is about race. Everything is about race.

The banks are jumping in, and helping in Knysna. Of course they are. They own the houses. Those are their mortgages and bonds. ABSA and FNB did not help in Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay. Those shacks were of no interest to them. This is about race. Everything is about race.

The difference is not who lost, but how. And how they will be helped to rebuild and fix. The difference is in driving not running. The difference is in where the banks will help.

I still stand by my post of yesterday. This could be the fire that rewrites Knysna, and South Africa, in how people choose to respond to it, but I think it will take more than just me asking for it. This is about race. Everything is about race.

Imagining Knysna into a brand new World

(One of Ivo Vegter’s devastating images on Daily Maverick)

I have shared the shock, horror and sadness with the country as we watched Knysna burn. In a rare moment of equalising, the fire took from all; rich, poor, old, young, those starting out with first ever homes, those nearing the end of their lives in old age homes, those squeezed into desperate situations in wooden shacks, and tiny rich families in huge mansions on the hill.

The efforts to help people and animals have been heartwarming. We South Africans are pretty good in a crisis. Calls for food, clothes, toiletries, pet food, and money have been met with a resounding response.

So is this not the perfect opportunity to acknowledge that Knysna has a population who live in dire conditions in their everyday lives, where unemployment, poverty, a severe lack of formal housing, TB and other poverty borne illnesses are rife?

I woke up this morning with a dream like vision that every person with insurance in Knysna skimmed a tithe off their claim, and built a second house for someone with no house. Not a shitty little charity shack, but an actual house, a home. Two homes. So, instead of rebuilding exactly what you had in both instances, people with insurance made a conscious decision to make something smaller, cheaper and more modest, and then made another one, for someone else to live in.

I know this will never, ever happen. And because it won’t, the playing fields will never be levelled, and we will never be having the same conversations unless there is a massive natural disaster. And even then, it will be a conversation that happens in that tiny moment before everything goes back to what it was.

But, imagine. Imagine if the brave, heartbroken, wrecked, grateful, passionate mostly white rich people of Knysna decided in this moment to change the town, the province, the country, the world? Imagine.

Thinking Improv

I went to a meeting yesterday to find out what a potential client needed. She had said she wanted improv theatre for a client presentation, but I wasn’t convinced that what she was asking for was improv; i.e. performers making stuff up. I was pretty sure she wanted industrial theatre; performance to support a boring event of power points and speeches.

I was right. She had been handed the notion of improv theatre by one of her superiors, didn’t really understand what it was, but couldn’t let go of the name of the thing. She was great, and responsive, when I explained to her the difference and what I thought she was asking for, but the default name of improv theatre stuck around for the meeting, and I was the one who had to let go.

And so I used the basic tools of improv for the rest of the meeting. I listened. I built on her ideas. We worked as a team. We developed the scene. I got her excited. She got me excited. We were so creative, and funny, and enthusiastic. When we walked down to the parking lot it felt like we had finished a healthy workout.

I am writing our ideas into a concept document and I have all the right improv energy to do it. Love improv. Even when it isn’t the thing.

 

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