Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Month: December 2018

White Christmas – Cape Town is Racist 2

I got a comment yesterday on my 2017 post about how Cape Town is racist, almost exactly a year after having written it, confirming that nothing has changed. It is bizarre and surreal to me.

One of the few really integrated spaces in Cape Town is Muizenberg beach. And it is one of the few places I feel totally at home at and my most true self. It is a multicoloured, multi-aged, multi-language space where when it’s crowded you sit cheek by jowl with rich and poor, young and old and every shade of human skin. It is what is possible.

Kalk Bay on the other hand is  a segregated space with black people serving almost exclusively white customers. It’s frightening, especially since the whiteness of the space seems so ‘normal’ to those wandering up and down the streets and seated at the restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

I know I am super aware of these things, but everyone should be. Everyone should notice.

I went with my brother to a spot on Moullie Point’s strip on Friday evening. A friend was playing background music at sundowner time. I was so relieved to see a mixed crowd of middle class jollers there, with kids and dogs added to the mix. I felt like I could breathe a bit. Of course the staff was totally black and mostly Zimbabwean, but at least the patrons were not wall to wall white.

We hung out there for long enough that the people around us changed, and a white and wide couple took up a spot just next to us. And my brother had a moment when the woman, without even looking up at the server when she brought their piled high plates of food, said, “We are going to need more plates.” Not thank you, not please, not when you have a moment. My brother said, “What’s wrong with people? How can anyone be that rude to someone else?”

This woman was unconscious. She didn’t even realise that she was talking to a person. My brother rightly pointed out that nobody needs extra plates. What was happening here was the language of privilege, demand, taking up space and superiority. This woman didn’t even know she was being rude. Just like so many white people don’t even know they are being racist and will deny it and be offended if you point it out.

The truth is, if you are white in Cape Town it is entirely possible to live the old white lifestyle, and many people do. These people moan about a government that has little or no effect on them personally (unless they are complaining about the exchange rate), they have access to cheap labour and private transport, and are fortunate enough to have a buffer zone of the coloured middle class to shield them from the real poor and disenfranchised communities they have no direct contact with except for those that clean their houses.

In Cape Town there are still entirely white neighbourhoods. In Cape Town the white voice is loud. In Cape Town it is entirely possible to sit in a restaurant with only white patrons. In Cape Town you can be an audience of only white skins. And this is mad, hideous, unacceptable but totally true.

 

 

Working on Whiteness

I ran my first ever Working on Whiteness introduction conversation/workshop last night and I want to share many of the details. I want this to be the beginning of much more work of this nature, and so I want to explain it thoroughly so more people will feel compelled to attend, and will invite those who won’t be able to come to the conclusion for themselves.

I have made a deliberate choice to keep this work exclusively white. Ironically, POC are more comfortable and supportive of this. Friends I have spoken to have articulated how being black and having to explain over and over what their pain and anger looks and feels like to white people is exhausting and often futile. It is my opinion that white people need to do a lot of work before entering into the conversation on diversity. White people need better tools and more information to have those conversations. We need to start before those.

Anyway. The lead up to last night’s workshop was an invitation through email and on Facebook and Linked in to all white friends, connections, colleagues, associates and friends of friends, who live (or found themselves) in Cape Town to attend. I think I shared it personally with over 1000 people. Many people contacted me to say that they thought it sounded good but they were previously engaged/out of town and couldn’t make this one but would still like to come if there ever was another one. There will be.

There were eight participants. The evening was divided into improv games, storytelling exercises and facilitated conversation. And it was a gentle start in the right direction. Of course, the people in the room were already conscious that there were issues like racism, white privilege, white guilt, systemic racism and virtue signalling. What we unpacked was some of that.

We are like trapeze artists who could fall into the traps at any time. It is a lot of hard work, constant reflection, and deep listening to hear, see, feel, and stay on it and in it.

An earnest desire helps, but we have to keep pushing ourselves into the uncomfortable place of this work.

Here is some of what participants had to say.

“There is often resistance to having this kind of conversation informally in a group and if the subject of ‘whiteness’ comes up, the conversation can often become quite defensive.

I wondered (worried about) what would be asked of me in a workshop like this. I had been thinking in the privacy of my own mind about myself as a white person. The thought of going to a workshop to unpack whiteness was confronting, but I decided to go.

I am very glad I did. It was hugely worthwhile. Megan held the group expertly and led us though a number of really easy and fun exercises which were designed help us begin this conversation.

Once we began the conversation to look at our/my whiteness, it felt really easy and natural to do so in the environment that had been created. The feeling in the room felt very comfortable to me.

It was amazing to hear the thoughts of others in the group and good to share my own”. – L.S.

“When you finish a two-hour workshop and race conversation with a group of ten white people saying they could continue for another hour and want to sign up for an ongoing course, you know something special has happened. Megan Furniss’ ability to hold uncomfortable spaces gently while firmly pushing into the tough areas that desperately need to be talked about is key to this much-needed work. It was just the tip of a very large iceberg, but the fact that people paid to be in the room and were engaged for two hours with no sign of wanting to leave or stall was testimony to what we need to see so much more of.” B. A

Contact me if you want to start this, or even continue with this work.

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