Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: Cape Town (Page 1 of 85)

Textbook White Fragility and White Tears

I spent far too much time on Facebook yesterday, on somebody else’s thread, explaining to a ‘I don’t see colour’ racist why believing that a photo wasn’t true of a white teacher segregating children of colour in her class in a school in the Northern province was exactly the result of his racism. My argument, in which I stayed unusually calm and persistent, followed his textbook one from outrage, through denial, to criticising me for not seeing his point of view, to blaming my tone.

This was his first post, defending the teacher, and supporting the fake news spread after the initial picture went viral. “There’s no racism here, folks!”

He carries on, in total support of the poor, maligned teacher.

Then I get involved. I try. 

I persist.

I stay there. Still trying.

And on and on. (I haven’t put everything here because it is more of the same.)

And on. This is where he engages with somebody else and does my favourite. Talk about me in third person and complain about my tone and style.

This was all on someone else’s (a black person’s) thread. I will not be engaging like this again. Send me your racists. Let’s do the work.

 

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.

A Dream of a Beach

(A semi-true story. The feelings are real.)

I feel the pull back to familiarity. There is a soft, furry body lying alongside me. Early risers; those getting children to school or off early to miss the worst of the traffic slam car doors or call loudly from the street to someone still inside.

 

I keep my eyes closed, not ready to let go of the feelings of my dream even though the images are still to coalesce in my mind. Loss. Longing.

 

I dreamed of a beach.

 

I was on my way home, walking through familiar streets, totally confident that I knew the way. I greeted passers-by and smiled and waved. And then I took a different path between two pale and old buildings, following a kitten who had looked at me with recognition on its dirty ginger face.

 

Then I was staring at a beach.

 

I remember thinking in my dream that my street had been close to the sea, right up until a hundred years ago. Woodstock Beach had been filled with swimmers, fishermen and strollers. I remember seeing black and white photos suspended on metal wires in a trendy, retro craft gin store. And I remembered this in my dream. I remembered that I drive on Beach Road.

 

In my dream this was Woodstock Beach. Accessible only to me. I alone knew that it was right there, a few metres from home. Nobody in today’s world would ever find it. It was safe. Our secret.

 

Between the grey, crumbling dolosse birds had made nests. A white whale skeleton formed a ghost wedding arch in the sand. Gentle, pretty seaweed and crusty mussels grew in a rockpool. Another was filled with giant purple and ruby red gem stones. I looked down at my feet making soft dunes where I walked. At the water’s edge I turned around to look back. The city was a smouldering, crumbling urban monster. It was exploding in a disorganisation of more building, more development, more greed.

 

I saw an old woman wave at me from under the frame of a beach umbrella. She looked like she had always been there although I had only noticed her in that moment.

 

I wanted to stay. I started taking my clothes off to get into the water but up close the surface was densely packed with completely transparent plastic bottles.

 

“You can walk on it, but you can’t swim” yelled the woman. Now she was surrounded by crime tape, held by four estate agent boards. She stood up and I saw her police uniform.

 

I thought about leaving and my heart shuddered. If I left I would never find this secret Woodstock beach again. I started scooping the sand in my hand, the damp sand. Could I build a house here? There was nothing to make it with. A hole. I would dig a hole.

Cape Town and the DA

I know #whataboutists will tell me about Solly Msimanga and Herman Mashaba – both DA mayors of big cities (notwithstanding some of their votes of no confidence faced and other xenophobic utterances), but I am so completely grumpy with the DA’s Brett Herron standing for mayor I could scream.

Even John Maytham couldn’t hold the disbelief out of his voice when interviewing him yesterday. Really? A white, male candidate? Another Athol Trollip moment? Every single thing about this possibility makes me know that the DA is pedalling backwards on the totally dysfunctional bicycle lanes it spent millions on.

I am no fan of Brett Bicycle Lane Herron. I totally believe that he is unable to separate from his upwardly middle class white experience of Cape Town. I wanted to scream when he cried big white tears after catching the train from Khayelitsha that first time because suddenly he was shocked by how people had to travel every day of their lives. I was enraged when I saw the pictures of him proudly handing over keys to a few ‘Bo-Kaap facaded’ (in his own words) houses in the arsehole of the world, Fisantekraal, like he was doing a good thing.

I know that for whatever bullshit auntie Pat was up to, and that there was a lot of it, and I suspect she sold a piece of her soul to the devil(opers), she still had a relatively good idea of how the poor of CT live. Brett Herron has yet to deliver on his promise for decent transport and social housing close to Cape Town. And that was his portfolio. Why on earth would this man be a good mayor for Cape Town? I cannot see him moving away from the absolutely traditional white response to this city. And it is a response that allows for rampant gentrification, the arse licking of developers, the perpetuation of the accurate myth of the city being a little bit of Europe, and the complete polarisation of its population into old, apartheid geography.

Brett Herron’s track record reflects his position clearly. He has prioritised service delivery to those less in need of it. He has bought band-aids for photo opportunities. He has perpetuated Zille’s legacy. He is not what we need.

My 2c worth.

The Whiteness of Being

I don’t even know how to write this. I am going to piss off many who will say, “So what?” I am going to be the critical voice, the moaner, the killjoy, the maker of the mountain that shouldn’t even be a molehill. And still.

This afternoon two friends and I went to the Christ Church in Constantia for one of their monthly music concerts. They’re even called The Christ Church Concerts. I have never been before, but I am on the mailing list, and this one I really wanted to go to. Franz Liszt performed by Christopher Duigan. I have loved Liszt since I was a child, influenced by my father, who would play the rhapsodies loudly on our record player and I would dance.

Before I say anything else, I must say how lovely and beautiful and familiar and fun and delicious the music and the pianist were. Christopher Duigan is cute and charming and humble, and then he plays his heart out and his fingers fly. I loved it. And, that should be the point. Of course it should.

But something started niggling and I couldn’t let it go. My maths is shit, but I estimated that there were at least 350 of us there, in the lovely church. Tickets were an affordable R100. But there was not one, single person of colour amongst us. Not one.

What planet was I on? How was this possible? How could it be that I was in a crowd that size and there were only white people in the room? How was it possible that for all these people this was absolutely, totally normal? Whites only.

This is possible in Cape Town. No, this is accepted as normal in Cape Town. And it shook me to the core.

When we got up to leave we were some of the last; a recently divorced and well oiled lady was telling us more of her story. Then I noticed a team of coloured and black men enter the church. They had come to stack and move the chairs.

Megan to Cape Town. We have a problem.

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