Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: political (Page 1 of 16)

The Usual – holidays and racism in Cape Town

imagesI so do not want to write this post, but it is sitting in my throat like a lump of coal, suffocating me, and blocking my rage and disgust. This time it was the racist incident at Clarke’s Bar and Dining Room that sparked it off, but it is important (I believe) not to single them out, but add them to the list of restaurants, hotels, b&bs, and other places of leisure that are either subtly or blatantly racist. A coloured friend told me about a horrible racist incident that she and her family suffered at Shimmy Beach Club last season. I read about another POC complain about being kicked out by the bouncers there this year. The stories are many, and endless. I have seen the look of relief on faces when I, a white person, join black friends at a table in a restaurant in Sea Point. It is embarrassing.

Cape Town is always accused of being a racist, divided city. And, it is way past time to suck it up and admit the truth of it. I know there are huge efforts, by people who care and take this kind of thing personally, to try and make this less so. It is a deep and thankless challenge, with the opposite of help from the DA entrenched City of Cape Town, who believe they have the mandate to be on the side of big business and big (white) money. We only need to look at the Sea Point councillor who had no actual idea that she was being what she was being until she publicised it; a clueless, cruel, ignorant, racist person with power.

But here is what I don’t understand at all. Why are these restaurants, b&bs, clubs and hotels not working the other way around, from the beginning, to change who and what they are? Why are they not all actively encouraging a coloured and black clientele from the outset? Why are they not actively giving support to those who experience racism from their white clients? Why aren’t they spelling it out on their billboards and websites and in their press releases that they will not tolerate racist attitudes towards staff, other customers and even passers by?  Why are they not shouting it from their rooftops that they are a safe haven for all the colours of Cape Town to enjoy?

It is too late once the incident has happened. It is over for Clarke’s whose pissy and weak attempt at a meeting with those who were horribly insulted is a total band-aid response to bad publicity. Unless Clarke’s does a complete overhaul of their attitude they will be able to get away with being a white only restaurant where POC never feel comfortable. And here’s the other bit of coal stuck in my throat. I am not convinced they (and others) don’t want it this way. They want to serve a predominantly white clientele. They want their white customers to feel comfortable and safe and at home, more than they want their coloured customers to. And it is disgusting, and unacceptable and they must be boycotted loudly. I am adding them to the list of places that need to be named and shamed.

But, I do not want to. I do not want to be the racist police. I do not want this.

Advertising – a wake up call

In the last couple of weeks I have been listening to the radio a lot, mainly Cape Talk 567, to keep up with the news, the current climate of sentiment in South Africa, and because I enjoy the challenging, funny, irreverent and sometimes razor sharp attack of Eusebius McKaiser. He doesn’t let a thing slide, and he calls out the white privilege of those who dare to call in, pointing out their hideous assumptions, lack of awareness, and the outrageousness of how badly they want to be heard and recognised as sufferers or victims. He is so good at it; so good at the outrage, the debate, the breaking it down into bite size pieces, so good at carrying the thread for maximum traction. He is a jolly fabulous talk radio host and I do love him.

What I have been finding more and more problematic though, is what happens when, in Eusebius’s own words there needs to be an ad break ‘to go shopping’. I know that Joburg (where Eusebius sits) and 702 land’s advertising is different from what we get here in Cape Town, but I am always utterly shocked by what is being advertised to whom. And, of course, in case we ever forget, who holds the purse strings. Cars on special for only R369 000. Holiday packages beyond the reach of anyone I know. Retirement homes in retirement villages. Insurance and investment packages. Vehicle tracking systems for cars. Very, very expensive things for the rich, white few.

This is not the demographic of people who listen to the radio, (although in Cape Talk’s case, from the complaining white constituency you would probably think so), and yet, only the rich white few are targeted as relevant for advertising. It makes business sense. Sell to those who have the money. That’s the whole point of advertising. But it so often buys straight into everything that Eusebius (and others) are railing against. It is the whole system, run by white capital, and the independent media is no exception.

So often white callers quote ‘business facts’ raised by Eusebius’s colleague Bruce Whitfield on his The Money Show, and sometimes I end up hearing bits of Bruce as well, mainly when I am driving at that time and the radio in my car is on.  And let’s face it, I know that the show tries as hard as it can to have as many black voices featured on it, but the voices and faces of big (and small and medium) business in South Africa are still predominantly, largely, and only with the rare exception, white. Then there is the content on that show, aimed at those who have disposable income, regular jobs, property, annuities, insurance, medical aid, cars, investment portfolios. Who are these people? They are mainly, and for the most part white.

So, what’s my problem? It’s this. In a world where we are trying to have the honest conversations that Eusebius tries to have, we have to acknowledge how even he and the radio station he works for are propped up and supported by the very thing he is trying to engage critically about. And I find the adverts uncomfortable. I find them garish, and insensitive and completely out of touch. And yet, they are aimed directly at where the money is.

This system is deeply entrenched. It underlies the fibre of even those that dare criticise it. It marginalises and excludes the masses. It is as dishonest as only advertising can be.


Thoughts on what the dead would think

I am only starting to creep out of my paralysing coma that the Trump election has caused. I am properly frightened these days; frightened in a way I have never been before. I understand that for me it is a combination of deeply personal micro tragedies and heartache, and the big, global picture, but the timing of it has left me reeling, spiralling, fearful and hopeless.

I have seen it coming. We all have. My own sense of helplessness has been strong these last times; right here in my neighbourhood, in my city, in my country and now in my world. And I am going to be asking for help. I need help because I cannot work out what it is that I can do to make things better and different. I know all the arguments against asking for help, and I usually speak them out myself. I know I need to just get on with it. I know. I know. But I am stuck, like in a bath of glue.

I keep thinking about how my father, dead thirteen years now, would never in his wildest dreams have been able to believe this world; what it has become. He would have embraced much of its raging change, but the radical horrors that we have come to accept in the last thirteen years would have struck him down too. Trump; hideous and vile caricature of idiotic reality TV as president elect of the country my father saw as great; an example, an image of what to work for. Evil, racist, sexist, moronic and base Trump chosen by people to be in his charge. No.

I am not sure I have surfaced from my paralysing coma. I am dumb struck. Struck dumb.


The thin yellow line

14690869_10153747384076008_2333581888352048738_nThere are very few people in Cape Town who did not see my picture on the front page of The Daily Voice.  I was famous, at the local Spar and in the park where we walk the dogs, for days. Much more famous than I have ever been for any of the theatre work I have ever done. People stopped me in the street to find out what had happened and how the situation had worked out for me, and gave me the thumbs up when I told them what had happened as a result.

For those of you who have no idea, let me go back to the beginning for a quick summary. The old man and his wife who live across the road, in the only house in the street with a driveway, have problems getting in and out into the narrow street. They painted their own yellow lines on either side of their driveway to prevent people parking too close to it, but they don’t always work. Last year I came home to find that they had organised their friends in the city council to come and paint yellow lines directly outside my house. I went berserk and confronted them. Then I started sending emails to the ward councillor, traffic department and city council, who all gave me the complete runaround before the whole thing slipped off the agenda. Until I came home one Saturday morning (almost a year later) to find that the neighbour had called the traffic cops to give a car parked outside his house a ticket and they gave my car, parked outside my house, on the illegal yellow lines, a R500 fine.

The story was resurrected. The new ward councillor took action, a cute and ambitious young journalist, Bertram Malgas, picked up the story and it hit The Daily Voice, the traffic department and city council looked embarrassed, and within two weeks the meeting outside my house had taken place and the next day the lines were neatly painted over. Now I am waiting to hear that my fine has been rescinded. I cannot imagine that it won’t be.

But there is something much bigger than this little domestic success story, and it is about access. I can get my city council to come (eventually) and paint over yellow lines in the road, so I can park my car outside my house. Three ‘my’s’ in that last sentence. This City Works for Me. Because of who I am and where I live. My sense of outrage over this domestic irritation needs perspective. Because, if I imagine, only for a brief moment, what it must be like to live on the Cape flats, or in any of the far-flung townships, informal settlements or even poor, non-white suburbs, I am sure that I would not have the same access. Not the same access to water, or roads, or electricity, or law enforcement, or medical services, or sanitation or even a ward councillor. Believe me, I am utterly grateful. And just a little more aware today of my white privilege than usual. Just saying.


More than enough has been written about the student protests, and I have probably read too much, said too much, and gone around the Mulberry bush with this one. However, a couple of chance conversations and the overhearing of another one have led me to understand the utter reality of the divide between white and black, with such crystal clarity, that I thought it bares repeating.

The first conversation I had was with a white someone who works as an academic, a teacher, a lecturer. It was a brief, rushed conversation and I need to make sure I don’t read too much into it, but one of the last things that was said by them was, “what about me?” All the bells started ringing as I walked away, thinking, “uh, no, it’s not about you.” This is so often a white response, and it is  genuine one, a confused and hurt one, a response that innocently puts that person’s needs at the forefront of the thing. And it remained with me. That is the exact opposite of what the black students are saying. It isn’t about them. It is for, and towards a better system. It is against the status quo, it is in spite of terrible personal loss, it is so things eventually get better for all.

The second conversation was with a white mother whose child will be studying overseas next year. Personally, I think this is a brilliant option for white children who can afford it, although the ironic misconception is that so many children believe that they have to get a university education to live and be. Legacy. My feelings (and I have the ability to have steely clarity on this without the burden of ‘what about my children?’) are that if you are in a situation that needs a really personal response, then that response needs to be made so that it isn’t at the expense of anyone else. I acknowledge that for these parents there is a terrible agony (and I wonder if there is also guilt?) but the country and the majority are not playing with right now, because the rules have changed. It has been so slow, and subtle, and so tiny, the changes, but they are changed. So, white people can’t just do what they have always been doing, and white parents don’t get to make the rules of engagement around university education in this country anymore. Scary for them, but true. At the core of it is the truth that white kids’ parents have spent and are spending oodles on their kids’ university studies (kids who can’t get bursaries or funding) and they are pouring their cash down the drain. It must feel so horrible, but different choices need to be made, and once again, the irony is that every white parent, and white child is still better off in the ‘making choices’ department.

The final conversation that I was a fly on the wall to was one between three white female students who were drinking milkshakes at a restaurant because uni was shut down. They were complaining about how doing their stuff online was boring and slow, and how there was nobody to support them, and how, because they had missed other lectures during the year there was no way to catch up properly, and they were bitching about the inconvenience of it all, and complaining that they were probably all going to fail, and they didn’t once look at the waitress, their age and working, who listened to their whole conversation and shook her head, and watched them throw cash on their table without even making eye contact, as they left to go shopping. I have no idea what these three were supposed to be studying, but they were so completely unconscious about their privilege, their position, their moronic responses, and who and how they are in the world, I felt a physical reaction to them.

These are just three things that happened to me. I know that there are shades of everything in this story of education. I know that at its core there is total frustration and it has nowhere to go and nothing to meet it. I am with the students and opposed to them in equal measure. I am proud and disgusted, I am involved and separated out.  I am trying to understand. I cannot take any of it personally. I want it to change and be better for all.

An open letter to my friend and ally Brett Anderson

Dearest Brett

I thought of you today. It was a constant thought that ran parallel to my most extraordinary experience, and so I am writing to you, and for everybody else to see.

I’ll start with the facts; with what happened, and then I will tell you what it has done and how I feel.

I went to the periodontist’s hygienist today for my regular teeth cleaning. I go every five months because I am prone to gum disease. It is the one area of my health I am vigilant about. Life is weird. I have a good relationship with her; she chats to me a lot while she scrapes the plaque and tartar off my teeth. I have heard all about her kids and their lovelinesses and she knows I have a niece of a similar age to her daughter. I like her very much, this young, hard working, serious, kind hearted, sensitive, religious, intelligent, white, Afrikaans woman.

Today the conversation swung in the direction of the student protests and she sighed out how disappointed she was in the violence and burning that to her mind was so counter productive and inappropriate. I hesitated for one tiny moment before deciding what to do, and then, I breathed in (it helped that her fingers were in my mouth, which gave me that extra nano-second of refection) and asked for her permission to hear my radical point of view. She said yes and I started explaining.

At first her responses were lots of ‘yes but’s and I persisted. She told me how hard she and her husband had worked for what they have. She told me how her 25 year old brother, who has a degree, is discriminated against and can’t get a job. She told me about her mother who had grown up with absolutely nothing in an orphanage. And there was my way in. I said, “When your mother was in an orphanage there were only white children in the orphanage.” She stopped and said firmly, “Yes, poor white children.” And all I said was, “there were no orphanages for black children then.” Her mouth opened. A tiny penny dropped. I took the gap and changed the subject. I asked her how many cars her family of four owned. She said two. Basically, a car per adult in the family. And then I told her how she was in the less than one percent of the richest people in the world, who owned their own car. I told her about the many millions of people in the world who would never ride in a private car in their lives. And her brain clicked. I saw it happen.

She bravely held back and stopped her white tears. She thanked me. She thanked me for talking to her. She told me she would never, ever see the world in the same light again. She confessed how naive she had been, how insular, how shortsighted. She thanked me, and I received her thanks.

I spoke to one white person today who utterly, totally heard something for the very first time ever, and she will never ever unthink those thoughts. And I am so excited and moved and inspired. Oh yes. It can be done. One person at a time. One engagement at a time. One white person at a time.

So, Brett, I thought of you, and how you do things, and what you hope for, and how usually I am the one with zero patience or tolerance, and today I must have channeled you, and it worked.

I am not reformed. White people’s ignorance of their own privilege pisses me off beyond explaining, but something tiny happened today, in the right direction and it is as teeny as the furthest star, but it is a shining light.

PS. I just thought you should know.

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