Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: political (Page 1 of 19)

Shamed on Social Media

I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to come back here, but I guess it is like riding a bike: Fall off, climb back on again. I am not sure that if your legs are broken it is even possible, but, given time, even with broken but mending legs, it is said to be the best medicine. Right now I probably need this medicine. I am doing this with my heart in my mouth.

When is the right time to respond? Is it too soon? Is it too late? Will I be accused of starting it up again?

Just over a week ago I made a hideous mistake based on a completely knee-jerk reaction about a goat that I perceived was in distress. Coupled with my reaction was an idiotic post I made on a Facebook group that I am part of, asking for help. After I saw what had happened, and how the thing had spiralled down into hideous, racist, Islamophobic assumptions by idiots commenting on my post, I rushed to make a very public apology, so fast I even messed that up, and then apologised again, and then again. The family who I hurt accepted, and then later questioned and rejected my apology.

I will be very surprised if you, my readers, have not seen the resulting fallout from #goatgate, on social media, in the newspapers and on the radio. I was made fun of, threatened, trolled, called names. I was sent private messages of the most filthy abuse. My blog was targeted, my apology rejected, my personal details distributed, screen grabs (not including my apology) shared, my work threatened, my name ridiculed, my past discredited, my politics rejected. I was made fun of by South Africa’s comedians, I was given lessons in what I should have done, I was threatened and silenced and warned that my actions were indefensible. I was vilified by actresses in the industry; some who know me and some who don’t.

Three articles featured prominently on IOL, M&G and Cape Times. These were shared like holiday sweets on Facebook and Twitter. One of the articles was written by a Facebook friend. Not once was I asked for my side of the story, or even to comment. With all my contact information totally accessible to anyone (for abuse), I was not contacted by the ‘journalists’ even though I was quoted by them, when they lifted what I had written on Facebook. The only media outlet that made contact with me was Radio Islam who asked if I would come onto their morning show to give my side of the story. Of course I said yes. They were the only ones ever who asked.

Alongside the deep shame and humiliation I felt about this horrible thing was the powerless sense of my silence. I understood the temperature of the room and realised that anything I said was fuel to the fire and I had to keep quiet, get off social media and only invest in one-on-one interactions. It was clear that my apology didn’t support the narrative and was mostly left out of any further portrayals of me, the racist, hater, whitesplainer. Two people asked to meet with me, to hear what I had to say, of the hundreds who sent messages of abuse and name calling. Two people who were very offended by what I had done; one publicly and one privately schooling me and putting me in my place. These meetings have not happened yet.

The fallout has extended further into my world of work. I have always understood that I have a public profile that lends itself to controversy. I don’t do myself any favours by writing about theatre, here on meganshead and for Weekend Special. I saw two plays last week and couldn’t write about them. I knew that people would be looking at the ‘who’ of the review instead of the ‘what’, and that everybody would suffer.

When I think about it with a bit of distance the one thing that is funny is that I am always desperate for publicity for my work. I struggle to get media attention for my plays; always begging friends and colleagues for airtime and press. I haven’t been on the radio talking about my plays in years. I have to rely on my own small publicity machine on social media for any exposure. But all over all media, Megan Furniss – well known theatre maker, actress, director, famous in South African theatre circles, made headlines.

I still feel sick about this. I still feel silenced and ashamed. I still wish I could turn back the clock and take it all back. And yet, I know, in a world more gentle, and kind, my real concern for an animal in distress (regardless of it being part of a petting zoo at a children’s birthday party) would have been just that. Me. Super sensitive about an animal tied to a pole.

A small difference

So much has happened to me since I last wrote a blog post, mostly a soul altering, mind bending, heart stretching trip to my tribal homeland of New York City.

I have been back for just over a week now, and have spent most of it getting over jet lag and jumping straight into performing improv, teaching and directing and dubbing and trying to find my body in Pilates after over 50 hours of crippling flying.

One of the priceless things about travel is that you can see home and home problems at a distance, with fresh insight and renewed vigour. There is also a moment (although not long lasting) where the things you thought were big suddenly seem not to be, and visa versa.

On my return I called someone out on Facebook for a clueless post that was inherently racist. We had a small private conversation in which he was defensive, but in pain, and I was kind but firm. He messaged me later. He had shifted his viewpoint. Even in his pain he had been jolted to see things differently. I was so happy. I had helped him see that he was wrong. I made a difference.

The lesson has been to ‘speak’ out. Say something. Leave a comment. Call someone out for sexist or harassing behaviour. Speak your mind when someone does something racist, or hurts another person in front of you. Let children hear you stop someone doing something bad, or wrong, or rude or insensitive. We can all make a difference.

 

 

This Racist Place

Calling Tumi Morake a racist is not just wrong, it is idiotic. It also smacks of the worst kind of arrogance and entitlement that certain white people are audacious enough to lay claim to. Honestly, Radio Jacaranda could do no better than clearing out their listenership, making them more representative. And who gives a fuck what those white, disgruntled racists listen to anyway?

I am disgusted that white people still take offence when POC try and unpack the hell on earth that was Apartheid, with no clue about how their pathetic mediocre selves have been advantaged into a whole category of entitlement just because of their skin colour.

I get hysterical when white people whitesplain their hurt feelings with not a single thought for the noise they are making at the wrong time and wrong place.

I get fucking furious when I accidentally read the comments and realise that most white people in South Africa are on a par with Donald Trump and his alt right nazi supporters.

Enough. Absolutely fucking enough. Stop them. Don’t give them space, airtime, breath. Enough.

Being Jew-ish

Jew-ish is a notion I stole from actress Chantal Stanfield when we were working on From Koesistes to Kneidlach (coming to Cape Town in December, save the date, at the Baxter). She was talking about her husband, who is Jewish, and Jew-ish, in the lapsed kind of way that I am. We are not religious (I am an atheist), we are not kosher, we are not Zionists, and we are as critical of the problems inherent in Judaism as we are prepared to acknowledge the good in it.

I have had struggles with my Jewish identity for all my life. It is confusing and unsettling and sometimes even achingly painful. I won’t even go into detail. How I have emerged, at the age of 52, is as a much more committed human, South African, vegan, than Jewish person. I am deeply opposed to the Israeli government and its Apartheid crimes against the Palestinians. I am deeply opposed to any human rights abuses, including anti-Semitism, and I am constantly shocked at any group’s ability to be selectively moral, or morally outraged. Crimes against humanity must all be condemned with the same force. Nobody gets to pick and choose, and none can be worse than another because of who is doing it, or who it is being done to.

So, at a funny birthday party on Sunday I got into a dangerous conversation with a man I did not know, a Jewish man of my age group or slightly older, a man with good hair, teeth, clothes and definitely a house and car and servants and trips overseas, who described the increasingly shrinking jewish community of South Africa as ’embattled’. He gave reasons for this condition on the growing Muslim anti-Jewish sentiment in South Africa, and the government’s anti Israel stance. And I was blown away. Embattled? A community that lives in the best areas of Cape Town (and Joburg), that is seen as one of the wealthiest segments of South African society, with the best schools, big businesses, and high profiles, is ’embattled’? A community that isn’t driven out and forced into the sea to become refugees if they survive. A community that isn’t locked in and shut out, and water rationed and policed. A community that is not at war. On the contrary, the Jewish community is far more able and capable of serving other genuinely embattled communities.

The Jewish community that I know has always fed on this sentiment, this idea, this feeling of being embattled. It is probably in our genetic make-up. And even I agree that it is understandable. Israel is built on that foundation; that Jews are only safe in their homeland. But there is this completely skewed notion that Jews are struggling and under threat here. A notion shared by many whites. And it is such a dangerous notion because it separates out from the truth, totally minimises those who are actually embattled, like the poor, and ends up justifying ‘survivalist’ behaviour.

While there were many prominent Jews or Jew-ish people in this country’s struggle for liberation, there have been much fewer involved in meaningful transformation. Unfortunately, the sentiment of the SA Jewish community as a whole has aligned itself more strongly to a conservative, religious and Zionist-at-all-cost way of thinking. And because of this Jews have become easier targets. The sale of Tafelberg, here on our doorstep, is a fantastic example. So few (300 or so) Jews actively campaigned against the sale to the Phyllis Jowel Remedial School, yet allowed Helen Zille jump onto the anti-Semitic bandwagon when there was such deep resistance to the sale by pro-social housing campaigners. I can’t help but feel that the Jewish community is its own worst enemy here.

I write this with a yortzeit candle burning its last. I am commemorating the death of my mother a year ago. I lit the candle for connection, for ritual, for her really. And there is a part of me that longs for a true, deep and meaningful connection with something Jewish; not religion, not even culture, but something else wrapped up in identity and belonging. But I am still the black sheep, and the South African Jewish community (on the whole) shames me.

 

 

Statues

Big Friendly’s best joke ever is about the Greek man who, through hard work and sweat becomes very wealthy and builds his mom a mansion. He asks her if there is anything she wants and she replies “statues”. He spares not an inch of space and covers the outside with concrete statues, the inside with marble statues, and even the carpark with iron horses. Then he asks her what she thinks and she says, “it’s lovely but where’s my statues?” He is confused and waves his hand the length and breadth of the landscape. She says, “no, man”, putting her thumb to her ear, and pinky to her mouth, “I want is-tat-you?”

As a kid I remember being bored out of my mind by statues. They were always a dull grey colour and the eyes were always terrible, blank and scary. Horses looked wrong, and the men (I don’t remember seeing any women) gave off a sense of power over things that irritated the natural rebel in me. As I got older I found the aesthetic of statues dull. They were the water colour still lives of the sculpture world.

But it was the years and years of attending the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and seeing the 1820 Settlers Family sculpture protruding from the aloes, and decorating the dust alongside that huge 1820 Settler Monument (that apparently celebrates the arrival of English to the area – the irony) that alerted me to the singularity of history that monuments like statues portray. Here, an intrepid British family look out at the land they are about to make their home. They are just off the ship, in their British best. He, in huge top hat, holds books, while the girl child looks up adoringly at mother and father. What a gorgeous family.

And the message was (and still is) that they were coming to where nobody was. All the people that were actually there, in that place, were (and still are) invisible. As if they didn’t exist. They did not count as humans; as people.

Now imagine being a Xhosa person from exactly that place. Imagine seeing this distortion of history every single day of your life. Imagine looking at that representation of a family who stole the place of your family, your ancestors, your birthright. And, for one moment, imagine how that person would feel when you defend the right of that statue to be there, above the right of the one that isn’t there.

Here’s the deal. As far as I am concerned, there is only one way to keep statues that offend, tell half histories, and hurt, and that is to build, right next to them, the other side, the alternative vision, the silent voice. That is not going to happen. So, let’s tear them down.

Feeling Safe

Yesterday my friend and I Skyped with our bestie in Oz. It was about 230pm here and in Melbourne it was 11pm. The first thing that we couldn’t believe was that we were speaking to her (and seeing her face) while she was on a tram! The miracle of modern technology still astounds a neanderthal like me, and I can’t believe I live in that sci-fi ¬†fantasy of video calling.

The second thing that blew my mind was that she was on a tram, going home, by herself, at 11pm at night. She was free to use her cellphone to Skype us. She was waiting to get off at her stop and walk the rest of the way home, by herself, in the middle of the night. She was safe. And I was jealous. I was totally, unashamedly jealous of that freedom, because I have never felt it here, at home. I have never walked by myself at night, or caught public transport at night (or regularly during the day even). When I come home, in my car, I scan the road I live in. I look up and down and left and right. When I leave, in my car, I make sure my valuables are nowhere to be seen.

Poor me. I, who have a car. I who will pay for an Uber if I need to. And then there is the majority of women in this city, and country, who have no option but to take public transport and to walk home by themselves at night, and are scared every day of their lives. Women whose cellphones get stolen as they run the gauntlet from station to home. Women who have to sit with steel tight knees and thighs on overcrowded minibus taxis so they are not harassed. Women who cannot find themselves alone in a train compartment, or taxi for fear of losing their lives. Women whose children are unsafe while they wait for their mothers to come home. Women who are in the cross fire of gang wars. Women who are afraid, all the time.

I want women to feel safe here. I want to feel safe here. But I think it is too big an ask and that breaks me.

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