Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: race

Taking it Personally

In the fight against one’s internalised racism (or any superiority complex; gender, religion, class) the greatest stumbling block is not being able to get over being called the name that identifies you as part of that group. This is why people respond louder and more defensively to being called a racist than witnessing racism and doing something.

The best example. The #menaretrash story is the absolutely best example of the total disconnect between understanding what women are saying about how they are treated by men, and men being completely hysterical about being called trash. Like we were skinning them alive. With no actual space in the hysteria for what women were saying. That was not important. Rape was not important. Domestic violence was not the issue. Men were being called TRASH! This is the best example for me, a white woman, to understand anything remotely similar (and even then the scale of the difference is beyond measuring) to unconscious racism. No matter what I did or said the #notallmen were more offended about the name than about the reason for the name. #menaretrash equalled #idontseecolour.

A wonderfully accurate check point question for me, mostly in conversations about whiteness, is “Do I take that personally?” If I do then I am the one who needs to go away and unpack that. Usually, if I am honest with myself, it will reveal an unconscious bias or droplet of ingrained superiority. Usually, that discovery will be accompanied by a wave of intense shame. I believe those moments of shame are also the perfect learning moments. The trick is to lean into the shame, do the acknowledging, and stay in the humility of always being on a learning curve. Knowing that those thoughts can be shifted, and must be worked on. Then, in a similar situation, when it comes up again, I am ready to not take it personally. And I will know that I have moved, shifted and am less racist or biased or superior.

A personal place that has become an ongoing challenge is my veganism. I have been confronted about my veganism being elitist, privileged and white. It has been said that the way I feel about animals and the lives of animals is racist. And I am having to work on this in an unflinching and personal way. It is complicated. I have blindspots with people who are ok with the suffering and abuse of animals. I have serious problems with those that justify the slaughter of animals for cultural and religious reasons. I get overwhelmed and depressed at the thought that being a vegan is a choice that only the privileged can make. I don’t think that is true. I am working on it.

Everything is Perspective

From the point of view of Peter (Zimbabwean, celebrating his 42nd birthday), the Uber driver who drove me yesterday, who has never flown on an airplane, he is worried that he will feel the effects of the SAA strike.

From the point of view of Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, union spokesperson, frustrated by Bruce Whitfield’s laughter and inability to understand why the ‘sacrifice of 900 odd jobs was about people and not things, SAA always knew it was coming. Instead of changing their procurement procedures to save money, as early as suggested by the unions in 2014, they are now failing their workers.

From the point of view of white people speaking and leaving voice notes on talk radio, the majority of whom seem to have flown a bit, they take the strike personally, as if SAA was the only option, and they are personally put out and inconvenienced. There is no understanding that they are the most tiny percentage of a tiny percentage of people in the country and the world who have access to flying.

From the point of view of millions of South Africans, their transport concerns are more basic and local and I don’t think any of them have given a single thought to SAA, other than the money government has totally wasted on it. It is another black hole that things disappear into. There are more people in this country that have never been inside a privately owned car than there are people who have, or will ever fly.

These are just a few points of view.

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility and South Africa

It was a rewarding and intense three hours at UWC, with primary speaker, American Dr. Robin DiAngelo, and a panel of speakers. It was Robin’s final talk; she has been around the country, unpacking structural racism, White Fragility (the title of her book) and why it is so hard for whites to talk about racism. I have read her book, her articles and watched her videos, so her position isn’t new to me. What was refreshing and insightful was to see her in the flesh, feel the scrutiny of her gaze, and hear her words land on a real live audience. It was also a special gift to be in a space that was not predominantly white. This meant that we could hear, maybe for the first time for some, how we are perceived as white people, instead of listening to white people whitesplaining racism. (Yes, I know that Robin DiAngelo is white. That is why Edwin Cleophas brought her to South Africa. So white people would listen.)

A lot of stuff went down. And it was mostly very strong. The rest of the panel; Dr. Nyx Mclean, Hein Gerwel, Tumi Jonas Mpofu and moderator Asanda Ngoasheng were animated, passionate and interesting, and I hope they were ‘no holds barred’. I think they were. The discussion was robust, and it was revealing – many white, liberal women in the room were particularly challenged and confronted.

My personal important takeaways from today were. 1. Humility – nothing stands more in the way of understanding and learning than to arrogantly assume the conversation is not about you. Yes, it is in fact about you, and me. We are the whiteness and we are the fragility. And the notion that it isn’t about you/me is what solidifies this notion of the individual as opposed to the system, the structure, the inevitability and certainty of everything that comes with being born white.

2. How you feel is absolutely not how you are perceived. It is helpful, no, vital to understand how you are seen before you allow your feelings, your position, your centering of yourself to steer the conversation.

3. This one is a reaffirmation of something I know, but was grateful to be reminded of with such force. Black people cannot and should not have to do the work for you. Finnish and klaar. Or as Robin DiAngelo put it; google the shit.

I heartily wish more white people were prepared to go there. I am disappointed at how few are able and willing to. So, jump on, in. Lean in, get messy, get uncomfortable and start the process of finally acknowledging how easy it is to be the centre of the universe.

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.


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