Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

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White Privilege and the Loaded Baggage of arrogance, patronage and patriarchy

I thought about writing a twitter thread on white privilege but then I realised that I probably had too much to say.

I have been conscious of my own white privilege for a long time, courtesy of a father who explained the difference between my suburban primary school and the ones that were in such trouble in Soweto on June 16, 1976. I was 11.

I was painfully aware of white privilege without having access to the words of it as I was grown up by another woman who was not my mother, or even a family member, Lilian Mpila. She ‘lived in’ while her own children lived somewhere else far away with other people. She fed me, dressed me, punished me (subtly, because it wasn’t her right), and because she was strong, we suffered each others’ micro-aggressions. The ones she directed at me were to teach me, painfully slowly, what it was like to have a paid slave in our house, and what that did to her psyche. The ones I directed at her should have been received by my mother.

Everything I am is because of how I grew up. The fact that my family was not rich and didn’t manage the veneer of middle class does not give me comparison rights to poorness. It is the fault of my family that it did not fare better under apartheid. It should have. It had such a massive head start and truthfully, my grandparents and parents didn’t take enough advantage of the total privilege their whiteness provided them. They were less than mediocre achievers (something I have inherited and am not critical of that at all), and would most definitely have been part of the working class who had not risen up by their bootstraps if it were not for the running head start of being white and having access.

So when white South Africans claim the poorness of immigrant parents and grandparents I want to scream, “That’s their fault! They had every single thing they needed to get out of that!” And I also want to interrogate how quickly they managed to get out of it. The journey that most dirt poor, white European refugees from war took when coming to South Africa was one that started them above at least 70% of the population of South Africa, who were not even seen, counted or considered. Every corner shop (my paternal grandfather started with a general dealer shop in Tulbagh) could only be owned by a white person. Every office job was done by a white person. Every house owned by a white person. Every teacher was white. Every sportsperson. White immigrants got bank loans and bursaries and built houses with cheap labour.

When the DA’s Natasha Mazzone claimed to have come from a poor family of immigrants who arrived here with nothing my response was, well, considering the circumstances they really should have done better. She should be embarrassed about how little they took advantage of their privilege on a platter. They had immediate access to virtual slave labour, land, commerce, cheap and good education, and all this was by law. Every single thing that black people were by law deprived of.

This same white privilege is also responsible for white ‘colour blindness’; the kind that has raised its vile and idiotic head with the Ashwin Willemse saga. Because underneath all the ‘disappointment’ speak around whatever went down and how these white men are not racist, is the complete inability to understand that although these men share a studio, the journey that brought them to it is incomparable. Ashwin’s is miraculous. A one in a million chance. A chance against every single odd. What was handed to Mallet and Botha throughout their lives, on every level, was the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly entitlement of whiteness that they do not even know how to recognise or acknowledge.

What needed to happen, even though it was too late, was a huge, heartfelt apology by Mallet and Botha, for being so unconscious that they had no idea they were causing hurt. I don’t think they meant to. That is possibly even worse. That is white privilege.

I have no idea why this white privilege, glaring and obvious at every turn, is so difficult to own. I do know that not owning it is the most dangerous thing any white person can do.

A whole new world of SASL

For the past few months, Every Tuesday at lunchtime I waltzed onto UCT’s upper campus for a lecture. I swanned past regular full time students, lecturers and campus staff into our lecture theatre in the Soc Sci building to be greeted by an unusual silence and the presence of our amazing lecturer James Harvey.

Slides and signing were the method of the class for a beginner’s course in SASL (South African Sign Language). 45 minutes of silent but animated class propelled me into a whole new world, the world of sign language, and gave me a window into the rich and expressive language and culture of South Africa’s (and the world’s) Deaf community.

Today was our final class, which included a test, and although I am sure I got some stuff wrong, I was pretty proud of how much I actually knew, and have learnt to delight in. I was properly sad to leave.

My vocab is limited and my understanding of SASL grammar is sketchy, but I am head over heels in love with SASL. Expressive, poetic, lyrical, funny and rude, SASL has a unique flavour and quality, completely shifting the notion of language and communication.

Thank you James, classmates and UCT. I cannot recommend this course enough.

Here is a taste of it.

South African Jews for a Free Palestine

It was a no brainer that I would march on Tuesday with many other Capetonians who are horrified by the atrocities committed by the state of Israel and its IDF against Palestinians. I was emotional about being one of the few South African Jews who were there, but committed to holding a section of the SAJFP banner. As we traipsed across the patch of rapidly greening grass to gather in Kaizersgracht Street we walked past these people in these tents and I got hysterical about land again.

People are living in these tents on this patch of land under the shadow of the mountain. I watched as Jesse Duarte and her ANC entourage in their shiny black cars came to march. They drove past these tents. They were our government marching for the rights of Palestinians. It was hard to swallow the irony.

But, back to the march. Please indulge me here for a moment. (I am taking licence because this is my blog, about my stuff). Never before have I had that kind of connection with people, and I am an old and seasoned marcher. Men and women thanked me, hugged me, embraced me and kissed me. Women held me and whispered their gratitude for me, us, our little group. They spoke about how brave we were (I didn’t feel brave) and their eyes glistened with tears.

Before we walked people took photographs of us and the banner. While we walked people made space for us, wanted us to be seen and acknowledged. One of the organisers of our little group was clear that we were not the focus nor the forefront of the march, yet I have never felt more seen or visible.

I felt human and connected with humanity on Tuesday, and yes, I do know that it isn’t about me, wasn’t about me, but I am spurred on to do things to try and make it better for those who are victimised, demonised and brutalised by others; here and elsewhere.

About that Land thing

I eavesdropped on a casual conversation between two white Woodstock residents who were ignoring their dogs’ poo in the park. They were ‘ventilating’ the notion of social and affordable housing in Woodstock and they were kinda whinging about why Woodstock had to ‘get social housing’. ‘Why them, where they live and have recently spent a total and absolute fortune on their newly revamped old Victorians or built from scratch mixed development apartments?’ is what I think they were getting at. And I thought about the people, mainly tenants, who had had to make way for these revamps, and those who had been evicted to make way for the snazzy developments that show only white people in their artists’ impressions. What interested me more than their ignorance and short memories was that they saw absolutely no irony in the fact that Woodstock had been a social housing and affordable option up until they had moved here.

I got home in a prickle. I couldn’t get their voices out of my mind. I also kept seeing the smile on Brett Herron‘s face as he handed keys to a resident of a social house in the, to use his words, Bo-Kaap facaded, development in the arse end of the world, Fisantekraal. He was so proud. Fisantekraal. In the photo of the Bo-Kaap facaded houses Table Mountain looks tiny because it is so far away.

Brett Herron is in charge of transport and housing in the city. Brett Herron lives in Newlands. Brett Herron has explained to Reclaim the City that the only place evictees of Woodstock can be temporarily housed is Wolwerivier (not Blikkiesdorp anymore because it is even more terrible and isolated than Wolwerivier).

People in the wealthy suburbs of Cape Town have made it abundantly clear that social or affordable housing schemes are not welcome in their ‘hoods. Their main argument is that it will bring down the value of their property. Well, folks, your property became valuable because poor people were either forced out or were never allowed in. The birth of townships like Imizamo Yethu is a perfect example of poor people having nowhere to live or transport to get to work for the rich in suburbs like Hout Bay.

No apartheid campaign was as successful as the forced removal of communities, and the destruction of homes, history, livelihood, stories, culture, families, livelihoods and access. Nothing deserves our attention more than redressing this. And yet, it gets a band aid, photo opportunity, pretend solution of Fisantekraal. It also provides the worst possible excuse for those who do not want affordable housing anywhere near their unaffordable housing.

What I don’t understand even a little bit is why these rich snobs of the fancy suburbs are even allowed to voice these concerns. Why is there any delay in identifying land, and building on it right now? Why is this not happening in Maiden’s Cove, Sea Point, Constantia, Hout Bay, the CBD, Milnerton, Pinelands, Rondebosch, Claremont (where people were forcibly removed), District Six (where people live in holes in the ground), Simonstown, and on any single tiny patch of land owned by the city of Cape Town?

Every (white) one is hysterical about land expropriation without compensation in theory, but these same people are clinging to a notion that they can spout ‘property values’ and not be racist and complicit in perpetuating the radical spatial and geographic apartheid of this city. And the city of Cape Town is complicit and active in perpetuating this too.

 

 

Water Tariff Middle Finger

This is an open letter to the City of Cape Town and local government.

Dear CoCT and all involved in the design and rollout of the new water tariff hike,

I want you to know that I have just done something radical. I have had my first five minute shower since September. I did not save one drop of grey water to use elsewhere. I know it is immature, but I needed to wash the unbelievably bitter taste out of my mouth and the itchy skin crawls off my bone dry body.

See, I have taken this drought very damn seriously. Our first attempts were haphazard and experimental, but now our water saving is totally on track. Our household has been consistent in using under 50l of water per person per day pretty much from the day the last severe water restrictions were announced. Our bath is filled with grey water for flushing, our pot garden is virtually dead, our stoep is covered in building dust and highway pollution but cannot be washed, our car sees water only when it rains and we have spent a fortune on drinking water for ourselves and our animals.

I must also state up front that I was, against the tide, in support of the scuppered water price hikes that would have seen home owners pay more for water based on the size and value of their property. I was so annoyed that the rich and privileged showed their ignorant and whining voices when this came up, and that it was these voices that won.

As punishment, your new sliding scale targets two kinds of people. 1. Those of us who have taken restrictions seriously. 2. The poor. No matter how I look at it, those who use the least amount of water will pay the highest prices. High users pay less. The more you use the less you pay. Am I missing something here?

In every way you favour the rich and powerful in our city and give the middle finger to the poor. And I am gatvol. Sies. Clean up your act.

Improvised Industrial Theatre

Two weeks ago I got an urgent call from a business consultant who was facilitating a big corporate seminar and workshop. She had been let down by a theatre company at the last minute and needed some industrial theatre as an intervention during the seminar. In under a week. Because of improv philosophy I said ‘yes’ first, of course I could help, and then I panicked about the how of it. Fortunately, because she has a theatre background she understood what I was talking about when I explained that a week was too short a time to write, cast, rehearse and produce a 20 minute play, and that I thought it would be a good idea to throw around a few concepts and get improvisers to play with the ideas; an improvised corporate theatre intervention.

She loved it and we spoke about meeting the next day to play with the ideas, messaging and goal of the piece. “Where are you?” she asked. At that moment we realised that she was in Joburg and I was in Cape Town. My heart sank and I started thinking about who I could recommend, but she threw a solution at the problem and suggested that if I knew improvisers in Joburg and could cast them remotely, I could come up and the job would be mine. I did, I went, was supported by brilliant Joburg improvisers, and it was a great success.

And it got me thinking. One of the big problems facing us as industrial theatre makers right now is that businesses don’t have the budget, even though there is the earnest desire. It is challenging to be asked to quote for a piece of industrial theatre when you know the client will be shocked by the cost. Clients expect to pay a couple of thousand R for theatre that in reality costs almost a hundred thousand R to make. I am asked a few times a month to quote and there is almost never any comeback.

So, how about a new product? A theatrical intervention that is explained up front as improvised? This is different from forum theatre, or role play, in that it is purely theatrical, but it is also potentially funny, a great breakaway, meaningful, and also tailor made to the situation. It is improvisation, but for a target group or audience. There is the element of risk, and even ‘failure’, but that is part of improvisation, and part of business. I think there is so much value in an audience being part of that experience. And the dual message is powerful too.

Any takers? Contact me on megan@improvision.co.za and tell me what you need.

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