Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Refections on the racism inherent in ‘reasonable’ folk

Nothing could have prepared me for the backlash I received from my last deeply personal post, my account of how had experienced the #ZumaMustFallMarch. For those of you who haven’t seen it and want to, it is the one before this post. Yes, I put it on Facebook and Twitter, and even on Reddit (my worst mistake of them all, since I was testing out that small, white and it turns out, conservative tech community). Nothing could have prepared me for the ‘reasonable argument’ from white people I call my friends.

It is important to spell out here, before I go any further, that I took none of the vitriol, rage, self righteous justification, excuses and rhetoric personally. I did take some of the name calling a little bit personally, but, who wouldn’t cringe, with a certain amount of self acknowledgement, at ‘whining bitch’ and ‘those tears were too much’.

But, after reading time and time again how I must get over my white guilt, and how it wasn’t the white people’s fault that black people didn’t take up the cause, and that it made no difference what colour the marchers were (what? what?) , suddenly I am in very, very deep water, with only a handful of likeminded white allies and white people who understand white privilege and how it differs from white guilt. And, to be perfectly honest, I am shocked. I am shocked to my core, and I am only now beginning to understand the trouble we are in. It is far, far worse than I could have imagined.

See, I understand for the very first time that most white people, even some of my friends and family, not understand at all what apartheid was, what it did, and what the consequences of it were, and are. For the first time I am beginning to see what black people see when they look at whites in general, and it is not a pretty picture at all. I am beginning to understand how it has gone beyond black people trying to explain, and that is probably why they don’t even try. Certainly, when they do there is a backlash as well. I take Siya Khumalo’s fantastic, simple and well penned article How Mainstream Media Unknowingly Helps The #ANC Use #Zuma As Its Racial Jesus as an example. White people got upset, angry and full of words, instead of hearing the article. It seems to me that #ZumaMustFall has given closet racists (remember, you only need to be a teeny, weeny little bit racist, deep in your little soul to be a racist) a wonderful opportunity to regurgitate the “I’m not racist but..” slogan, alongside the “why do you have to bring race into it?” whine. I am done with those apologists, now and forever.

I have no idea what my next step is. I have no idea how to take myself to a place where I can do good, be true and properly helpful. I am naive when I wake up deeply grateful for what I have and how I got it, and at what expense. I am as afraid of losing what little I have as the next person, but I know how relative that ‘little I have’ is. A great example is how much I happily spend on my second loves, my animals. And let me double explain, while you breathe in for the outrage, I am not for a moment suggesting I shouldn’t, I am just giving it all a bit of perspective.

I am nervous. I am panicking about how much listening I am going to have to do (I am much better at talking, and shouting) and how much extra work I am going to have to do to prove I really mean what I say. It is vitally important that the few black people I know and love can trust me. I am going to be gathering like minded people like precious jewels since I am discovering how few there are.

PS. I suddenly realised I wasn’t completely done with this post. I hope you don’t mind this post script. And it is aimed directly at white people. What have you done since the end of apartheid to make things right? What have you actually done?

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The #ZumaMustFallMarch Fail

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A few last words on the subject

12 Comments

  1. sandi caganoff

    I wish I had answers. I don’t. Other than sometimes it is best not to read the comments. (even mine). Hang in there, do what feels right, one day at a time, go slow, you have support, get your stuff out there, keep getting it out there, stay fierce, and take five!

  2. Gary

    Hi Megan
    For me the greatest struggle I have is holding up the mirror and seeing all of me!
    Last night I was at dinner party where someone just slipped into the conversation a racial slur, and proceeded later to do similar with regards gay people. He was drunk, it was the first time we’d met, we were at someone else’s home, it was only two comments in amongst a whole evening of otherwise good conversation and company.
    I was outraged. At the term yes, but mainly at the assumption that I and others would be ok with the comment. How dare he assume I was like him?
    I’ve been trying to train myself to go deeper. That anger is a useful flag to say hey here’s something within me that’s trying to get attention. Something unresolved.
    I am a racist. I have gained from being white. I am scared I will be exposed, that the beast that lies quiet within me grows. I live in a predominantly white suburb, my friends are predominantly white, my interests (sport, movies, outdoor activities, books I read) are white/ European/ Western.
    I am tempted to add something redemptive, a yes but, a I’m actually a good soul, to haul out my list of good deeds to demonstrate conclusively that I am not racist…
    But I am…
    I would love Cyril as my president, I think # 1 sucks big time, Mandela is my icon, my hero, I am African, my soul resonates here, my values and beliefs align with the Freedom Charter.
    I didn’t choose whiteness, I didn’t choose middle class, I didn’t choose my gender, I have worked and worked and worked to get what I have, but still…
    I am a racist. I am sexist. I am my dinner companion. It scares the shit out of me, because I don’t want to be that, I desperately long to be free of that darkness.
    I suspect my long walk to freedom will never reach its goal, but seeing me for who I am gets me going in the right direction…
    May all that is good within us guide you on your journey, the numbers are small, but you’re not alone.

  3. Tam

    Dear Megan,

    I continue to follow your blog from afar, and have decided to comment on this post as your previous post Zuma March Fail touched me deeply.

    My response is of a personal nature, to what I found to be a deeply felt and truthful, intimate and hard-eyed look at an event I could only view through the prism of Fakebook and Online Media.
    I thank you for so being open, and frank and for imploring that WE begin to have deeper conversations, and feel that your post has afforded me the space in which to do so, because I left my country, so I fear my opinion has little resonance, and I no longer feel entitled to make my voice heard.

    It is a complex thing, watching from a far. My view is, of course, curated, and being so distant I feel the expression of my opinion to be justified only to a limited exchange of Facebook link sharing of articles and posts that make sense to my political, ideological and humanitarian core. And, as with every potentially volatile event that has happened in South Africa since I officially “left” 6 years ago, had led to a culling of those exposed “Im not a racist “friends” ( who like cockroaches found crawling around a room once the lights are switched on) I delete in a now monotonous rally of #UnfriendTheRacists. The dissonance has grown more subtle over the years, to a point where in the past few months I have deleted people who didn’t support the Student Protests, but who supported #Zuma Must Fall.

    My 6 years of extended travel has been difficult mostly in that I do not know how to articulate my feelings about South Africa to strangers and friends abroad. In some countries, I have altered my accent and simply said, I’m from London, my mother is South African, WHY? I feel shame. I feel the dearth of knowing how to live with my privilege.
    And when I returned to SA in March, I knew that if I was to live there again, I would only be a part of the problem, because I feel unfit and inept at being a part of the solution.

    I was 9 years old in 1994. I remember my Father and I learning the new Anthem together in those bottleneck traffic mornings on the way to school. I remember after queuing while the adults voted in 94 and after my Mother embracing an older black domestic worker, still in her uniform and doek, the two of them enclosed in a state of mutual weeping, tears rolling down their faces as they compared thumb to thumb, brown to white, the indelible black ink marking of our country’s triumph. I remember, knowing at 10, that I didn’t believe in God, but I did know Mandela existed so I prayed to him every night, kneeling as my Catholic Scottish Immigrant Granny had taught me, ending my midnight mass of HailMadibas’s with singing not the Lord’s Prayer but Nkosi Sikilele (I was a weird kid)

    My generation was blessed with the most glorious childhood. What was it? Was it something in the kool-aid? Like a lekker cold Fanta Orange on a hot summers day which is drunk all all too quickly? I remember being the first year of Matriculants in Joburg to have voted for a black man, a Mr Dikobo as our HeadBoy, while at another prestigious school across the man-made forest, they voted for their first black HeadGirl, a Ms Lesoko Seabe, who I would befriend and love as a sister at Drama School a year later. We all thought we were doing good. With Ubuntu t-shirts and class trips to the Apartheid museum while at home women still washed and ironed out knickers and rugby socks
    and cooked dinner for us, and not their own children. Women paid to be our mothers.

    I feel like we were sold a dream. We were kids given an electric model train kit but we never unpacked it, we never assembled it. As spoilt kids who receive too many presents are wont to do. And now it sits, dusty and outdated, and we cannot play with it anymore. Am I whining like a spoilt brat? Perhaps. The truth is we never transformed ourselves as a society, we have continued to allow the psychological and economic, and geographical scars to divide us. ( A few months ago I revealed to an American friend that I was 16 before I went into the inner city of Joburg. 16. He looked like he was going to vomit. He said, “What kind of hideous psychological scarring that must be, to be taught to fear your home.”)

    Not just black and white, but white and white, and black and black too. So yes, This comment may be seen as divisive. People are absolutely right when they say that criticising the #ZMF March adds to the division deeply felt within the country. But that’s the thing innit? We refuse to face division, the divisiveness within our own races our own communities that exist daily. Reconciliation yes, but only the Truth will set us free.

    When I left in 2009 it was for selfish, youthful, adventure-hungry, swashbuckling reasons, but the reason now, that I don’t want to return, is because –
    unlike the majority of white South Africans living in London (hideous conglomerations of permanently drunk Okes and Chicks who live, as they did in SA, in their own unassimilated communities, whitewashed and separate, in Wimbledon and Clapham and Fulham, South West of arguably the most diverse city on the World) Unlike these fuckers, who make me cringe when I hear them on the tube or see them in their Springbok Jerseys on Rugby Saturdays – I will not return because “the country is going to the dogs” I will not return yet, because I don’t want to live around 80% of White South Africans anymore. Who cannot and will not see that Zuma, is not the problem. He is a symptom, like the final stages of terminal cancer, ugly yes and unforgiving, but not the cause, not the origin of the rot that set in because as a society WE refused to change both the system of economic enslavement and to change ourselves. I cannot come back and go to one more fucking braai where my high school friends from Bryanston refuse to talk about race or change or the fact that any of this could in anyway be our fault and our responsibility.

    The good news is that there is a global shift. There is change happening all over the world. The days may get dark in the years to come, because globally huge shit is going down. I may myself flee London now because of how the fucking Tories are dismantling that beauty of a city piece by piece. Socio-economic & ethnic cleansing is going on at an alarming rate in old Blighty. But its also maybe not a coincidence that Corbyn and Sanders popped up in the same year. Maybe people slowly, slowly, are waking up. Change needs to happen everywhere. And maybe the dawn will come. If Climate change doesn’t destroy us all first.

    I know I’m preaching to the choir. You and your readers are, of course, not part of the problem, you are part of the solution. You are the 20% who I would spend my time if I was still there. You are having the conversation, asking questions, making a difference in whichever way you can. Thank you for that. I just thought I would add to the conversation. Take the opportunity to vent. Because it hurts. It hurts everyone, and it hurts everywhere.

    Much Love from Thailand,

    PS. Forgive me if this is an incoherent ramble of a comment, I have recently been discharged from hospital, and am on quite a lot of medication, bedridden, alone, and talking to myself and the Internet. My mind will not shut up. So good night, dear void.

    Tamarin xxx

  4. Thank you Gary, thank you Tam.

  5. Herman Lategan

    I hope that you read this link to the Daily Maverick. It sums it all up quite nicely.

    http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2015-12-19-the-small-story-of-a-small-but-significant-march/#.VnUSBLZ97Dc

  6. Herman Lategan

    Should read CAN or WILL or MIGHT read this link, slip of the finger. PS: I liked your piece in any case. I didn’t march, I should have. Shame on me.

  7. Herman, correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t Mark Heywood the organiser of the march in Joburg? I think Joburg was quite a different affair, and certainly, I only speak about my own experience here in Cape Town.

  8. Herman Lategan

    “Our decision was that we would work to facilitate and enable a spontaneous expression of the popular mood in Johannesburg and Cape Town. ” Mark H.

  9. Pieter Bosch Botha

    Hi Megan! So great to read this. I’m exactly where you are. Siya has helped me a lot too. He manages to put things into perspective in a way that is different to what I’ve heard before. I’ve been grappling with this for many years. At times I have been a very vocal white privilege denialist. I’m appalled, when I think back, at some of the utterings I used to let out on Facebook (back in the days when I was still on Facebook). And at other times I have been totally reasonable and understanding. The oscillating was very tiring indeed. But I feel, for the first time, as if I am in a place of true understanding. Earlier this year, during #RhodesMustFall, I heard many students say that it’s now time for whites to stop talk and do more listening – back then I was vehemently opposed to that idea – I mean, how dare you silence me when my voice is also important. Until I realised what it meant, as I do now. I want to kick myself for not getting it sooner, but we also can’t be too hard on ourselves. We’re all finding our feet in this very young democracy. The TRC didn’t really do enough to achieve a national sense of closure after Apartheid. In fact, for many we haven’t even touched on the pain that drives so many of us. For years I brushed my own involvement aside by telling people that I was 9 years old in 1994 – how could I take responsibility for something I didn’t do, right? Wrong. We all carry the weight of those who came before us and made terrible mistakes. So you are absolutely spot on when you say that it’s time for all whites, even little 9 year old me who never voted for the NP, to take stock of our role in this post-1994 South Africa. We all play a role in bringing about a better, healed, future. It was only once I decided to start listening and investigating what I was hearing, when I finally understood what white privilege really is – and that all the white have it. I also realised that it’s not something we are expected to feel guilty about, but rather something which we should acknowledge and own, in an attempt to behave better and do better in future. It’s our responsibility to play a part in leveling the playing field that still favours us purely because we’re white. It’s not white guilt – rubbish – it’s just a fact. Like the sky is blue, so we have a privilege because we are white. Slowly more and more people are beginning to listen, and take note. It won’t happen over night – nothing on this scale ever does. As long as people like you keep speaking up and sharing your thoughts, other people will come to the party one by one. I, like you, refuse to carry on living in my silly and convenient bubble. We have work to do, and I look forward to doing it. It’s nice to read your thoughts. I think about you often. Hope you’re well! Pieter

  10. Wow, Pieter, how great to hear from you here and like this. You most certainly have come a very long way in a few short years, and I am delighted to have you as an ally. You have articulated your journey so well. Bravo.

  11. Burgert

    Hi megan
    Thank you for having the courage to share your thoughts and feelings.. This #Zmf thing didn’t feel right to me either. It really helped me to read what you and Bret shared the last couple of days. It has also brought up so many questions for me that I feel overwhelmed and paralyzed. I know I’m part of the problem, but I haven’t yet figured out how to use my privilege to be part of the solution. I would like to be part of a movement who wants to figure this out. Thanks again for sharing

  12. Thanks Burgert, it seems there are a few of us creeping out the woodwork. I believe that we can, and will make a difference. I am going to start asking people what they need from me.

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