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.