Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Apartheid

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 few last words on the subject

Why is everyone with a different opinion from mine so hectic? Why can we not engage robustly instead of it spiralling into name calling and blame? I have never had my mind changed by being screamed at, literally or figuratively. And it also does’t make me hear or understand your point of view better. Why do I end up feeling like I am putting myself out there and must therefore expect a certain level of abuse? I know that that is how things work on the internet, and that what has happened to me is mild and silly, in comparison to threats, and trolling and violence, but still. Come on guys, surely you realise that your vitriol and self righteous anger sounds alarmingly defensive? It also sounds like the thing you keep telling everyone you find so repulsive and unnecessary; white guilt.

I am very sad that black people saw absolutely no reason to engage with me around what I wrote about the #ZumaMustFailMarch, but I totally understand. It was a shouting match of white people. Unless you share my opinion, or were moved, by something I wrote, into seeing things differently (yes there were those too) you were all quite cross with me and what I had to say. And I am afraid that reminds me more of apartheid than is comfortable.

I don’t have many practical answers, but I do know that awareness and vigilant calling out of white privilege will be something I will be making a daily effort to do. And I can’t imagine what will happen if others don’t.

And thank you Rod Suskin for your passionate engagement on Twitter. That’s constructive and engaging,and has kept me thinking all day.

Ag Pleez Deddy

I properly cried in the car on the way home. I cried in the dark, and drove, and remembered my dad, who would have been three years younger than Jeremy Taylor, if he was still alive.

Jeremy Taylor has come to The Kalk Bay Theatre for a three week run of a show that is strange, funny, sad, incisive, delightful and mostly totally, shatteringly moving. Everybody remembers Ag Pleez Deddy, but it’s the other ones that my dad used to sing as well. Going Up, Northern Suburbs, Safe My Mate are all hilarious observations of Seffeffrica in the seventies. The more serious stuff though is totally chilling. The Story of Steve Biko (I don’t know what it is officially called) left me shattered, as well as the touching informal story of the Afrikaaner policeman in Broederstroom.

Jeremy Taylor is old to be on stage. He seems frail, which only adds to that raw nostalgia that he conjures with an accent or stress in just the raaght playce. The show is long (maybe a song or story too long). But it is unmissable. I wish that Kuli Roberts could see this show, to understand proper satire, real commentary and acute and detailed observation. Jeremy Taylor gives an extraordinary lesson in Apartheid and its effects, its weirdness, those that followed it, and those that deviated from it. His song The Immorality Law is a classic example (and one my father particularly delighted in).

Jeremy Taylor was banned by the Nats in South Africa. His music, including his most famous encore, Ag Pleez Deddy, was banned in South Africa. And yet, even though he isn’t even South African, he made me feel, taste, smell and cry my white South African childhood.

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