Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: systemic racism

Working on Whiteness

I ran my first ever Working on Whiteness introduction conversation/workshop last night and I want to share many of the details. I want this to be the beginning of much more work of this nature, and so I want to explain it thoroughly so more people will feel compelled to attend, and will invite those who won’t be able to come to the conclusion for themselves.

I have made a deliberate choice to keep this work exclusively white. Ironically, POC are more comfortable and supportive of this. Friends I have spoken to have articulated how being black and having to explain over and over what their pain and anger looks and feels like to white people is exhausting and often futile. It is my opinion that white people need to do a lot of work before entering into the conversation on diversity. White people need better tools and more information to have those conversations. We need to start before those.

Anyway. The lead up to last night’s workshop was an invitation through email and on Facebook and Linked in to all white friends, connections, colleagues, associates and friends of friends, who live (or found themselves) in Cape Town to attend. I think I shared it personally with over 1000 people. Many people contacted me to say that they thought it sounded good but they were previously engaged/out of town and couldn’t make this one but would still like to come if there ever was another one. There will be.

There were eight participants. The evening was divided into improv games, storytelling exercises and facilitated conversation. And it was a gentle start in the right direction. Of course, the people in the room were already conscious that there were issues like racism, white privilege, white guilt, systemic racism and virtue signalling. What we unpacked was some of that.

We are like trapeze artists who could fall into the traps at any time. It is a lot of hard work, constant reflection, and deep listening to hear, see, feel, and stay on it and in it.

An earnest desire helps, but we have to keep pushing ourselves into the uncomfortable place of this work.

Here is some of what participants had to say.

“There is often resistance to having this kind of conversation informally in a group and if the subject of ‘whiteness’ comes up, the conversation can often become quite defensive.

I wondered (worried about) what would be asked of me in a workshop like this. I had been thinking in the privacy of my own mind about myself as a white person. The thought of going to a workshop to unpack whiteness was confronting, but I decided to go.

I am very glad I did. It was hugely worthwhile. Megan held the group expertly and led us though a number of really easy and fun exercises which were designed help us begin this conversation.

Once we began the conversation to look at our/my whiteness, it felt really easy and natural to do so in the environment that had been created. The feeling in the room felt very comfortable to me.

It was amazing to hear the thoughts of others in the group and good to share my own”. – L.S.

“When you finish a two-hour workshop and race conversation with a group of ten white people saying they could continue for another hour and want to sign up for an ongoing course, you know something special has happened. Megan Furniss’ ability to hold uncomfortable spaces gently while firmly pushing into the tough areas that desperately need to be talked about is key to this much-needed work. It was just the tip of a very large iceberg, but the fact that people paid to be in the room and were engaged for two hours with no sign of wanting to leave or stall was testimony to what we need to see so much more of.” B. A

Contact me if you want to start this, or even continue with this work.

Virtue Signalling

A couple of months ago my friend K introduced me to the concept of virtue signalling while we were chatting about politics. It was a new one to add to our growing lexicon of complicated ideas, but it is one that I was particularly drawn to.

Virtue signalling is when you announce the goodness in you loudly; like a white ally, crying white tears and making the issue about your identifying pain. I have been totally guilty of virtue signalling. It is part of the process of acknowledging white privilege and the systemic racism we are part of.

When I think back to the huge deal I made about starting to learn isiXhosa I recognise that I was doing a lot of virtue signalling. I had to be called on it (before there was a definition for it). It was a hard lesson. My virtue signalling goes back a long, long way to my varsity days during the crazy early 80s and the mad and dangerous state of emergency, violence, and real revolution that was starting to play out. Going to Crossroads or Lavender Hill for a UDF meeting was not living in Crossroads or Lavender Hill. Protesting along Rhodes Drive with almost 90% white UCT students was not quite the same as #feesmustfall. My history of (privileged) activism cannot be used as retrospective virtue signalling to gain cred, or political points. I am still learning what virtue signalling is, and what means to be a true ally, and what calling out bullshit in others is. I don’t always get it right. I keep trying.

Virtue signalling is at its worst on social media, where it is easy to have knee jerk responses to things, to have solidarity to half truths and fake news, and where you can signal your ‘virtue’ by ‘liking’ or ‘hearting’ or ‘cry-face-ing’ a thing, with no further action needed. It is also so easy to offend people on Facebook and Twitter (I sure have had a week of it), and I am still trying to decide whether it is useful to offend people, or not.

One of the most ugly and opportunistic and reprehensible spin offs of virtue signalling is crisis advertising, where companies advertise how they are helping in a crisis situation. Take the Knysna fires, for example. Banks and supermarkets and restaurant chains (I am certain with the best Capitalist intentions) seem to have taken advantage of the chance to put their names on the helping hand basket for pure PR purposes. Of course their help is desperately needed, but I do gulp when I hear about this help in paid for ads on the radio. Do you see the irony there? We have to work hard to tell the difference here, but it leaves a really bitter taste in my mouth.

I want to work hard to recognise my own virtue signalling. It is a dangerous distraction from the real work that needs to happen. Who is with me? What do you think? Is this post virtue signalling?

 

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