Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: white fragility

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility and South Africa

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.

Textbook White Fragility and White Tears

I spent far too much time on Facebook yesterday, on somebody else’s thread, explaining to a ‘I don’t see colour’ racist why believing that a photo wasn’t true of a white teacher segregating children of colour in her class in a school in the Northern province was exactly the result of his racism. My argument, in which I stayed unusually calm and persistent, followed his textbook one from outrage, through denial, to criticising me for not seeing his point of view, to blaming my tone.

This was his first post, defending the teacher, and supporting the fake news spread after the initial picture went viral. “There’s no racism here, folks!”

He carries on, in total support of the poor, maligned teacher.

Then I get involved. I try. 

I persist.

I stay there. Still trying.

And on and on. (I haven’t put everything here because it is more of the same.)

And on. This is where he engages with somebody else and does my favourite. Talk about me in third person and complain about my tone and style.

This was all on someone else’s (a black person’s) thread. I will not be engaging like this again. Send me your racists. Let’s do the work.


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.

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