Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: White people

The Whiteness of Being

I don’t even know how to write this. I am going to piss off many who will say, “So what?” I am going to be the critical voice, the moaner, the killjoy, the maker of the mountain that shouldn’t even be a molehill. And still.

This afternoon two friends and I went to the Christ Church in Constantia for one of their monthly music concerts. They’re even called The Christ Church Concerts. I have never been before, but I am on the mailing list, and this one I really wanted to go to. Franz Liszt performed by Christopher Duigan. I have loved Liszt since I was a child, influenced by my father, who would play the rhapsodies loudly on our record player and I would dance.

Before I say anything else, I must say how lovely and beautiful and familiar and fun and delicious the music and the pianist were. Christopher Duigan is cute and charming and humble, and then he plays his heart out and his fingers fly. I loved it. And, that should be the point. Of course it should.

But something started niggling and I couldn’t let it go. My maths is shit, but I estimated that there were at least 350 of us there, in the lovely church. Tickets were an affordable R100. But there was not one, single person of colour amongst us. Not one.

What planet was I on? How was this possible? How could it be that I was in a crowd that size and there were only white people in the room? How was it possible that for all these people this was absolutely, totally normal? Whites only.

This is possible in Cape Town. No, this is accepted as normal in Cape Town. And it shook me to the core.

When we got up to leave we were some of the last; a recently divorced and well oiled lady was telling us more of her story. Then I noticed a team of coloured and black men enter the church. They had come to stack and move the chairs.

Megan to Cape Town. We have a problem.

An open letter to my friend and ally Brett Anderson

Dearest Brett

I thought of you today. It was a constant thought that ran parallel to my most extraordinary experience, and so I am writing to you, and for everybody else to see.

I’ll start with the facts; with what happened, and then I will tell you what it has done and how I feel.

I went to the periodontist’s hygienist today for my regular teeth cleaning. I go every five months because I am prone to gum disease. It is the one area of my health I am vigilant about. Life is weird. I have a good relationship with her; she chats to me a lot while she scrapes the plaque and tartar off my teeth. I have heard all about her kids and their lovelinesses and she knows I have a niece of a similar age to her daughter. I like her very much, this young, hard working, serious, kind hearted, sensitive, religious, intelligent, white, Afrikaans woman.

Today the conversation swung in the direction of the student protests and she sighed out how disappointed she was in the violence and burning that to her mind was so counter productive and inappropriate. I hesitated for one tiny moment before deciding what to do, and then, I breathed in (it helped that her fingers were in my mouth, which gave me that extra nano-second of refection) and asked for her permission to hear my radical point of view. She said yes and I started explaining.

At first her responses were lots of ‘yes but’s and I persisted. She told me how hard she and her husband had worked for what they have. She told me how her 25 year old brother, who has a degree, is discriminated against and can’t get a job. She told me about her mother who had grown up with absolutely nothing in an orphanage. And there was my way in. I said, “When your mother was in an orphanage there were only white children in the orphanage.” She stopped and said firmly, “Yes, poor white children.” And all I said was, “there were no orphanages for black children then.” Her mouth opened. A tiny penny dropped. I took the gap and changed the subject. I asked her how many cars her family of four owned. She said two. Basically, a car per adult in the family. And then I told her how she was in the less than one percent of the richest people in the world, who owned their own car. I told her about the many millions of people in the world who would never ride in a private car in their lives. And her brain clicked. I saw it happen.

She bravely held back and stopped her white tears. She thanked me. She thanked me for talking to her. She told me she would never, ever see the world in the same light again. She confessed how naive she had been, how insular, how shortsighted. She thanked me, and I received her thanks.

I spoke to one white person today who utterly, totally heard something for the very first time ever, and she will never ever unthink those thoughts. And I am so excited and moved and inspired. Oh yes. It can be done. One person at a time. One engagement at a time. One white person at a time.

So, Brett, I thought of you, and how you do things, and what you hope for, and how usually I am the one with zero patience or tolerance, and today I must have channeled you, and it worked.

I am not reformed. White people’s ignorance of their own privilege pisses me off beyond explaining, but something tiny happened today, in the right direction and it is as teeny as the furthest star, but it is a shining light.

PS. I just thought you should know.

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