I don't believe in miracles - I rely on them

I don't believe in miracles - I rely on them

Yogi Bhajan


You found my blog and as I am experimenting with the weird and wonderful world of cyber publishing, let me explain what
a gunna is: it's a word for all things desirable, something that makes us happy and warm and comforts us when we feel tired or sad or lonely. a gunna is the best gadget in the world! it was leah s first word for all things she wanted. Or you might also know it as: dummy, schnulli, pacifier binky, schnuller...... and so on. So this is for my beautiful


Sunday, November 22, 2015

The gentle approach

There has been some talk in my various  spaces about the gentle approach when it comes to  "educating" fellow white people. Some even demand gentleness from black people when confronted with an unconscious or unintended racist agenda.

Being perceived as angry, emotional or even aggressive, is generally seen as counterproductive to any conversation around racism. This has been bugging me for a while, but I have so far failed to come up with  a reasonable argument  whenever somebody was getting to me by demanding that when I talk to white people about their racism I should do it gently.

So what is wrong, I have to ask myself, about entering a conversation "gently" in order to facilitate the other person's listening abilities? In most cases I suppose nothing (coming from the heart and all...)

The problem is that when it comes to racism, the gentle approach doesn't cut it, because instead of educating  people and calling them out on their hidden bias, it creates a wall of  downy pillows behind which they can hide once again. And whilst burying their heads in feathers to indulge in a spot of feel-good whitesplaining of their own racist agenda, they are at the same time saved from having to listen.

Consider a situation where somebody tells a black woman:

" Wow, where did you go to school, you speak so well ..."

No doubt that this is a racist comment. There is also no doubt that more often than not the person making the comment is not a raging racist, has a good heart and is trying to say something nice to the black person, who is making him/her feel slightly uncomfortable for reasons he/she is not even beginning to understand.

Now prepare for the gentle approach:

"Dear (white person),  I am not doubting for a second that you are a good person and  have a heart of gold, but maybe if you have a moment, could you be so open and consider that when you are complimenting a black woman on her  English speaking ability, it is actually racist? Ooops sorry, I didn't mean to say racist, I meant, you are coming from a space of unconsciousness, which is totally not your fault but the woman you are talking to  might actually feel offended..."

Gentle enough? I tried it many times. And guess what: in nine out of ten cases, in every day situations, the person addressed in such a gentle way will get defensive anyway.  Because what they hear is:

I am being critisised.

They don't hear anything else. Apart from possibly projecting a note of anger into my voice, or maybe they might perceive my tone as  patronizing or arrogant, which ultimately means: I am in the wrong and they don't need to listen to me.

The fact is that most people, myself included, have never learned to react well to critisism in any shape or form.  Our instinctive reaction is to  make ourselves look better. Even or especially when approached gently, most people feel that THEY  now have an opening to convince ME by throwing a thousand reasons my way why what they just said could not possible be racist.
 At all.
And how they are offended at my implying that they are.
And that they have black friends/colleagues/children/partners, so again, what they said can't be racist. And they wish I could separate them from my anger :  I either should know them better, because we are friends, or I don't have a right to critise them because I don't know them...

And most will not say this out loud, because we are after all having a gentle, reasonable conversation, but they still feel it. And so they reply in a similarly gentle  way, trying to turn this into a conversation about their basic goodness and me into the one at fault.

So now I am stuck  with somebody wasting my time trying to convince me (or rather themselves) that they are not racist and that I just misinterpreted  their intention, which has always been: TO BE  A NICE WHITE PERSON.

I could then gently point out, that it is not the intention that is the problem but the impact. And that somebody unintentionally knocking a person over with their car does not make it any less hurtful just because they did not actually aim for that person. But as a bystander do I need to spend hours at the accident scene making the driver feel better about him/herself or should I rather see to the victim lying bleeding in the road?  Do we tell the victim to stop being hurt or angry? Do we ask the victim to acknowledge in front of all us bystanders  that the driver is a good person at heart before being allowed to calmly and reasonably explain her/his injuries? Do we then proceed to tell the victim that most of those injuries are imagined, that they  need to get a grip, move on and stop blocking the road for the driver? And that their cries of pain and/or anger are actually hurtful to the driver and distressing for the bystanders?

You might think anybody with half an ear to listen would actually be tempted to consider this position.  Not so.

The problem is that the person I am trying to explain these things to, has stopped listening at impact. Because in their reality I have ceased to exist as the nice white person having a mutual moment of understanding about our non-racist agenda and mutated into unreasonable race obsessed white woman trying to make them look and feel bad.

Even if I started my gentle approach with hugs and buckets of Buddhist love and light, what most people will hear is only this: I am being critised, and she is angry with me.

I could have this conversation ten times over each day: when I go shopping, when I drop my kids at school, when I am at work or at college, whenever I meet other nice white people like me. In fact, I could have gentle conversations all day long.

And to what end?

At best we still part on civil terms, with me feeling a little more exhausted, exasperated and frustrated each time, and the other person probably angry, confused or hurt, looking at me if and when we meet in future through the lens of  race obsessed white bitch, who needs to be avoided or approached with caution.

So much for the gentle approach.

And I am not talking just yet about the one person out of ten, who will actually listen and engage. I am talking about the nine who  zap my energy in the process of not listening.

So what would happen if I used the matter of fact  instead of the gentle approach?

"What you just said was racist and here are some links to white supremacy, internalized racism and white privilege (pulling a copy of previously prepared reading materials from my bag). Why don't you read up on the subject and if you like we can have a conversation after?"

Or even the angry approach?

" How can you say such racist and insensitive things?"

In nine out of 10 cases, the person addressed will feel attacked and get defensive. They will probably have me sussed as angry white bitch immediately, turn away and never talk to me again.

And I just have saved myself a whole lot of time and emotional energy, better used on the one person, who is prepared to engage on the subject instead of trying to save face. The one out of ten whom I will talk about now:
Who will use this opportunity to go there.
Who has the emotional intelligence and racial stamina to acknowledge the possibility of being wrong. Who knows that he/she has been indoctrinated from birth with a racist agenda, suspects that she/he still has massive blind spots and sees the opportunity for self-healing and a wider human connection in facing those.

These people will talk to me, no matter the approach. Yes, they would probably feel less threatened with the gentle approach, but nevertheless, they will not run from facts or emotions. They might not fully understand their own role or the depth of their own indoctrination, but they already have a sense of unease that all is not well with the world they operate in.

Most of all these people do not say with conviction that apartheid(or slavery) is over and we must all move on They are aware instead- and maybe feeling helpless and angry themselves - how racism continues to violate and dehumanise people every day in overt aggressions or subtle nuances; ultimately when it is pointed out to them, they understand that the victims of such transgressions can not be told to be gentle and calm before we listen to them, because this would be a further violation of their humanity.

So these are the people I ultimately want to have conversations with. I even go further and say, these are the only people we can reach in dialogue.  The people who want the gentle approach do not want real conversations, they just want to feel better. Which does not make them bad people or raging racists. It just makes them unfit for dialogue.

Those who still want to tone police black people into being polite and reasonable about their experiences and who expect me as a fellow white person to indulge and cushion this approach, will need society to reach critical mass before they will feel the  need to change.

And this is what I have learned over three years of experimental dialogue: if we are serious about change, gentle dialogue is a waste of time, as it is self indulgent and over time only recreates the system we are trying to expose.

I also learned that talking gently to the wrong people does not only waste time and resources , it also harms me in more ways than I can explain right now. To gently and repeatedly run headfirst into cushioned walls makes me feel isolated, insane and ineffective.

As a result I choose the matter of fact approach. And sometimes I slip and land in a toxic mixture of anger and hurt.  But I never choose to be angry over being reasonable. I sometimes find myself in a muddle of emotions depending on how strong I feel on any particular day. Because on some days when somebody unintentionally compares my black children to animals or another child asks them at school if they have been bought, my heart gets ripped out and I want to crumble to the floor and never get up again.

And it is on those days that I need to know that I have a life line. And this life line can be the one person out of nine, who will sit down in the mud with me, stick out the moment of discomfort and listen to my pain or anger. Or listen to my reasonable matter of fact arguments on my good days. I am lucky enough to have some of these people in my life today. People I have met on the brink of confrontation and who have not turned away and became friends instead. Or friends who have valued our friendship more than their ego and stayed close through moments of discomfort.

None of us white people will ever arrive at the final destination of non-racism, we are all on different parts of this journey and what we can do for each other is call it as it is. To not sugar coat our transgressions but not demonize each other either. To recognize our internalized racism and basic goodness as human beings is not a contradiction. To face emotions such as anger and pain does not threaten us. It connects us deeper to our humanity.

My racist indoctrination does not just disappear by giving to charity or having a black friend, child or partner. My good intentions and  actions will not erase my internalized racist agenda. My racial bias does not need protection, but constant, honest work so I can become aware enough to challenge and address it.

It starts when I walk out of the conference building, looking for a driver and automatically home in on the first black person. It continues, when my doorbell rings and I look out the window and first see  a black person begging, before I recognize my friend coming for a visit. It is there, when I drive from my posh neighborhood in the morning and pass a not so posh car with four black men inside, wondering in the back of my mind if they will rob my house while I am at work. It is everywhere I go, because it is a part of who I was brought up to be. It is certainly not what defines me but I can't run away from it either.

I am not proud of it. I am fighting it every day because I  truly want to heal one day and become as whole as possible once more.

And the last thing I need in this effort is a pair of rose tinted glasses and a mountain of feather pillows protecting me from further insights. Does it scare me when I am confronted with people's anger and hurt? Yes it does. But this was never meant to be a comfortable and pleasant conversation.

Us white people need to stop demanding that everyone around us inflates airbags of polite and reasonable contents to cushion our fragile egos against the unpleasant impact of our unconscious racist transgressions. Or block our eyes and ears against uncomfortable truths and emotions.

This diversity dialogue space is not meant to be a happy space. It is a space of violence, aggression, hurt and anger. On a good day it can be a space of deep but fragile connection. I can enter this space new each time and as prepared as possible to deal and be real or I can continue to hide behind gentle and polite.

This is my choice. I have made my choice. I am far from perfect in this choice. I still get defensive or run away from somebody calling me out on my stuff, but I am committed to the process and I don't have time anymore for people who are not.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Waiting to talk to the the king of Woolworth - Everyday racism at our local branch

Hello,  it's us again, the notorious 12-Apostle trouble makers, and guess what? We're back shouting "racism", with the only difference that this time, there are no visible white people involved (other than me).

So what happened?

Two things really, which on the surface don't have much to do with each other, but are really the result of the very same thing, that is the lingering sickness of our society.

In the one incident, I am shopping with my friend at Woolworth Palmyra Junction early yesterday morning, when a black guy in business attire appears out of nowhere just as I am opening the fridge door to get to the pesto, and asks me:
"Are you two together?" pointing at my friend who is standing a little away from our trolley, rocking her baby.
"Yes." I say, and : "Why do you ask."
"Oh, ok." He smiles and makes to turn away.
"No, really," I stop him: "Why do you ask?".
He  seems embarrassed, mumbles something like "no reason" and hurries off. My friend and I  look question marks at each other and make our way to the till speculating that maybe he did a survey on race relations (hahaha) or was romantically interested in my friend ( but why approach me and not her) or maybe he was  just plain weird....

As we get to the till, it suddenly hits me: he must be working for the store  and has probably seen  us on camera, assuming that the black woman with her baby following me around, was bothering me by begging or even trying to steal from me. As I say these things, my friend looks at me, speechless.
"Do you have a store detective?" I ask the woman at the till.
She says something to the effect that yes, there is a guy, but he is not in yet. My friend is getting visibly upset.
 I ask her :" What do you want to do?"
She says, "lets call the manager".
The manager comes over, listens to our story with many "oh no's" and "so sorries", but, she says, if we can't show her the guy, she can't help us. Yes, they have security working around the shop, but the guy we are describing  is no one she recognizes.

My friend storms off and speaks to the ladies behind the Delhi Counter, who point her to a staff door, the only place somebody could  disappear, without going passed the tills. My friend takes up position in front of that door and says, she is not going anywhere until she has spoken to him. People are gathering, talking and speculating. Somebody eventually gets him out from behind the door.

A rapid exchange in IsiXhosa ensues between my friend and the  "detective".  She does most of the talking, he seems defensive and embarrassed. At some point the conversation switches to English and he starts apologizing profusely to me.

"Don't apologize to her," my friend says, "I am the one who is offended."
So he apologizes to her. The store manager apologizes to both of us. The on-looking staff call out to my friend that she should not let this spoil her day. People shake heads. Everybody is sympathetic. The manager apologizes some more. Eventually we leave.

Back in the car we are both grappling with our own thoughts and feelings. My friend has gone quiet. She looks out the window. I can not even imagine the things that go through her head. I feel inadequate and helpless. I am lost for words, scared to say the wrong things and scared not to say anything; because I can not even begin to relate to an experience where  my mere appearance would give people reason to  humiliate and criminalize me as a matter of routine. I am also scared not for the first time for our friendship in this world, where her predominant experience with the whiteness I represent remains abusive, shaped by labels and assumptions that automatically make her less than me.

There is also my seemingly pointless anger, directed at no one in particular, like hitting my head against a rubber wall. My first reactionary anger at the "store detective" now fills me with shame more than righteousness, as I recall the look he gave me, eyes wide with embarrassment and fear. The look that made me feel extra white and extra powerful, a power that I don't want and that  nobody deserves. With his eyes he says to me, whatever you accuse me of, I apologize for, even though I might not understand what my transgression is, I apologize unreservedly , because your anger might cost me my job and ultimately my life.

As we are driving towards town, my friend gets on her phone.

The moment her status hits Facebook, people respond with outrage and sympathy. "What is it with you two?", somebody jokingly asks. A journalist from the Cape Times wants to talk, a woman from Woolworth head-office offers apologies and promises another phone call from somebody even higher up.

None of this makes either one of us feel any better. Yet another social media hype about one more incident of Cape Town's racism, that will not change anything. Ever since the 12-Apostle storm in our social media tea cup, people home in quick and effect-less on further evidence of racist residue in our Mother City. Politicians react with swift, inconsequential statements and empty promises to "pursue the perpetrators", not unlike chasing their own shadows. And the people who own the offending businesses know better than to deny or ask for proof,  and simply do the next best thing: ignore and keep shtumm until it all goes away or apologize and apologize again.

Without ever acknowledging anything. So far there has been no talk of "misunderstanding" or "unfortunate set of circumstances" as was the stance the 12 Apostles management took, now we are apparently in the era of the "unreserved apology". But to what end?

The surface will be smoothed, the right statements released to the press or on Twitter or whatever platform shows an interest and we will all move on in our separateness as we have done ever since the TRC prescribed forgiveness to black people as the remedy to the sickness that was Apartheid.

So how, in all this movement forward to a more diverse society, can two people such as my friend and I be the focus of so much judgement, wrong assumptions and bafflement?

 Where people slowly got used to the interracial couple, usually recognizable by their  uniform middle class appearance and physical closeness in public spaces, or interracial families, easily identifiable by at least one white adult in the company of black or brown charges, my friend and I are not ticking any of the boxes: a white middle aged woman in the company of a black woman in her twenties can only makes sense in a relationship of servitude or charity or crime. Wherever we show up together, we are the cause of immediate confusion or discomfort, brains overheat and eventually crash in the futile attempt to re-frame the picture we are presenting  according to the good old world order, where white sticks to superior white and black remains in eternal servitude.

White people have learned to hide their bias and judgements behind politically correct  masks. The system of white privilege has taken precautions and  cushioned itself against possible attacks by installing a fall-guy, in this case the black store detective or  manager. The direct or indirect orders from within the system to persecute black people and protect the white clientele will never ever be openly acknowledged. The detective will have "misunderstood" an order or "acted unprofessionally" and "the matter will be dealt with". Another store detective - or hopefully the same one - will resume his job and nothing will change. Maybe a picture of  my friend and I will be put up in backrooms and staff quarters with big red letters reading:  Do. Not. Approach.

Even if today's  businesses strategically put black faces on their front lines, white supremacy still rules in the background, only now it suddenly seems untouchable, because the people visibly protecting and perpetuating the system are not even white anymore. And this is the real mind-twister: I can't possibly accuse the black manager or security guard of racism, so I might as well zip it and get on with moving forward. (And for the sake of clarity: the definition of racism that I adhere to, is the one that directly links racism to power, in other words, only people belonging to a historically dominant group can be racist towards the historically oppressed).

So far so sad.

What follows is the other incident I was referring to. This is what happened, when I accompanied my friend to the Community Health Centre to have her baby vaccinated:

While she signs in, I take the baby and sit down in the anteroom to the waiting corridor to the five or six consulting rooms, of which, incidentally only one seems in use. As I sit down, I get the stare from everybody, security guards, cleaners, and the two women, who are sitting opposite me, rocking their babies and trying to make sense of this apparition in their midst:  a white woman with an un-identifiable baby hidden in blue wrappings. I greet, hello, how are you. Heads nod in slow motion and eyes soon get diverted. Then my friend appears. As she sits down next to me, casually checking on the baby in my arms, heads whip around and eyes flick back and forth between her black braids, my short yellow crop and the blue bundle between us. The moment draws out until eventually the discomfort peaks and a decision has to be made: Either stop the staring or start a conversation.
"Nice hair." one of the woman opposite us eventually breathes out.
"Thank you " my friend says.
"Who did it?" she labours on.
"I had it done in a salon."
"Hmm." another slow nod.
"But sometimes she does it." my friends points a thumb at me, that would grin if it could. I smile and nod and rock the baby.
The woman looks at me,  smiling nervously, not sure if this is a joke.
We don't help her out.

The awkwardness gets interrupted by a bark from across the reception area. I am not even equating this noise to our presence, but my friend gets up and says: " I think that's us."
She goes to talk to the matron through the speaking holes in a glass window that separates those in power from the gathered clientele, patiently waiting for the next bark to promote them from anteroom to drafty corridor. As she crosses back to our waiting space, a shout from the other end of the hall intercepts my friend. She stops and replies something equally shouty, after which a short and noisy conversation ensues across a distance of about 15 meters, witnessed by the entire gathering of nurses, mothers, babies, security guards, cleaners and passer-byers. I look on, question marks on my forehead, obvious in my ignorance of the local lingo. Eventually my friend shakes her head, and with a humorless laugh resumes her seat next to me.

"What was this all about." I want to know.
"People." she sighs.
Then she relates the conversation to me as follows, starting with the shout from across the hall:

"Whose baby is that?" 
"It's hers."
"Don't lie to me."
"Ok it's mine, if you need to know."
"Why is she holding the baby?"
"Why not?"
"Are you working for her?"
"No, she's my friend."
"How can that be? - These people don't like to hold our babies!"

End of conversation.

Or is it?

Status update: Waiting for the king of Woolworth to invite us to have a real conversation....

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

White Consciousness - What are we missing?


This is a bit of a long shot, inspired by a conversation I had recently about black double consciousness and how it might not be pathological after all , but seen as a resource that us white people are missing.

Du Bois termed double consciousness as a state of being of black American people, a sense of self that is split between the authentic self and the self that exists in the context of  whiteness. The awareness of how  blackness is perceived and judged by whiteness creates the underlying standard to which blackness is morphed into an existence that poses no threat to whiteness, thus supports white superiority.

What is described here as some form of mental illness can also be seen however as an evolved form of being, something that white consciousness lacks altogether. The underlying theory here is  that black consciousness is  connected to a communality, a recognition of kinship amongst black people,  that white people lack altogether. As a white person it is not my place to explore or even comment on this theory in the context of blackness. I  can merely refer to the framework in it's relevance to whiteness.

In my view (and others might well have developed that thought before me), white people could evolve by developing a double consciousness, in which they connect their sense of self to a wider community of whiteness, and seek to understand and overcome the many ways in which we have been indoctrinated and brainwashed into perceiving our whiteness as a superior form of humanity. This white double consciousness could be framed in our connection to and awareness of our white brothers and sisters struggling with these issues on the one hand and a sense of humility - open-heartedness and willingness to self-examine - in the context of blackness.

Humility does not imply guilt or shame here. Those are wasted emotions, that inevitably bring up our defences. If we  can be in peace with our roots and our selves, if we accept that we have been deeply damaged through no fault of our own, we can do much better work on evolving from hidden inner racists to openly recovering racists without shame or guilt attached to the "bad word".

I go so far as to say that by not working on developing a double consciousness, we continue to supress the indoctrinated, racist part of ourselves, that we are too afraid to acknowledge. This shadow side can cause damage not only to those around us but to our own emotional, spiritual and physical being. It literally creates dis-ease in the body.  Diseases that are only treated symptomatically will inevitably manifest elsewhere, usually in a more severe and pronounced form. Somatic psychology has long recognised the connection between the mind/emotions and the body and acknowledges the damage our unlived, suppressed parts can cause in our bodies.

It is not surprising that today's cancer rates are higher than ever before. People will attribute this to environmental causes, or a lifestyle that is increasingly removed from nature. This is undoubtedly true. But whatever the cause, on a somatic level cancer is simply a hidden cell (aspect of ourselves)  that starts spreading out of control,  if not recognised and healed at an early stage.

The cancer of our inner racism will destroy us over time if we do not expose it, treat it and ultimately assimilate it into our psyche. We will never be free of racism, this cannot be our goal. The fact that we grew up white in a world, that systematically violates, invalidates and suppresses black people means, we have the gene of racism implanted in us from birth. In the same way that a cancer gene can lie dormant for most of our lives (and in some it will never manifest the disease ) we don't have to be overt racists or even have conscious racist thoughts in order to prove it's existence. Some of us might never be in contact with black people, and thus might never even consciously think about race . But in today's increasingly diverse world with a forever spreading social media network, this is an unlikely scenario, and sooner or later we will be confronted with some of our stereotypes, judgements and prejudices.

It cannot be the role of black people to educate us and help us recover from racism. This has been made sufficiently clear by black consciousness movements, the latest of which here in SA, RMF, has done away with white participants altogether. The role of white people has to be solely that of silent allies within the movement. In addition to that a mandate has been given by RMF to a group of white people to continue the work within their white communities, to educate and explain, and if necessary defend the movement.

This sounds good in theory, doesn't it? But for lots of white people, myself included, this is a tall order. For we have mostly lived our single consciousness existence as self-centred, navel gazing individuals, who socialise in carefully defined boundaries,  fiercely protective of our individual spaces and opinions. There is no sense of connection around our whiteness. On the contrary, to those of us who have a growing awareness of our inner racist, our whiteness is our predicament, we feel embarrassment rather than compassion when confronted with our own and other people's racism. So we avoid it altogether. White people don't talk about their racist indoctrination.

Sure, we make a friend a minute on social networks , but we defriend just as easily anybody who doesn't share a worldview or an opinion with us. Or we waste our time in pointless, anonymous rants that leave us feeling everything from vague emptiness to open rage,  going nowhere and reaching nobody in particular.

We haven't learned how to constructively have real life, real difficult conversations or stick out challenging friendships. We move on to the next thing as easily as we move from one Twitter feed to another. We value connectivity over human connections, always distracted from what is going on inside and thus oblivious of the price our hearts and souls are paying.

So when our brothers and sisters from the RMF movement expect us to educate and challenge whiteness, we shrink away from the task as something scary, threatening our very existence in this world. We simply don't know how to. We don't have a communality, a kinship that binds us beyond Twitter and Instagram.  We have forgotten how to have face to face conversations with open hearts and minds.

And this is what we can learn from double consciousness. We can learn to develop a white consciousness of kinship with each other, in which we are willing to be open and vulnerable. Where we acknowledge our whiteness and the racist that lives in each of us in a compassionate and supportive way. Where we find words for the unspeakable and expose feelings that have never been spoken about.

There is need for a white dialogue, where we all start from the same premise of acknowledging our unearned privilege and inner racist. If we can breathe that in, we can find our double consciousness, our kinship to other recovering racists and our humility in the context of blackness.

And don't get me wrong: I am not the compassionate kind when it comes to racism. This is my biggest shortcoming and in some ways my growing strength, as I increasingly trust myself to call it as I see it. But I will never be the person, who can patiently and compassionately listen to some racist bullshit and find compassion within. Maybe I haven't integrated this shadow side of mine enough, but that's what it is. I ll never be a politician or a diplomat. I can write better than I can talk. And I am willing to listen and share with anybody, who is able to acknowledge their unearned privilege and racist indoctrination. All the other racists, the defensive ones and the I-don't-see-colour-ones, I simply can't anymore. Bigger people can take those on, and if you are one of them (the bigger ones)  -  I salute you!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Using my white privilege

So the other day my friend, who happens to be black, sent me a text: could I please call this number and book a table for six people for the following evening. Her dad had tried and was told it was fully booked. He suspected racism.

Well, I thought , or rather hoped, it's the holiday season, tourists everywhere, chances are, the place is fully booked.

But I was wrong. I got a booking no problem.

I even asked twice: are you sure, you have a table for six people tomorrow evening? The friendly lady said, yes, that's confirmed. She took my name and number and that was that.

Needless to elaborate on my feelings of outrage, frustration, dismay and the whole scale in between.
I was gutted.

My friend thought about not going (rather not give them her money on top of the insult that is) - but at the end of the day, what would that achieve?

We had talked before about claiming white spaces as a means to fight racism,  but should people really have  to spend their friend- and family-time in a racist environment, being stared at and whispered about at the very least, and possibly openly insulted?

But then again, I suppose this is the every day reality of black people in predominantly white spaces - so what difference does it make if its just another day in white suburbia, or rather Camps bay in that case?

They did go.

And were told at reception: Sorry, we don't have a booking under that name.


My phone rang, as I was bathing my kids. My friend only says: "Apparently you did not book..." and hands over the phone to a flustered receptionist, who clearly did not expect those black people she was about to send away  to have a white back up at the other end of that phone.

I don't think she got the first word in before I literally lost the plot.

I shouted and fumed and said lots of things that could have been formulated much better and more to the point, but what the hell. She got the message and suddenly could not apologise enough.

And yes, she would look after my friends, they would get extra special treatment which, it later emerged, really translated into her trying to squeeze them into a corner of the restaurant, where the sight of them would not offend the other diners. On top of that they were told to keep their voices down, because " there are other people dining here as well" .

Yep, just when you think this could actually not get any worse, they get told off by a snotty white student waitress like a bunch of rowdy kids on a playground.

At that point, my friends demanded to see the manger, who apologised (again) and got them a  table amongst the white folk. They got offered drinks and food on the house to make up for the "misunderstanding" but they politely declined.

Surprise, surprise:  these black folk did not make a fuss in order to avoid paying their bill, they actually wanted an apology from the waitress. Which they did not get.

At first.

My dialogue weathered friend however cornered her in the course of the evening and gave her a crash course on her racist attitude and how to handle herself in future - and guess what? She actually relented, apologised and even reflected on how she would make sure not to repeat her demeaning behaviour towards fellow humans in future.


"I don't even care" says my friend, "as long as she thinks twice before treating people like second class citizens again."

And that might just happen.

Now, before you start cheering and clapping: This is not a win.

This is not even a success.

This is only  the tip of the iceberg.  It is finally a small piece of evidence for the existence of the living, breathing and widely ignored elephant in the room of white privilege.

Giving half a chance, this incident would have been swept under the carpet as a "misunderstanding", my friends been made the stereotypical "angry black people", who are "playing the race card" to free load or get into a place they don't have a right to be in.

What made all the difference this time, was our team effort in pointing out the beast. My voice of white privilege made a small crack in the armour of denial and my white anger could not be dismissed. I used the power of my privilege to vent, threaten and ultimately claim a space in this room for my friends to be seen and heard instead of ignored and dismissed.

This is not something to be proud of. It is a shameful, sad, frustrating and enraging state of affairs 20 odd years after Apartheid officially ended.

I do however feel cautiously optimistic at the thought that three years of dialogue have united a small group of us in teaming up and exposing the beast. So maybe, just maybe we are on the right track and if more will join us in dialogue, we will at least disturb the delusional slumber of white complacency, which to this day insists that apartheid is over and racism does not exist anymore.

Oh and just in case you want to book a table and test the waters: The 12 Apostles in Camps Bay, are waiting for your call.

And join our face book group, if you want to be a part of the conversation: this dialogue thing -
Open for business


Thursday, February 12, 2015

White fragility and the nice racist

Last week I was invited to a race-dialogue hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the HRC in Johannesburg. That sounds like a mouthful. And it was. There I was surrounded by names and titles, bringing "only me" to the table and feeling not just a little intimidated.

But as the afternoon progressed, and we were all sweating alike in the midst of a load shedding summers day, I got a little more reckless and dared myself to raise my hand. The occasion was somebody's contribution towards a definition for the elusive species: the racist.

The racist, he argued, is a narcissistic personality type amongst white people, who believes in his/her own superiority based on genetics.

Phew -  great sigh of relief from the attending white folk, because, we are not that. None of us believe in the idea of white superiority and none of us have an identifiable psychological disorder. So we are in the clear.

Of course I had to disagree.

The majority of racists are nice people. In fact, the narcissistic, K-word muttering, red faced hater is rarely spotted these days, and if so, can almost be sure to gain unwanted publicity and be shunned collectively by all the nice racists, who are relieved to once more be able to say: we are not that.

In fact, most nice racists are so wary of being seen as racists, that they do their utmost best to be kind and supportive to black folk, their Facebook profiles often feature a "black-lives-matter" plaque, they donate to charities or do "work in the township", some of them even have black children, partners or friends.

I know this because I am one of them.

If put on the spot, I would probably say that these days  I am more of a recovering racist, slowly emerging from my white unconsciousness slumber (courtesy of our dialogue members) -but nonetheless a life long racist.  Because similar to an alcoholic, I might be steering clear of the trigger for years, but  through my whiteness I remain tied to the dis-ease for life.

This of course will get many white peoples defences up from the word go. They have an issue with "generalisation", "stereotyping", "boxes", "name-calling", the lot. Forgetting all the while that those are all well worn issues that people of colour have to deal with from birth.

Yes, I agree in theory that, in an ideal world,  we want to overcome race, and yes again, it is a social construct and no, I also don't like being put in a box. But the bottom line is that we don't live in this ideal world, and will most likely never see it. So while we are at it, us white people might as well start facing these facts, learn to live with them, make the best we can with them and stop whining about how unfair it all is to us.

The fact that I feel hurt when I suddenly become conscious of my "box" within the system of whiteness, after having lived a lot of my life happily unaware of my skin colour, once again only proves my privilege.

The degree of my fragility as a white person in a racial context is determined by my previous privilege. The greater the hurt I feel by being put on the spot around my whiteness, the bigger my sense of entitlement and resistance to self awareness. And I am not saying this is all my fault, because it isn't. But that does not exempt me from having to look at myself carefully under the lens of a racial reality, that I managed to avoid for the longest time of my life.

 Naturally, because it is not within human nature to voluntarily give up privilege, we defend it with clever smoke screens and pure denial.

By saying: Yes, racism exists, but there are also good white people who are not racists - we are avoiding the point. No living person will be able to ultimately prove racist indoctrination in every white person on the planet. But why does this matter? Is it a generalisation? Yes. In this case it is a useful generalisation, because history and current social and socio-economic realities show us without a doubt that whiteness comes with the baggage of power, entitlement and superiority. Is this something we choose? No. But to run away from this reality by simply denying the impact it had on us from birth on a very personal, emotional, spiritual and intellectual level, is pure denial.

So us white people are once more in the  privileged position of choice: We can either carry on with our smoke screens of "not all white people are racists", our denial and defences,  live happily ever after in our white privileged circles and die a comfortable death.

 Or we can choose to step off our privileged platform of white fragility, dive head on into the hurt and come out the other end a recovering racist, constantly working on our relationship with the other. This choice is of course often predetermined by our other life choices. In my case, it was not so much a choice I freely made, but the only way to consciously parent my children of color. Other white people might have a partner of a different race, or a friend they don't want to lose. And yes, it hurts to face my own bias, my part in the "evil" continuing and my continuous benefiting from my whiteness. But to turn back is not an option.

Because to not "go there" ultimately means that our interracial relationships as parents, partners and friends will remain within the realm of superficial encounters based on a status-quo, that reinforces our white privilege to determine it's nature. In other words the white person decides when the hurt gets too much and they are going to withdraw from the discourse and the black person holds back in order not to upset this status-quo. And again, I am aware that this is a generalisation, but another useful one, because in the historical context of internalised oppression, proximity to whiteness is often a means to be safe within the system rather than unsafe and on the outside.

So my point? 

It is dangerous to try and define racism or the racist as part of finding a cure/solution to racism. It makes it easy for me as a white person to distance myself from whatever is defined by saying: this is not me.

Racism is anything and everything a person of colour feels triggered by in relation to a white person. A racist is every white person growing up within the parameters of today's society, largely dominated by euro (US)-centric media, white supremacist narratives and legislated structural and institutional racism.

And yes, of course, there is room for misuse and misinterpretation. But to what end? How does a woman benefit from calling rape within a system that violates her all over by putting the burden of proof on her?

So lets please not try and dig around for construed realities in which black people might benefit from calling me a racist.

I even go as far as to say that it ultimately benefits me as a white person to be challenged and called out as a racist, even if I feel it is unfair. It gives me the opportunity of going deeper, of examining my unconscious feelings and thought patterns. If I still feel there is no truth whatsoever in the perception of the other person, I can still walk away and not let this impact my life (another privilege). But chances are, there is a grain of truth even in the seemingly wildest accusations.

And this is where the gold lies: My chance of stepping deeper into relationship, into my heart centre, where I acknowledge my hurt, but don't use it to deflect and deny the other person's experience. Where I can relate with my own pain  to the vulnerability of the other and acknowledge that I simply do not have an answer other than:  I am truly sorry you had this experience with me and I will try my best to understand what it is that I (unconsciously) did to make you feel this way. 

We need to overcome our white fragility and boldly step into our white hurt. Only where we hurt can we learn. Because change does not happen in our comfort zone.
Only when we feel uncomfortable,  boxed in, stereotyped, name-called, unfairly accused, ignored, stepped on and not listened to, can we find our deep connection with the other and realise that this is a gift.

The gift of learning to relate to another human being and feel true connection.

As my good friend (you know who you are) often says to me: Congratulations, you just had a black experience.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Aftermath - 12 Apostles blog gone viral - Apology not accepted

I did not expect the tornado that broke over this blog in the last 48 or so hours. I am glad this story got the attention of so many people. I am also overwhelmed and unprepared for all of this.

I am unprepared for the haters, the irreparable racists and the moaners, who have a problem with just about anybody on this planet. But it is my choice not to let these voices invade my personal space and as such I am not responding to "haters", I am not deleting them either. I leave it up to the many voices of reason, support and emotional intelligence to moderate.

So here is my response to the 12 Apostles public apology:

 Dear Michael Nel -  thank you for posting on my blog - Apology not accepted

We all know that this apology would never even have been made, had it not been for the media-storm of bad publicity that rained upon your institution after it had gone viral.

Your apology did not even touch the experience of my friend. In fact the experience was dismissed, denied and turned into some "misunderstanding based on human error". Now we can all safely assume that no business will ever admit to overt racism or even racist undertones as this would be PR-suicide. So lets just step back from this senseless impasse and look at what we have to work with:

Lets just say for arguments sake, this was all a "misunderstanding based on human error"  (and we will never have prove of either side ).
So lets say: when the black person phoned, the restaurant was genuinely fully booked.
Lets even say that within a space of two minutes (through an alleged cancellation) a table became available and the white person just got lucky.
Lets take this even further by conceding that upon arrival of my friends, their booking was  "mislaid"? 
And then, miraculously (and through white intervention) a table became available.

So what if all of the above was actually true?

Does that mean my friends experience is less real and can be publicly dismissed?

People in this country are traumatized by a legacy of racism, some to an extend that they are suffering from PTSD or other stress related symptoms. (Racism and PTSD). There are numerous studies out there proving the relevance of Generational Transmission of Trauma and to pretend that we can just move on from trauma without healing is delusional.

Black people have been violated, abused and stripped of their basic human rights because of the color of their skin for centuries.The trauma of racism transcends time and space. So to tell a black person that their experience is not valid is tantamount to telling rape survivors to stop complaining about experiences that trigger their trauma response and just get on with their lives because “not all men are rapists”.  

In that vein it is absurd for us as a society to expect any form of healing and reconciliation if we don't allow for the trauma that is sitting with the majority of our people to be recognized and listened to with respect, compassion and consideration. There is no need to be defensive. To acknowledge the existence of racial bias and racist residue in each and every one of us white people is a first step.

Giving to the disadvantaged and occasionally allowing a quota of black people into my business does not automatically exempt me from racism. Racism is not and I repeat NOT exclusively linked to an intent to hurt or to be racist. In fact, there is a good chance the person is not even aware of the fact that they are acting or thinking or talking racism.

I don't know Michael Nel, I don't know the person or persons my friend had to deal with at the restaurant. To try and expose their innermost thoughts and feelings about people of color is futile and not my intention. In fact, it is not even necessary for me to prove racism. The mere fact that racism still exists today puts an obligation on all of us to deal sensitively, respectfully and compassionately with the people who might be experiencing it on a daily basis. To dismiss their reality is only adding to their trauma and the collective trauma of our society. So here is what I would have liked to hear from Michael Nel or anybody else at the 12 Apostles:

Dear Mrs Mpofu
On behalf of my staff and myself I would like to apologize for the insensitive and hurtful way in which you have been treated at 12 Apostles. Even though I am not aware of any racist behavior, talk or thoughts within my establishment, I fully acknowledge that what happened to you and your family could be seen as a racist incident. In that vein, I promise to do my best to create more awareness within  my establishment of the many different forms and undertones of racism. I will encourage dialogue amongst  my staff about our own underlying racial bias. In order for that to happen I will talk to experts to find the best person in the field to undertake sensitivity and diversity training for my staff members, in which I will personally take part. I am grateful to you for having  brought this to my attention as racism has no place in a well known luxury establishment such as 12 Apostles, which is visited by people from all over the world. I am hopeful that this incident will help us to improve our relations with people from diverse backgrounds. I hope we will see you back at our restaurant under much improved circumstances.

Just a suggestion.....