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



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

Yogi Bhajan

Welcome


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




GUNNAGIRLS

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.

WHAT???

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.

Sincere?

"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





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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.