Tag Archive: race conversations


elephant

i have a good friend called Megan Furniss and we like to make things up.

a lot!

Megan was responsible for pretty much bringing Improv to Cape Town in the form of TheatreSports [now Improguise: Players of TheatreSports] which quickly became Cape Town’s longest running and much loved show. And best kept secret, it seems at some times, although at the moment we are doing some highly experimental and completely fun shows [different formats every week] at the Galloway Theatre just outside of the Waterfront in town. Mondays at 7.30pm – you should come watch! Especially if you haven’t for a while. We also just recently did our first ever Duet two player show of Improvment and it was SO MUCH FUN we are both [i think] looking forward to the next one…

ImpromptuBrettMegan

Megan also has a huge love/hate [or maybe love/frustrate might be a more accurate term] relationship with South Africa and is one of the most proudly South African person i know who is not me, [when it comes to the good stuff] , and one of the most outspoken, incensed, head-shaking, finger-wagging, hair-pulling-out person when it comes to the bad and the ugly.

i, on the other hand [which actually looks remarkably familiar to the first hand] love Improv and the opportunity to be creative in the moment and the freedom of having no script and especially the quick-thinking word-play aspects of it and i have a full-on committed loving relationship with South Africa as can be witnessed here. Just try telling me i am not African. It is in my blood, pale though it be.

Megan and i also have strong thoughts, emotions and feelings towards race-related elephants, i mean issues in our land. i have dedicated a large section of my blog to creating space for conversations around the topic of race and for the most part [as i am not expert] inviting others to share their stories, thoughts and ideas to help us find ways to move forward more productively in South Africa and beyond. Megan has done a lot of Corporate Improv work with middle to senior management of companies and noticed a huge need for conversations of race which are the aforementioned elephant in the room.

Long story short: Megan and i are looking to combine our love of Improv with our heart for South Africa and start making more of a practical difference. We have designed a three hour workshop that looks to use Improv exercises and story-telling aspects to help create a safe space where people can begin the conversations of race that feel so necessary in so many areas of the work-place. And we are hoping to start running them from July when i return to South Africa. 

If you would like to know more and think this is something your work should invest in, you can get hold of Megan at megan@improvision.co.za or myself at brettfish@hotmail.com.

Let’s be honest – a 3 hour workshop is not going to solve the race problems in your workplace… but being the unspoken, unacknowledged, awkward elephant in the room [as it still sadly is in so many places] it is going to be a great way of kickstarting some of the conversations and movement that needs to follow… Help us help you…

race

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spag

i do not have adequate words to describe last nite.

i am scared that the ones i use will do it injustice as there is no adequate way to capture what went down at our home as some friends from Sybrand Park, Khayelitsha, Kayamandi, Wynberg, Nyanga, Manenberg and Southfield came together for a meal and some intense conversation.

Spaghetti is a contradiction food all in itself. It is NOT good first date food. It is messy and at some point in the evening someone is going to have to catch your eye and give a nervous cough and indicate that you have some food on your face, or your clothes, or lap.

And that’s kind of how the conversation went. It was messy. And this is probably one of the greatest things that we as South Africans need to learn. MESSY IS OKAY. Messy is necessary and so is uncomfortable and awkward and even angry and confused and devastated. We will not move forwards until we can start having those conversations comfortably, or uncomfortably, so to speak. Both at a political leadership level but also maybe more importantly at a grass roots, neighbour level.

messi

Step one was the phone basket. As you arrive to have a meal with us, you turn your phone off and add it to the basket as a symbol of your commitment to be unplugged and engaged with us for the evening.

Step two was a simple meal. i mean a really delicious and amazing meal that tbV put together including garlic bread and delicious salad and tasty spaghetti, but nothing crazy fancy beyond that. People brought drinks if they could and we shared a meal together.

Step three was introductions. Not even tbV and i knew everyone as one of our friends brought a mate with him, but each person at the meal knew at least one other person. We had an even mix of black and white but from all kinds of backgrounds and current story situations. With this particular meal, we were looking at diving a little more deeply into the idea of race and location and boundary and so you were invited to tell us a little bit about yourself and where you live and why you live there.

As that process happened, people interrupted with questions and clarifications and we got joyfully sidetracked on to deeper conversations of different aspects of race and privilege and prejudice. A lot of laughter. Some silence – a moment after one of our friends stopped talking and tbV wisely said that, ‘The white in me wants to respond and fix and make sense and explain and speak to what you have just said. But I think I just need to listen and let it sink in and really hear and sit with it for a while.’ And so as a room we sat with it for a while. And it was a little awkward and a little uncomfortable [for me, maybe not at all for everyone else or maybe even more so, i don’t know] And then we continued.

There was a lot of passion that erupted. It definitely felt like there were some ‘I have a dream’ speech moments where heart just completely overflowed and it was intense but beautiful. And challenging. There was a strong moment of one participant saying, ‘I feel the same way as you’ and being challenged boldly back. “Where did your children go to school? Oh really, well then they had that choice. How can you possibly feel like me?” Privilege exposed and named in a powerfully tense but amazing moment. At the end of the evening the two of them ended up in a car together as the one gave the other a ride home.

i definitely learnt some things. One of the things i learnt was that for many years the line “Education is the answer” has been held as the carrot before the proverbial horse as if black people just need to educate themselves and get a university degree and then everything will be okay. Apartheid put them on the educational back foot and so one of the ways of overturning that part of the past was through education and lifting oneself out of it. But last night we heard stories of people with masters degrees manning petrol pumps, unable to find work. And that is the story for a large number of people. Education alone has proved to not be the answer. There are much bigger things in play.

i felt hugely uncomfortable. One thing that made me feel uncomfortable was the moment i drove into our driveway with Nkosi and his friend Monde who i had picked up at the taxi rank. Having visited Nkosi and understanding a little of his home situation in Khayelitsha, the thought of him seeing the absolute luxury i live in, was a difficult thought. But it was later on during the story telling when one of our friends shared how 32 of them [not a typo!] lived in a three bedroom house, that i was just blown away. i feel like i have had an idea of poverty and the idea that a lot of people are squeezed into small space so maybe 6, 7, 8 people in a room. 32 people in three rooms. i cannot get my head around that. There are reasons why we live where we live right now which are completely valid. But there are also some inherent contradictions that are part of it as well. At the moment, while we live here, there is the absolute commitment to use the space we have for life-changing transformative conversations like we believe happened last night.

Step four was really just picking up threads that had come out of the introductions and conversation that preceded. But to be honest, the richness of last night was in hearing peoples’ stories and challenges and ideas about where the country needed to go. By the time we got past introductions, i think it must have been 11pm [four hours since starting the meal] and we wrapped up just around 12. One of my highlights of the evening was our one friend who had to be somewhere at 8 and then just got so completely invested that he skipped his other function and was one of the last two people helping clean up after midnight, when i returned from giving someone a ride home.

What’s next is more of these dinners. Having done two now [both going for more than four hours of intense conversation, the previous one being conversations around church] tbV and i have realised that as amazing as they are, they are also really tiring and so probably won’t be moving them to once a week happenings just yet. But once a month feels manageable. We want to have one around money/economics and we are thinking about doing one around marriage. And then we’ll see from there. The next one will happen after we get back from the USA which will be July so maybe end July. If you’re interested in being part of one, let us know. That doesn’t necessarily mean you will be, but it’s good to know who is interested.

i also chatted to Nkosi this morning and he was saying how last night was great and the next step is to get a black church and a white church together and host a conversation like that. i am super amped to do that. So that is something we will chat about and hopefully look to doing later on in the year. If you’re a church leader and interested, let me know. That could really be ultimately country-changing.

These dinners are not the solution to anything. But they are an incredible catalyst for change. i was sitting there last night thinking, ‘This does not happen naturally. Not a lot anyways.’ It needs to be a little intentional and it is likely to always start off a little bit awkwardly. But what if more and more South Africans [because one of our participants from last night is going to be doing something similar with his mates tonite] decided to be more intentional about Deeper Conversation meal times [on whatever topics] and started hosting meals and bringing different people together?

Arguments on Facebook [with the lack of tone that being online robs you of] can only go so far. tbV and i have decided that if you have a strong argument against something that we say or do then sit across from us at a dinner table and let’s talk about it face to face. If we are truly grappling about something [church, race, money, marriage] then let’s commit to an evening together with people who think differently and see what can be learned. Let’s learn to listen together and let’s encourage each other to speak boldly and honestly.

Let’s eat spaghetti on our first date and let’s be bold and realise that we need Messi in our team.

i want to have a positive influence on the state of our nation. This feels like one good way to get started.

Read Nkosi Gola’s reflections on the meal…

Read Brian van Zuydam’s reflections on the meal…

Take in my wife, Val’s thoughts about the evening…

Some related thoughts from my mate, Portal Pete…

Babalwa Nyangeni adds some of her reflections…

Who else is up for giving this a try? i would LOVE to hear how it goes…

flag[For some more ideas of how to move towards progress in South Africa, click here]

megbrett

i met Megan Choritz, wow, 17 years ago?

As you can see, it started out quite daunting – the person who brought Improv to Cape Town in the form of TheatreSports, now Improguise, Cape Town’s longest running show [and best kept secret somehow].

But pretty soon i had gained confidence and the tables had been turned…

brettmeganears

Although some might not use ‘daunted’ in quite the same way, but i’m telling you, behind those fingers-in-ears is pure dauntment!

So we’ve played together for probably 13 years [as i was overseas for some of them] and made some of the most fabulous stuff up based on a word or theme or idea from an audience member or MC and it has been truly magical.

And scary. It’s always the teensiest tiniest bit of scary. Because you NEVER KNOW what is going to happen on stage. You never know what your partner will bring. And when it’s Megan who is one of the best ever, then it really could be completely anything. But at the very same time, you never have to really be scared, because TheatreSports is one of the most generous art forms out there and there is ALWAYS someone ready to save, to jump in and rescue, to MAKE YOU LOOK GOOD.

i was privileged to be there when Megan Choritz disappeared and in her place stood Megan Furniss, married to ‘Big Friendly’ as she calls him, the most unusual pairing initially with Brenton being a tall gentle computer programmy guy and Megan… well, not being that. And yet it has been one of the most beautiful relationships to watch. So much powerful and yet gentle love, so evident. Wow. She even wrote some great marriage advice for my blog as someone busy with their 10th year of marriage.

meg2

Improv has been great but there is another exciting journey ahead that i can’t wait for. In March Megan wrote a piece for my people who give me hope in South Africa series which was somewhat awkwardly about me, but highlighted in some of the best ways the incredible way two such-diverse people [especially when religion is concerned – HEY, COME BACK HERE!] can remain good friends and interact on such a deep level in some areas. Both with a huge bleeding heart for this beloved country of ours we have decided to do something about it. We have designed a three hour workshop which will help groups of people who work together get to the point of being able to speak about that elephant in the room of race. With the “Yes, lets!” and “Teamwork” nature of Improv and specifically through story-telling we hope to prepare people to be able to engage in a healthy way and really start listening to each other and get conversation started. If you would like to know more, get hold of me and ask…

But back to scary…

We are VERY excited to announce Megan’s upcoming show called Impromp2 which is as it kind of suggests, a night of Improv with just two people. I am very honoured to be kicking the week off on Tuesday 17th May with Megan, and then every night after that a different member of our Improv group will be joining her each evening. It is going to be taking place at the most delightful Alexander Bar on Strand Street in town. Two improvisors, one stage and EVERYTHING ELSE made up on the spot for an entire hour. No backup crew. No-one waiting on the side to jump in and save. It’s going to be completely scary and i can. not. wait. Come and watch. [and you should probably book tickets as soon as you can cos it’s not the hugest venue and i imagine they will be snapped up soon]

Also Megan will not be too amped to hear that one of the funnest things in life for me is a Megan corpse [to clarify: that means when someone breaks out of character to laugh, not the other one] and so Impromp2 will not be completely incredible unless we can sneak in one of those…

Megan Furniss and Brett “Fish” Anderson… like the Murtaugh and Riggs of the Improvising world… long may we continue [yes, it’s okay that you had to look that up]…

Also it’s high time she followed me for a change and Megan has just joined a group of us who are doing Tandem Blogging where each week we get a title and have to blog whatever comes out of that as you can see with our most recent one on ‘The Art of Boredom’ for which you can find Megan’s perfectly captured piece over here.

A lot of people, yes white ones [like me], switch off when we hear the term ‘white privilege’ [please don’t!]

Some people, yes white ones, get angry when we hear the term ‘white privilege’ [please don’t!]

But i sometimes wonder if it is because of a misunderstanding of what people who talk about ‘white privilege’ mean when they do so.

So please take a deep breath and try and approach this piece with fresh eyes [forget what you think white privilege is and see if what i am suggesting it might be is something worth engaging with] knowing that this will at the very most scrape the top of what is a deep and wide barrel. Because i am a white male and live in South Africa i believe it is essential for me to try and understand something of this description of ‘white privilege’ that follows.

So let’s look at a couple of official definitions:

White privilege (or white skin privilege) is the set of societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, or economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). [Wikipedia]

White privilege has been defined as unearned advantages of being White in a racially stratified society, and has been characterized as an expression of institutional power that is largely unacknowledged by most White individuals [Neville, Worthington, & Spanierman, 2001]

I feel like the term and the idea of ‘White Privilege’ is one that is too complex to explain simply, but at the same time, that it is really helpful that we try to come to at least some understanding…

whiteprivilege shapes

I feel like this cartoon does a good job of depicting the problem. People who benefit from ‘White Privilege’tend to have an easier path through life or some area or aspect of life, whereas those who are not white have the odds stacked against them to varying degrees and extents. When you are a circle and have made it easily through a hole that is circular, you tend to expect things to be as easy for everyone else, not necessarily noticing or realising what the same task might mean to someone of a different shape.

white privilege shapes 2

i asked some people for their definitions or understandings of ‘White Privilege’ and this is what they said:

Andrew Enslin: I see white privilege as the belief that 20 years of a 60/40 relationship makes up for over 40 years of apartheid.

Alexa Russell Matthews: White Priv Def: The things in life that I only know I have once i realise that my friends of different colours don’t assume that they have, or have a reaction to which my peers and I don’t always understand…

Susannah Prinz: this probably won’t work in the context where you are now and it’s not the exact question you are asking, but since you were just in this fair city i’ll share anyway: one easy example that sums up my white privilege? even though i am in the ethnic minority on the street/neighborhood where i live (being white), i can fairly assume that if i ever break minor traffic, etc laws, i will not get a second glance from a police officer…much less be pulled over, harassed, ticketed or worse. why do i think that? not from my car- which is old. not from my flawless driving- because i drive way too east oakland around here. simply because i am a white woman. (and in addition, i have absolutely *no* fear that i would be pulled over or stopped by a law officer without legitimate reason.) i could list a lot more reasons, but that’s one that instantly comes to mind.

Lara Harler Lahr: System if advantage based on race

Gayle Evers: White privilege is like being right-handed. You live in a world subtly and not-so-subtly geared to accommodate your needs, while completely ignoring the existence of others.

If you have a bit of time to dig a little deeper into this, then i would encourage you to read these three articles that came out of Stanford which look at the same concept from very different sides that i shared a little about in my post titled, ‘I will not apologise for my white privilege’ a while ago.

For those who have less time, this cartoon will give some idea of one clear way in which ‘White Privilege’ manifests in the world today.

whiteprivilegestanford

I saw a similiar idea demonstrated on a picture that read, ‘If we discover that the Boston Bomber is white, no-one is going to go around saying, ‘All whites are terrorists.’ White Privilege.

Or perhaps this one shows it even more blatantly:

klebold vs brown

This picture stunningly crafted by @JennLi123

The language we [and the media] use to describe events can demonstrate the effects of ‘White Privilege’ on a nation. The guy with ‘White Privilege’ is described as ‘misunderstood’ despite the horrific things he did, whereas the black guy is described as a criminal despite the horrific things that were done to him. If you change the pictures across and attribute the opposite thing to each person, then just imagine what description will be used to describe what went down.

White Privilege. Knowing you will be treated better, viewed better, granted less or no suspicion, given the benefit of the doubt…

whiteprivilege fish

It is so important for us white people to realise that as the big fish in this picture, we are more likely to view the world as a just place, because we don’t experience the same things that those without the privilege do. We might also be guilty of minimalising the genuine concerns/grievances of those without the privilege we have, by comparing things which are not equal to begin with, like in this picture:

whiteprivilege glass full

The point of ‘White Privilege’ is that you started with a loaded deck. The playing fields between myself as a white person and the majority of black people did not start level.

By being born into the family i was, i gained privilege.

By living in the area i live, i gained privilege.

By going to the school i was able to go to, i gained privilege.

And so on…

Admitting to White Privilege is not saying that i was personally responsible for apartheid and need to feel bad about that for the rest of my life. It is acknowledging that because i was born at the time i was born, when apartheid was still rampant in South Africa, that i had an easier passage through life in many respects [at least in terms of opportunities and treatment].

This blog post by Manic Pixie Dream Mama, written in the aftermath of the Ferguson chaos that resulted after a young black man [Mike Brown, see above] was shot, is worth taking a read of as i think she explains it really well:

To admit white privilege is to admit a stake, however small, in ongoing injustice. It’s to see a world different than your previous perception. Acknowledging that your own group enjoys social and economic benefits of systemic racism is frightening and uncomfortable. It leads to hard questions of conscience may of us aren’t prepared to face. There is substantial anger: at oneself, at the systems of oppression, and mostly at the bearer of bad news, a convenient target of displacement. But think on this.

She goes on to list a number of things her young white sons will get to do or be when they grow up [with links to actual stories of where black youth were involved and it went the other way] and some of those include the following [As a helpful exercise, why don’t you read this list out loud to yourself, saying the phrase ‘White Privilege’ after each one]:

Clerks do not follow my sons around the store, presuming they might steal something.

Their normal kid stuff – tantrums, running, shouting – these are chalked up to being children, not to being non-white.

People do not assume that, with three children, I am scheming to cheat the welfare system.

When I wrap them on my back, no one thinks I’m going native, or that I must be from somewhere else.

When my sons are teenagers, I will not worry about them leaving the house. I will worry – that they’ll crash the car, or impregnate  a girl, or engage in the same stupidness endemic to teenagers everywhere.

They will walk together, all three, through our suburban neighborhood. People will think, Look at those kids out for a walk. They will not think, Look at those punks casing the joint.

People will assume they are intelligent. No one will say they are “well-spoken” when they break out SAT words. Women will not cross the street when they see them. Nor will they clutch their purses tighter.

My boys can grow their hair long, and no one will assume it’s a political statement.

No one will stop and frisk my boys because they look suspicious.

She ends her post with three lines that  flip this whole thing on its head. And while this is a story specific to Americaland, there is enough of an overlap for us to learn its lessons here as well:

For a mother, white privilege means your heart doesn’t hit your throat when your kids walk out the door. It means you don’t worry that the cops will shoot your sons.

It carries another burden instead. White privilege means that if you don’t school your sons about it, if you don’t insist on its reality and call out oppression, your sons may become something terrifying.

Your sons may become the shooters.

i’m not sure i’ve done a great job in unpacking what ‘White Privilege’ is, but hopefully  this will give some of us some more stuff to think about. i am hoping that one or two other friends of mine will write their own piece so that we can engage and learn together.

If hearing the phrase ‘White Privilege’ makes you angry or frustrated and you want to respond by blocking your ears or running away or starting an argument, take a moment and ask yourself why that is. Is it because the conversations on ‘White Privilege’ should really not be happening? Or is it possibly because of the realisation that if this stuff is true, then there is still a lot more work to be done. Don’t be like the toilet door people.

whitep

[To hear from someone outside South Africa’s perspective on White Privilege, click here]

[here are some other excellent posts i have been reading on this topic]

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