And we are heading down to the final straight as we make our way through the last ten tips for white people genuinely asking, ‘But what can I do?’ when it comes to race and nation-building in South Africa [and beyond] – glad to see you’re still with us…
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #31
Leave your camera at home.
This one goes out to white people on mission trips or white people visiting the townships or white people volunteering.
If a selfie with a poor black child didn’t happen, did any act of kindness happen at all?
At least that would seem to be the philosophical question of the day.
The problem with your photos or video when it comes to an act of service to others is that it can quickly become a “Look at me! Look at how good I am. Look at the nice thing I am doing!”
We spoke about centering yourself in the conversation back in Tip #16 and this is an extension of that.
And no this does not only relate to white people and might actually be more of a class issue [as so many of South Africa’s race-looking issues often are] but I do think this particularly relates to white people and so we can definitely start with ourselves here.
Let me actually add this comment which came out of a whatsapp from a friend yesterday: It is rude to take photos of people without their permission. Ask people if it is okay to take a photo – don’t just assume. The two of these are quite closely linked.
But what if you want the photo as a memory of the event? Then take a photo – with permission – by all means – but choose this time not to splash it across social media. Kids in townships do love having their photo taken so maybe there is a space to take a selfie with a bunch of kids, for the kids sake and your memory.
There is something strangely satisfying about doing an act of service that is only for or about the recipients. It tends to make it more about them and less about you.
So leave your camera at home every now and then, or your phone switched off, and just be in the moment, doing the thing and really be present with the people you are doing the thing with.
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #32
Be a tag ally for friends of colour.
We have already spoken about the importance of white people doing a lot of the work in this race conversation and action [black, indian and coloured people were oppressed for decades if not centuries and so to expect them to show us how not to be racist feels like just another slap to an already bruised and bloody face] which is why this white guy is putting together a list of 40 tips he hoped will help us as white people to be better friends and people to those who do not look like us.
One way I have seen this work with some of my black, coloured and indian friends is by giving the invitation to tag me into posts, statuses and moments where prejudice or racism is happening which they are finding frustrating, tiring or plain exhausting. And it’s been great to see some of them use that.
In fact, there have been some occasions where people have tagged me in simply because they know I have been trying to deal with these things and because of the #NotOnOurWatch mentality and commitment I have made, even without the invitation. I love this. It feels like an easy’ish space for me as a white person to make a little difference.
It has been great watching it happen with other people as well – in fact, there are various people I tag in as well when I sense a different voice is needed – a more calmer voice than mine or a more shouty voice than mine. Deconstructing racism and prejudice is a community responsibility and the more people who are stepping in, the less each individual has to do.
Again, as with many of these points, there is nuance and complexity – this is not white man swooping in to save the day [white saviour complex] but rather me as a friend or fellow countryperson saying, “If you need me, I will try to have your back on this!”
Let this work itself out in conversations you have with your black, coloured and indian friends, but also let it be a simple invitation you offer: ‘Hey, if it ever feels helpful to tag me in a conversation that feels tiring/frustrating or you just don’t feel like facing, please know I am there.’ And then be there.
What kind of an ally are you to your friends who do not look like you?
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #33
i know, i know, this one feels a little bit self-promoting and Megan already wrote a blog post on this during this series, but after this morning’s time with the Streetscapes people in Cape Town which was simply a beautiful and stunning occasion that included fun word activities and story-telling and improv games and affirmations of others’ stories, i couldn’t not share this as a tip.
It was pretty incredible. Megan is super crazy gifted at running these kinds of things and the two of us tag team really well together [having Improv’d together for close to 20 years] and we have a workshop or series of adaptable workshops that can really go a long way to setting a transformation process in motion.
Companies have budgets for training and transformation and this is an area that not enough people are doing the work in. What was so powerful today was listening to a white woman comment on a story from a black woman who she had spent years working together with and was now only learning something huge and significant about her journey for the very first time.
This is the power of story-telling and improv as a platform, as people are invited into a process of stepping towards each other and sharing and listening and being able to understand and empathise a little bit more.
Talk to the person in your work whose responsibility this is and send them our way.
We want to help you tell stories and we want to help you identify ways of finding each other and transforming the workspaces you operate in.
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #34
Support black business where you can.
Those of us who grew up during apartheid were constantly fed from all sides the idea that white was better, especially when it comes to intelligence and skill.
You see it all the time in encounters with racist people – a quick go-to I have seen in more than a hundred comments on my blog is this idea that ‘white people have a higher IQ than black people’. For me, the idea of IQ means that you can handle a particular test well and you can talk to me sometime about how I believe MENSA [which I was accepted into] is a complete scam, but the bottom line is that it deals with a certain specific type of Intelligence of which there are many. And is very context related. And has nothing to do with who is more clever.
But what this typically means for someone like me is that the idea that white people are smarter or more skilled than black people is one I have to work at dismantling every day. As someone who was never – I don’t think overtly racist – I certainly was covertly racist, and still am in ideas and thoughts that clamour for my attention and need to be silenced.
I’m not sure it’s all that different for many people born after apartheid, because of how the influence of the older generations continues to affect mindsets and behaviours. But hopefully, it is getting less and will work itself out in time.
Part of the way I can dismantle that kind of thinking which was ground into me for decades through the laws and the media and the commentary is to actively choose to act against it. So if I need to go to the doctor and there is a choice between a black doctor and a white doctor, to choose the black doctor. This kind of action will in time start to reprogramme my mind.
Fortunately, when you get to hang out with people like Mahlatse and Lusanda Mashua and Ashley Visagie and Nadine Bowers Du Toit and Keegan and Lindsay Davids and so many more, that alone ridicules to the extreme any kind of idea that I am more anything simply because of my whiteness. Actively pursuing role models who do not look like you might be another helpful tip within a tip.
When it comes to supporting black business, this will likely require a bit more work and effort and research on your behalf. And it might be a gradual change in your life – as you have a need for a plumber or a mechanic or a paediatrician or whatever it is, keep an eye open for someone who doesn’t look like you. And especially when it comes to entrepreneurs, be intentional about supporting those you can.
Choose to support black business.
From my friend Steve Graybill [American]:
I was challenged recently when the least racist person I know self-described herself as racist. It was a true wake-up call for yours truly. And that takes me back some years when I was reading my first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. book “Strength to Love” and said “this guy is brilliant,” but then qualified it with “for a black guy.” I immediately realized that I had made that qualification and it was also another wake-up call. I like your suggestions here and love you are wrestling through this and we can share this journey in different but albeit similar contexts.
From June Knight:
If you don’t believe black excellence exists you won’t go looking for it, and if you do find it you’ll explain it away as AA policies, individual exceptionalism etc
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #35
Unlearn your stereotypes.
When penny sparrow made her disgusting public comment about monkeys on the beach in 2016, penny sparrow got taken to task and received the hugest backlash.
When adam catzavelos made his even stronger disgusting public comment about the absence of certain people on the beach, adam catzavelos got taken to task and received the hugest backlash.
Yes, in both cases there were some other people who were hurt by association, but there was never a sense of either of those incidents being blamed on white people as a whole.
When we were living in America, we witnessed a subtle but terrifying tendency in the media when it came to acts of terrorism and the general difference in reporting on stories about white people and black people.
When a muslim man committed a crime it was labelled a ‘muslim terrorist attack’ but when a white man committed a crime he was typically called ‘a lone gunman’. Even though the statistics show that white men are more responsible for acts of terror in America than brown muslim men.
Typically when a white shooter was written about in a newspaper there would be a picture of his college graduation with the idea that something went wrong in this success story moment to move him to that point. When a black person has committed a crime they look for the worst possible picture to share the narrative that this was the expected narrative from someone who is so obviously trouble.
A secondary bonus tip within a tip would be to encourage you to do some research or just pay attention to how the media speaks about white people and how it portrays black, coloured and indian people. Stereotypes and biases often help to confirm the things we already think and believe. So interrogate the media.
But just as none of us would like to be brushstroked in comparison to penny sparrow or adam catzavelos, so we need to realise that any negative experiences we have had with black, coloured or indian people do not reflect all black, coloured or indian people in the same way that our negative experiences with white people have not made us think that all white people are…
Actually this video that Vezi Mncwango shared sums up this whole tip so perfectly:
We need to unlearn the stereotypes we have in our heads and we need to pay attention to how the media portrays different people and what hidden messages are sometimes being sent.