What are you doing Friday night? Going to a workshop that interrogates whiteness.

Wait, what? And I am paying for it.

Those words might seem like they come out of an SNL sketch if South Africa had an SNL type show.  But we don’t. And it was the brave decision of eight white people to respond to an invitation that my friend and colleague Megan Furniss put out on Facebook:

I am Megan Furniss, a white person, living in Cape Town and I want to start talking about it to other white people. How would you like to end the year by starting the conversation? 

Few of us know how to navigate our whiteness and what it means, let alone understand the broader concepts of Systemic Racism and White Privilege. Mostly, the problems in South Africa and Cape Town have been so huge and challenging, we white people have been largely left alone in our ‘white spaces’ and have had to do very little shifting, learning, understanding and changing. 

Are the hairs on the back of your neck starting to stand up? Are you already taking this personally? Are you about to think or say, “But I’m not a racist.”? 
We are all somewhere on the spectrum of racism and privilege, just by virtue of being white. There is a lot of work to be done in unpacking what this means and how we, as white people, can stop complaining and take positive steps forward. 

I want to have these difficult conversations a lot, with as many white people as possible. I have designed an introduction workshop that is safe, creative, holding, generous and free of blame and reprimand. It is a workshop that relies heavily on the positive and team co-operative work of improvisation, and the listening and sharing of storytelling. It is a workshop that is for white people, by white people, before we even consider diversity. 

Ten of us, in a room, for over two hours, playing some delightful improv games to break the ice and start thinking about stories and then engaging with aspects of the whiteness story as they emerged.

Speaking with the Choir?

To be fair this felt largely like a room of people who got a lot of it. There was no need to explain white privilege or fragility, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t work to be done. And as Megan and i will both tell you, that work includes us as well. This is very much a journey of walking away from racism and a lot of that requires seeing who we really are mirrored in other people’s words, thoughts and actions.

It was super encouraging to hear as we went around the room at the end giving a 40 second feedback on our experience how many people [pretty much all of the group] wanted to continue this work [particularly with this group but maybe also with other people – which either speaks to the caliber of the people in the room or perhaps more likely to the level of work that Megan did in holding the space so well].

There is much to be done

It did feel like just a start. And i could definitely have used an extra hour last night as it felt like we got to the edge of being able to really push deeper with a group that felt relatively comfortable with each other. It felt significant that we had someone from Holland wrestling with her country having been one of the colonisers while the people back home don’t seem interested in the conversation at all. And a number of older people [like myself] who grew up during apartheid and so held both sides of the story in a different way to those born after 1994.

All in all the work has begun. There will be more of these workshops and i imagine some form of longer running programme, because it is evident that this work is so overdue.

“What difference can we make? We can only change ourselves”, was the cry from one participant, and if that is true [which to varying degrees it may or may not be] then we had better get a move on at doing the crucial work of starting there and seeing what else might happen elsewhere.

If you would like to find out more or sign up in advance for the next one [at R250 this was a steal] then get hold of Megan at megan@improvision.co.za