My White Fragility




This is based on a Facebook piece by my hero and mentor, Patric Tariq Mellet. I adapted it because it really spoke to my heart and mind. May it do the same for yours.


No black person should be trying to nurse my white fragility, or be responsible for weaning me of racism or helping me to get over it.

Racism is a nasty, entrenched system that no white individual can change. Black people do not need white people to take up their cause. So, with that sobering knowledge, why bother to fight? The answer is that we need to tackle racism because it offends us. Racism offends me, yet it is enormously difficult to face up to the full depth of racism, from aberration and insult right through the entire construct up to and including the subliminal. This is where my fragility resides, because I cannot always muster brutal honesty about myself, my privilege and my society. I have met hostility and rejection from other whites when I just begin to scratch the surface. I have also sensed rejection from some black people who feel no need for my affinity.

At the heart of white fragility there are feelings of guilt and revulsion at being associated with the ugly creature that racism is, yet there are also feelings of wanting to belong but not easily fitting in, especially among loved ones. In my community I have some status, but when I reject whiteness, I am no longer able to offer myself in any leadership role, and I realize that near the front is where I am used to being.  Even going through all these difficulties, I do not know what it’s like to be a black person. I must listen instead of speaking, and be humble. This is a new role.

I begin to have an understanding of how courageous Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Denis Goldberg and the many other whites who thoroughly rejected whiteness had to be. Real anti-racism within the white arena is not for sissies. Most of us end up tinkering around the edges, in turn accepting and rejecting racism and whiteness. Challenges inevitably come from defensive or unapologetic racists or from impatient blacks. Then our response is to display huge anguish, or to take deep offence. Our white fragility demands that black people should love and accept us, and go easy on us, but the truth is it is not the job of black people to offer us a middle road – or a cushion.

Our white fragility desperately wants recognition for our efforts, but we have to grow up. We should all be anti-racist from within ourselves, for ourselves, and for the world we live in. It’s not something good that I am doing for another person who is black – that is just superiority kicking in. The mistaken desire for approval is the source of the false idea of reverse racism. It blinds us to where we are going wrong, and our bewilderment is an illustration of white fragility.

Tariq knows a young white man who is married to a black woman and who is a proud dad. When he gets upset hearing white people being criticised, Tariq asks him why he feels the need to defend them. He once answered that he looked like them, he was white. “Hans,” Tariq replied, “just think about it. You have started down a different road. Do you really define yourself as “white” and do you have to defend “whiteness”? You can’t do anything about your European cultural heritage, but that is not the same as an affinity with the so-called white race and its superiority. Go and think about it and be proud in yourself that you are trying to walk down a difficult road. Nobody is going to help you or cheer you on. You are doing this for yourself and for your family – and you are going to be challenged all round. Do this for yourself, because it’s right, and don’t expect a medal. Give yourself the right to challenge whiteness, and when you get shit back then you will find that you too will speak the language of anti-whiteness. Ditch the fragility, mate.”

So there we have it. That’s what I have to do with my fragility, just ditch it. I do not belong to the white “race” which is in any case a doubtful construct. I can liberate my mind. What Bob Marley sang is true for us as well, “None but ourselves can free our minds.”  I belong only to the human race.


To my braaiing Bro

On Freedom Day


So, I spent Freedom Day 2018 writing this. After all, I wasn’t invited to a braai and I wasn’t giving one, although I do love a braai as much as the next woman. I also love my friends and family, which is what makes it hard to write what I have to say, although some of them will, thank God, agree with me.

A public holiday – that’s great. It’s called Freedom Day. Yawn. Didn’t it use to be called something else? Let’s braai!

This is an example of white ignorance, because most people of colour know more about the day than whites do. If you feel indignant at my allegation of ignorance, I’m glad, because it means you know very well that it commemorates the day in 1994 when South Africa had its first democratic elections. That’s twenty-four years ago. It’s no big deal, because not much changed for us whites.  People who say that we are now discriminated against in some kind of reverse racism are simply wrong. They believe this sincerely, but it is actually a reaction to their loss of absolute power and privilege. Yet the privilege persists in a hundred ways.

For example, the “annual household income for blacks stood at an average of R92,893 compared with R444,446 for whites, according to Statistics South Africa’s Living Conditions Survey, conducted once every five years.”

It is still easier for a white man to find a job than for a black man – much easier, according to research.

“While many whites decry BEE as enemy number one when it comes to blocking career progression, the EEC’s data shows this to be false.”


Take a look at that and then remind yourself that we are 8% of the population and black people are 80%.

Yep because we have always been free, and taken it for granted as our right, we often perceive efforts to extend these rights to others as threatening and unfair, and we encourage one another to buy into this with complaints about imagined losses. I find I need to be brave to think about this. It’s tough to admit and tougher to correct, but we need to change our discourse, and those jokes we tell at braais.

What about those who have not always been free? Well, I guess they have grown accustomed to the rights of movement – without passes, of association with friends of their own choice, and of voting. But look around. Have they become used to driving better cars – yes, a handful… Have they become used to filling up a trolley with groceries? Observe who does that next time you are out buying your boerewors and lamb chops. Are you used to being treated fairly and respectfully? Do you think people of colour are? Just read the news…Did you see the one about the white guys assaulting a homeless man who was showering in Sea Point? They mockingly took selfies with him.

And talking about Cape Town, I wonder whether they will continue to uproot old inhabitants from Sea Point, Woodstock, Wynberg, Salt River and have them, to all intents and purposes, banished from their city? Look at the size of the “townships” and look at their populations, and then hang your head. For example, Masiphumelele covers 0.45 km ²/110 acres and houses about half of the population of the far south. The other half lives from Muizenberg down to Cape Point.

Well, they live there because they’re poor, and they’re poor because they are lazier and stupider than we are. Let’s be honest – that is the spoken or unspoken sub-text for white people. Now the interesting thing about poverty is that it makes you look lazy and stupid. I taught English in South Korea for ten years. It’s a flourishing country, the eleventh largest economy in the world. Yet, after the devastation of the Korean War, a State Department report warned that the South Koreans would always be dependent on the US because they were incapable of becoming truly independent!

Yet we often insist that we worked hard for what we have. And we often did. I did. But if hard work were the one requirement for success, black women would probably be the richest people in our country, and not the poorest. Think about how many of them get up at four and five o’clock to take public transport to their jobs, and return home late to start cooking, cleaning and caring there…

We have had generations of exposure to invisible education. You rode in a car with your grandparents, learning about driving just from observing and listening, usually effortlessly. The same goes for dinner talk; we absorbed facts about our world from geography to economics because our parents had a good education. And our visible education was disproportionately and shamelessly subsidised. On the other hand, many people of colour have suffered generations of deprivation of stimulation, not to mention poor nourishment and poor education.

And we did that. We passed laws, long before apartheid, but especially during apartheid, specifically discriminating against people of colour. These laws were brutally enforced, and dictated where they were allowed to live (usually far from the national and the city hubs), where they were allowed to look for work, which jobs would be blocked to them and reserved for whites, which (vastly inferior) schools they were allowed to attend. Yes, we did that, and more. Not you and I personally, but whites, and you and I personally benefitted from it.

So, what now? The first challenge we face is to make our privilege visible to ourselves. And by the way, whites all over the world need to do this, not just South Africans. It is a fact that the white club is international, but it will not last forever; these clubs never do. A big part of this is to realize that whites are not superior. The one race, the human race, produces outstanding individuals in any and every group, and if the whites seem to predominate it is because they have been advantaged for so long. Remember when people said that people of colour were incapable of playing rugby? Of playing golf or tennis? The academic achievements of people of colour against the odds are impressive indeed. Start observing them. We have so much to learn, and as we learn, we will find we modify our behaviour, our everyday responses, and start to work for a more just society.

But what’s in it for us? This is the best part – we have far more to gain than to lose. When access to decent living is granted to everyone, when resources are fairly distributed, we will live in an open, happier society where we need not fear one another. We have a long way to go, but it can be achieved, and South Africa can still become a rainbow nation for the world to be proud of.

Living Artistically

Daily Diversity Story 6

Living Artistically

Everyone in the Far South loves Michael’s story. How his artworks in sand were admired, and how angry people were when the police hounded him off the beach because he had a hat on the sand, hoping for donations. They said he needed a permit to do that.

There was an outcry on social media, and good people were galvanised into action. They got him a permit. Now he has his station in front of the Galley restaurant, and creates something different almost every day. He is self-taught, and has been doing this all this life, starting in the Eastern Cape. What talent he has, portraying wildlife of every kind, portraits, emblems to celebrate Fish Hoek’s centenary, even political satire.

When I was there the other morning, I asked if I could come into his enclosure for a photo with him. His friend took my phone and started snapping pictures while Michael helped me down the slope. There, he gave me a spade so that I could pretend I was also building artworks – such fun! An experience well worth the R100 tip, and I have the photos forever.

He’s up against the perennial problem of the artist – how to make a living. His art enriches our lives, and insofar as the passing public rewards him, we are also creating art, making living an art.

Below is something the humble Mr. Myekwa said (from The People’s Post this week).

Ps' Post

Really, Theresa and Trump?

Photos for my articleSo the talk about land expropriation without compensation in South Africa has prompted responses from Western countries. Their indignation is really interesting, even amusing. They quote international law and are outraged at the immorality of the idea. Because at this stage, that’s all it is – an idea, a principle that has been agreed upon. There are no detailed policy statements yet, except that President Cyril Ramaphosa did assure the nation that it would not involve “smash and grab tactics.” Yet many a white homeowner has responded by apparently believing that his house will be taken away. What paranoia!  Does it perhaps originate in that often subconscious phenomenon of white guilt?

The President also stated that it would be implemented in ways that would not damage the economy. Random expropriation would damage it enormously – imagine the capital flight alone. He also said that it would increase agricultural production. Smaller producers are likely to provide more organic foods, as well as competition for conglomerates. Farms will not collapse. President Ramaphosa also assured us that it would improve food security. You can’t do that without keeping all your farmers happy. Let’s give him a chance, because it is clearly quite wrong that private black individuals own only about 7% of land in South Africa. Already, the joint Constitutional Review Committee has said it will embark on an extensive public participation process in planning expropriation.

I suppose it is the “without compensation” phrase that disturbs people most. It does sound radical and scary, but it is only one of the methods for redistributing land, not the only one! Given the assurances, I don’t believe for a minute that land is to be taken on any significant scale. Surely, it will be in extreme cases where all negotiations break down through lack of good faith, or the impossibility of tracking down the owner, for instance.

However, the real cause of my amazement is that this is an old Western and South African habit. Why this new reaction? It was used from the first year when Van Riebeeck started elbowing Autshumao out of //Hui !Gaeb, where Cape Town now stands. Autshumao, nicknamed Harry, had established a business providing food and water to passing ships for decades. Autshumao was not a nomad, nor some pathetic Strandloper, but a cultivated leader who spoke fluent English – having been abducted to England in 1630 – as well as Dutch. His attempts to hold onto a share of the enterprise he began were politically astute, but no match for the ruthless Dutch with their guns. It is his statue that should be standing on the foreshore.

In the nineteenth century, settlers claimed that blacks were overcrowding their land and did not farm productively. They wanted the land taken away and given to them, and increasingly, this is what happened. 1n 1894, with Cecil John Rhodes as the chief draftsman, the Glen Grey Act was passed. It annexed the whole Transkei and Pondoland and declared how much land each African was entitled to, creating the first townships. The happy conclusion, said the law-makers, was that many black people would be forced into labour.

In that case, Britain supplied the leadership, not the indignation.

The trend continued, and in 1907 a group of Basotho chiefs went to London to ask for assistance, and before the notorious 1913 Land Act was passed, a deputation of five men went again, to beg for intervention. Their pleas were ignored. One of them was the quiet, kind, cultivated Sol T. Plaatje, who was fluent in eight languages. In 1919 the supplicants were back, at the Versailles Peace Conference, yet the expropriation without compensation was permitted to continue on a ferocious scale. So I’m afraid Europe’s current outcry also looks hypocritical.

Yet more legislation followed. In 1932, the Native Service Contracts Act reduced many share croppers to tenant labourers. There were separate laws aimed specifically at forbidding Indian people from owning or occupying land in “white areas.” Altogether, there were nine separate laws* before apartheid that dispossessed black people without compensation.

There was no perceptible outcry among Western nations.

Then Apartheid brought the preposterous idea of Bantustans and forced removals, among other horrors…

Everyone knows that the nice family in their house in a white area did not directly take a home from the man sleeping under the bridge near the beach. They paid for their house and are budgeting to pay off their mortgage. Yet we are all complicit. That’s why it’s complicated and why we need to wait to see what provisions are going to be made. So Theresa and Trump, don’t worry, this time the expropriation will be mild and limited compared to what you condoned in the past, tacitly or overtly.

The truth is, that homeless man doesn’t even want to dispossess anyone. He wants a roof over his head. In Cape Town, there is plenty of dispossession still going on, and no expropriation of white property. Quite the opposite, when one considers the evictees from all over the inner city living in the desolate Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier.  The tide hasn’t even turned yet; it’s just slowed down.

Agricultural land is is a complex issue. Many enlightened farmers have already started sharing their land and offering support to their new neighbours with equipment and experience. A new black farmer, whose family has been landless for generations, will naturally need training and support, or he will just be obliged to sell his land back to a white farmer in the end. That fact must be accommodated in the plans to be made.

In the question of urban land, of course Cape Town must become an integrated city, with fixed rental properties for people who have been impoverished. I for one want to have Cape people in Cape Town. I don’t want my city to become an exclusive playground for the wealthy and for foreigners – they can join us and appreciate the wonderful diversity of our population. Townships have been neglected for an indefensible time, and need to be upgraded to proper suburbs in their own right.

Autshumao arranged a place in Van Riebeeck’s fort for his niece, Krotoa, hoping to get inside information from her as he negotiated the future of the Goringhaicona. No doubt she supplied him with some intelligence, bright linguist that she was. But her life was unhappy, and ended when she was just 32. She had married a Danish surgeon, and left altogether eight children by white men. Her descendants number thousands of South Africans, including Paul Kruger, Jan Smuts and FW de Klerk.

Attempted land invasions in Zwelihle, Hermanus, and elswhere are not, as right-wingers are saying, proof that the barbarians are coming, but proof that our fellow citizens’ patience has been tried to breaking point. It is past time that we, along with Theresa and Trump, come down on the right side of history.

*- The Glen Grey act of 1894
– The Native Land Act 27 – 1913
– The Rural Dealers Licensing Act of 1922.
– The Transvaal Asiatic Land Tenure of 1930.
– The Riotous Assemblies Act 19 – 1930.
– The Asiatic Immigration Amendment Act of 1931.
– The Native Service Contracts Act of 1932.
– The Slums Act of 1934.
– The Development Trust and Land Act of 1936 (Act 18)

So, one fight more…                              Diversity Story 5


I did it again today. Oh no, don’t congratulate me. It was so easy.

There was a very thin, very dark man outside my bank in Fish Hoek. He had his goods displayed on a low wall at the entrance: stones, seeds and a small framed picture. There were about fifty ordinary little stones, selected for their pretty shape. The seeds were from the coral tree: plump and red with a black heart just peeping out. The faded picture was of a pretty garden path.

Why does no one stop? This man is as invisible to them as their own privilege. I think this blindness is a protection, because to look at his pathetic goods is to have your heart broken. Then he says, “I’m doing my best, Mama.” So like a Mama I ask him where he picked up the seeds, and say how beautiful they are. I tell him that I don’t want to buy anything today, but I want to give him a donation for good luck. His face melts with gratitude and lights up as he takes R20 from me. R20 – not enough for one of the cappuccinos I love. I used to think, along with thousands of others, that I couldn’t afford such a “big” tip, but I have repeatedly proved to myself that I can. R20 makes no difference to my well-being today, but it helps him, makes a big difference to him.

When I come out of the bank a while later, he places his hands in the traditional thank you position and bows slightly. Sweet Lord, forgive me. R20. I have to face it: this is cowardice. This is a feel-good escape. It’s not that I will stop doing it; it’s that it’s not nearly enough, and I don’t mean just the amount of money.

The battle is against systemic racism, and I have not engaged it head-on. Yes, my friends tell me that my actions, my example make a difference, but that too is a cop-out. I have to take my fight to where it won’t feel nearly so good. To the man in the hotel lounge, spouting a racist joke; to my own neighbourhood watch WhatsApp group; to facebook comments and bank queues…

“I was ever a fighter, so—one fight more, The best and the last!”
[from Prospice, Robert Browning]


Diversity Story 4: An Angel

Human statue

Racism is like an onion: you peel off a layer and there’s always another one. Systemic racism is like that, but the hard truth is, so is mine.

How easy it is to feel like the local top of the pops as a half-woke white. I notice people around me, see their circumstances, look in their eyes, give them lifts, cash and a friendly greeting. The result is that there are a number of car guards and homeless people who jump forward to greet me with a smile when they spot me.

See, I’m all right, a voice says. But these days I no longer just believe that voice, and the story I unpeel really hurts. Take Angelo. He appointed himself a car guard at my local beach, and I did my usual thing of tipping generously. The voice says, some other whites would shoo him away impatiently and point out that he doesn’t have the correct vest to be a “real” car guard. I’m one of the good whites, the voice says.

Angelo is eloquent, and he moves like a dancer. Once I had to apologise that I had come out with no cash at all. “Never mind,” he declared, “you are always in my heart.” I loved that. What affirmation.

Then one day I answered my front door and it was Angelo. He had recognised my car and rung the bell. He apologised for bothering me and told me how hungry he was because he had given everything he had to his daughter. I asked him to wait and came back with a half-filled shopping bag of groceries and fruit. “Do you have a can opener?” I asked. “Yes!” he said hopefully, and I added a tin of tuna to the bag. I pictured him enjoying his dinner under some nearby bushes, where he would sleep. I asked about his daughter, but all he said was that she was difficult to please, and he had so little.

We stood talking for a moment. He said he was an artist. He used face paint to decorate himself and then adopted poses on streets where there were tourists, as a kind of living moving sculpture. As he told me, he slid into a dramatic position, and his dance-like way of moving suddenly made total sense. I had seen artists like that at the Waterfront. His make-up was finished, he said, and he was saving to buy some more.  Occasionally, a kindergarten employed him for a few hours to entertain the little ones.

I wished him luck, and I never saw him again. I looked out for him, but he was gone, angelic, delicate Angelo. My true voice said I had actually just helped him to prostitute himself, telling a passing benefactor that she was always in his heart – and I took it as my due reward. Meantime, he was shelterless, longing to do something for his child, and to do it with dignity and art. How could I possibly have felt quite okay about leaving him like that? Next time, I promise myself, I will invite you into my house for a cup of tea while I pack your bag of food. Next time, I will take you to buy that damn make-up. I will make something for your daughter…

Angelo, you are always in my heart, and that is my punishment.













Diversity Story 3: Not winds of change

In England I once hired a car and felt a total idiot when I pulled up for petrol, and saw motorists helping themselves. Oh my gosh! I don’t know how… I had to ask a man at the pump next to mine how it worked, and he explained, although he looked at me as if to ask, Which planet are you from?

I haven’t forgotten since then how spoilt we are in South Africa. There’s someone to help you 24/7. You just sit in your seat like a queen and make requests. I believe that most people tip the attendants; I hope so, because our society, framed in accordance with the mighty racist machinery of the West, amplified in South Africa, means that pump attendants are neither white nor well paid.

I pulled up at a pump the other day and a man who had helped me before came smiling up to my window. “Just R50 unleaded, because it’s the end of the month,” I joked. He nodded sympathetically and proceeded to do that and clean the windows.  He asked about the oil and water, but I said they were fine. Then I tipped him R4-50 and joked again, “End of the month tip.” He laughed.

Then I drove up to the door of the mini-market and parked there to get a chocolate. When I came out, he waved energetically and said, “Go and stay at home, Mama. You feel this wind – it is too strong. Stay in the house, please Mama.” I waved back and thanked him.

His love, because that is exactly what it felt like, rubbed salt into the wound of my guilt. Yes, it was the end of the month and my cash was tight, but would I forgo my slab of chocolate in favour of a halfway decent tip? Obviously not. White privilege first.

What was so touching was that he saw me go “shopping” after pleading poverty, but that did not diminish his enthusiasm. He knew he would get no further tip that day, but bestowed the full benefit of his charm on me anyway. Coals of fire.

Here is a man doing a humble job because education and opportunities were never his to take, as they were and are for white youngsters. History has not been kind to him and his people. No, let me say it: my ancestors were cruel and exploitive towards his. He knows this, but has chosen to be forgiving and happy. He’s clearly a happy man. I do not blame any person of colour who is bitter, and I don’t blame anyone like him who decides to live life as best he can within the parameters so unfairly defined.

Sometimes we just need to stay out of the wind. Love you too.

Photo of Lennox by Kelly Shelton.