I shouldn’t expect any kind of thanks (props) for rationalizing the obvious: I am a white-skinned man that is part of a global society that privileges me. I am a product of a history. I cannot escape my skin. Any discomfort I feel with any of this cannot be blamed on anyone else.
I cannot be blamed for being privileged, only for acting privileged, in a manner that: dehumanizes others; disadvantages others; degrades others; exploits others; disempowers others; or harms others. While this might seem obvious, it’s in the unpacking of just how embedded whiteness is in the global structures that maintain inequality, poverty and social injustice, that the pill takes on a truly bitter taste.
As Samantha Vice has written about white people, “We have an enduring need to think well of ourselves, so it is deeply uncomfortable to be told we should feel ashamed of ourselves.”
I am trapped in my skin, but my trap comes with comforts not afforded to others in a similar situation. If ever my skin disadvantages me, I have avenues of recourse, escape or redress that are not afforded to others. This nullifies any real disadvantage I consider myself to be in.
My recent work “I to I” with Kat Francois, didn’t teach me anything new about race. What it did teach me was to approach my understanding from a different angle. I learned to stay silent for just long enough to catch myself thinking. I learned to try to use that moment to examine the position I was in, in relation to the move that I was about to make. So I didn’t learn anything new about race, I just began to examine it from a position that tried to remove what I thought I already understood.
For the first time, I managed to consciously look in, to not hide away from the many truths about my skin.
I discovered how I felt deprived of any real pride in my ancestry.
I was honest about loving Hip Hop for giving me some sense of legitimacy, for letting me feel like I wasn’t the same as “other white people”.
I went from being angry at Kat for lack of a more nuanced understanding of South African society, to defending her against white people who thought that I’d “Let her off too lightly”, back to being angry again, angry with myself for trying to defend her unnecessarily. That was her point, “Don’t speak for me, you’re just doing what you always do.”.
Not a day goes by now where I don’t argue with her in my head. That was the gift of her performance. I have a constant character in my brain that I can butt heads with without either of us bruising too badly. At some level, I feel that I also provided a kind of foil for her, a white skin that she could spar with, who wasn’t going to retreat to any of the safe spaces with the jump-in jump-out nature of most critical white race engagement. She still has a lot to learn about the differences between whiteness in South Africa and in the UK, but she is sharp enough to know that they exist. I’m no expert on them either.
I got very depressed over the two-week period of producing this work, but I’m glad that we got to be truth-seekers and truth-speakers together.
I’m still pretty angry, but I’m learning to listen hard, to my own thoughts, before acting on them. It’s making it increasingly harder to pick up a pen again, but for the first time in a long time, I’m in no rush.