Denial of institutional racism while admitting it exists. Learning about sophisticated, cumulative silencing mechanisms at my Alma mater.




Fractals signify the interconnectedness of manifestations, patterns and cultures


How weird.  I wrote this for my ‘analysing oppression’ blog and accidently opened a page here.  And then I realised I may as well share this here too, as our activities are about ‘co-producing knowledge on denial’.

Joining the dots
These are dot points for further expansion and analysis, but it already tells a story. What’s missing at this point, is the emotional and somatic effects this more than a year long slow torture has had on me as I negotiated different emotions and spasms in my back, went off on retreat and came back resolute to render invisible violence and denial at my Alma mater visible.

Doublespeak, double framing
I have wondered for years about the process by which my alma mater and other organisations in society manage to maintain the centrality of whiteness even while implementing ‘transformation’ ‘africanisation’ or recently ‘decolonisation’ policies and practices.  That is, until I triggered my own dialogic process to try and convey my experience.

In this ongoing learning process, I have discovered the following –

  • As a black woman, I have an automatic ‘burden of proof’ that my story is even true.
  • This default ‘deficit of credibility’ is coupled with the unspoken threat by speaking up, I risk having myself and my healthy maladapted behaviour towards oppression being pathologised and even criminalisd.
  • With these two looming threats ever present, I have to contend with the automatic believability and ascribed trustworthiness of routine perpetrators who manifests institutional racism, but who deny it to themselves.
  • I have to deal with my visceral responses while stepping back to recognise that otherwise kind and friendly people are in denial about the roles they play in keeping white privilege intact.
  • I have to listen to the impact my resistant behaviour labelled as ‘angry, abusive and threatening’ has as the ‘presumed innocent’ perpetrator.
  • I have to apply meta-cognition when I realise that victim switching is occurring and that the triggers are being obscured as we converse.
  • The situation requires me to enlist the assistance of third parties.
  • I have to convince the third parties that what I am experiencing is not only my individual experience, but that it is institutionally patterned.
  • I have to live with the fact that other affected individuals find talking about their own victimisation as triggering.
  • I have to respect the fact that many people are trying to ‘rebuild’ themselves after their own primary victimisation by perpetrators, and secondary victimisation by a system that functions to protect perpetrators.
  • I discovered that the ‘confidentiality’ requirement by conflict resolution mechanisms is yet another silencing mechanisms.
  • Whether it is designed to silence or not, it serves the additional function of keeping the complainant isolated and alienated.
  • From this isolated and alienated position the victimised person has to muster all her strength to keep track of how the offending behaviour and the pattern it reveals, will be taken seriously by the organisation.
  • I have discovered that senior roleplayers send subtle messages that they don’t really want to ‘hear’ what you are saying via silencing devices such as (in my case) –
    • I am sorry that xyz happened to you, but I cannot help you with the social justice/political aspect of it.
    • I cannot read now, I am busy with xyz. Sorry things did not work out. Lets talk next month/year when things are calmer
    • I’m sorry my schedule is full, but you are free to take it up further.
    • Ignoring communication for weeks, even months and not realising the cost on the part of the complainant to either write or call yet again, knowing full well that you are now regarded as a ‘nuisance’ that will not go away.
    • I don’t even want to open your mail, your emails drip with anger.
    • Sorry I am on leave until xxx
    • Sorry, so and so is ill can we reschedule.
    • I can schedule you for (a month or so from now) as xxx is very busy with xyz
    • The perpetrator is indulged for two weeks to ask twenty questions about a dialogic process
    • Perpetrators have the right to refuse to attend a dialogic process
    • One perpetrator refused to attend and that part of the story simply fell away
    • During the third party facilitated dialogue I finally get heard and understood, apologies are made for sins past, sins present and every other possible offence. Tears flow, hugs all round.
    • Perpetrator seeks ‘legal advice’ and basically overturns the hugs and tears outcome.
    • I take it a step further.
    • I am diverted to a junior official and this is escalated to two senior officials.
    • Three months pass. Ping pong. Unanswered emails, unanswered telephone messages.  We are busy with xyz.
    • During this time: we have written to perpetrator and she says (the opposite of what I am saying)
    • Q: what are you going to do about that? A: we could do xxx about xyz (our mandate) but we cannot help with the institutional racism part. However, we need permission by decisionmakers to swing this re this particular aspect.
    • And what about the institutional racism? Your story has nowhere to land, but you can write to me.
    • Meeting is set up with decisionmaker on single aspect. As decisionmaker was made aware of the situation three months before; and as a snr person diverted me obo the decisionmaker as a result of the original mail, I see no purpose in telling my story again as the decisionmaker was copied into all mail since then and neither acknowledged nor responded.
    • After six weeks, when decisionmaker does not respond I respectfully request a response. Refer to those who maintain centrality of whiteness continue to do so uninterrupted.
    • Response – sorry cannot do deal brokered by snr non decisionmakers, nothing suitable available. Am not in a position to ‘apportion blame’ but thanks for your concerns, will take on board w.r.t. new strategic direction and continue work as alumnus.
    • Me paraphrased: Thanks for professional response. Reeling with shock that you do not even apologise for systemic failure of past year. ‘Neutrality in the context of injustice constitutes a choice for the status quo’.
    • After the shock wears off I write again paraphrased: Your first point is incorrect. I did not ask for anything. I am not on my knees begging whiteness for a place. I am unbowed and determined to continue with my self-funded research on invisible violence and denial in this society.  You are turning a blind eye.  I cannot comprehend this in the context of moves towards restorative justice.

      To be continued, expanded, analysed and edited … at the ‘right’ time.


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