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Some spaces exclude white people, and that’s a good thing

The Sunday morning after Mumford & Sons’ first Pretoria show, I woke up to a newsfeed and timeline going berserk — but about Beyoncé rather than banjos.

I’m not part of the Beyhive, but I watched the Formation video out of curiosity. It’s incredible. What struck me most, though, was the fact that I felt excluded.

I don’t mean that as a complaint. But it was surreal to realise, as a white person, that not only are there things that don’t include me, but that this is an unusual experience. I hadn’t felt excluded before.

This was the third time in recent weeks that I’d had a similar experience. I belong to a feminist Facebook group that prioritises intersectionality, and which recently instituted a new policy: Any POC (person of colour) may post something in the group and mark the thread for POC only. In other words, white members may not participate in that thread. This is done not to exclude or divide, but to create additional safe spaces for POC within the group.

Then, a number of women I know attended the recent For Black Girls Only (FBGO) event in Johannesburg. There were a lot of pictures on social media; it looked like a frankly fabulous event.

My immediate reaction to all of these events was, “I want to be a part of that!” It dovetailed with my interests; I like to engage, to participate. But this had nothing to do with me. It was not for me.

After watching Formation, I wanted to say something. I wanted to comment on police brutality and Black Lives Matter and the politics of black women’s hair, to show that I understand, that I’m in touch and aware and woke.

Instead, I sat on my hands and shut my mouth. I sat with that discomfort, and tried to figure it out.

Because understanding the references to Black Lives Matter and Blue Ivy’s baby hair doesn’t mean that I can relate to them. And this song and this video were so patently personal that there was nothing I could say that would add to the conversation. The only thing a comment would have done was to say, “Hey! I’m here! Don’t forget about white people!”

So I tried to interrogate my feelings of exclusion. The point is this: As white people, we are used to being included virtually everywhere. We assume that everyone will make space for us; a space that is friendly to white people is the default. We are often unaware that these same spaces are unfriendly to people of colour.

Look at the lily-white Oscar nominations, for example. I’m guessing that the people defending the white actors who were nominated as simply being the most deserving strongly overlap with the people who complain that a song like Formation excludes them. It’s just too black!

Screengrab from "Formation".
Screengrab from “Formation”.

Same thing with an organisation like the Black Lawyers’ Forum. You’ve seen and heard the comments, right? “Why is a black organisation acceptable, but a White Lawyers’ Forum would be racist? It’s reverse racism!” And so on, and so forth.

The fact that there are people complaining about something as simple as a song, or an event like FBGO that is unapologetically black, is proof that they are necessary. Effort is required to make a space safe for POC; the same effort is not required for white people because most of these spaces are already safe for us. In fact, most spaces are already for white people only – but instead of being overt, it is in the subtext, hidden behind many layers of “freedom”.

Feeling excluded, in this context, is a good thing. It gives us a miniscule taste of something that people of colour have experienced their entire lives. It means that people are doing the work of creating safe spaces for everyone. Complaining about it is a way to centre white feelings over black experience.

I’m well aware that I’ve spent a significant part of this piece writing about how I feel, which might be considered a contradiction. But what I’ve tried to say is that, when it comes to historical exclusion, my feelings don’t matter. Because they have always mattered. In excess.

We need to take a step back. Maybe get in formation, and better yet, get information.


  • Louise is a freelance journalist and writer living in Johannesburg. She is particularly interested in topics surrounding social justice and gender rights. She's on Twitter as @frrlou.


  1. TheNewFreedomFighter TheNewFreedomFighter 12 February 2016

    So, correct me if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here, what you are saying is that in order to attempt to rectify the past exclusion or appease black peoples’ anger about it, you think that the right thing to do is to allow black people to exclude you because you are white? If so then I disagree totally. We (white people) allowed our kind to exclude black people and that was a travesty that has had significant and lasting detrimental implications for all. I would argue that by tolerating a reverse exclusion in whatever you means by “space” you are just perpetuating the black white divide and the detrimental implications will prevail. This won’t benefit anyone in the long run – it keeps us apart – and as we all know when groups define others as in versus out (groups) the potential for conflict is just under the surface. The only time where your mind set may be relevant is if black people, as in Zimbabwe, were intent on effectively “decimating” the white race both in number and economic impact, in which case, go right on girl, decimate yourself.

  2. Isabella vd Westhuizen Isabella vd Westhuizen 12 February 2016

    This is a bit feeble to say the least
    Why should anybody be excluded from any where

  3. Richard Richard 12 February 2016

    Strange that South Africans think they are Americans. They pay more attention to what is happening in the US than in their own country. I mean, there have been far more BLACK deaths at the hands of BLACK police in South African than blacks killed by white police in the USA. Surely that should be your concern?

    I agree that people should be able to socialise and create clubs as they see fit. That means people of a certain elevated intelligence (MENSA) can do so and exclude others, for instance, or people of a particular religion or ethnicity. Private clubs of course are different to voting rights in national political elections and other forms of exclusion. There are several of these already in South Africa, such as the Black Lawyers Association (you talk about “lily white” in reference to the Oscars, would you talk about “pitch black” in reference to this grouping?) and in the UK there are racially-constituted forums such as the MOBO awards (Music of Black Origin) which oddly enough includes music created on pianos and using non-African music notation.

  4. Pan Jandrum Pan Jandrum 13 February 2016

    NFF don’t you think that your own words, “…..allow black people …”, indicate an inherent white arrogance?

  5. Pan Jandrum Pan Jandrum 13 February 2016

    Louise, what intrigues me about this growing trend of ‘black people only’ gatherings and groups is that they mostly tend to be ‘women only’.

    My niece recently experienced this exclusion at UCT when she joined a group of women students in discussion. Some were her friends. As she sat down one of the students turned to her and quietly pointed out that they were all ‘POC’ and were debating/sharing their experiences of sexual abuse. She was gently asked to leave, and to please understand that her presence would inhibit their freedom to talk honestly amongst themselves.

    Initially my niece was shocked. Hurt. But later, after talks with some of her friends, she came to understand why her presence could inhibit these women of colour from sharing experiences of personal abuse that are way more prevalent in black culture than white society.

    I suspect that, for women of colour, these exclusive gatherings enable them to develop a sense of self-worth, and strength through their sisterhood of shared experiences. I believe these gatherings enable young women to confront, and finally overcome generations of dual-oppression … firstly as black people, and secondly as women. Is this not something to celebrate?

  6. 13 February 2016

    Okay, the sister has really showed me a different picture. Super great article. I wish all South Africans would read it and see the same picture I saw in it… Thanks LOUISE FERREIRA

  7. Charlotte Charlotte 13 February 2016

    TheNewFreedomFighter is correct. You are endorsing ‘Reverse-Racism’, when we are supposed to be a non-racial, equal opportunity democracy.
    Can you imagine if we (i.e. you and me, white people) decided to have a F.W.G.O.(For White Girls Only) event- fabulous or not.? There would be an outcry of ‘racism’ across the country, and with the new laws they are threatening to implement, we might even be facing jail sentences.
    Yet, you endorse this hypocrisy which constitutes obvious Reverse Racism and manifests across many spectrum’s in this country. …Can you imagine a ‘White Business Council’ or a ‘White Management Forum’ being legitimised?

  8. Isabella vd Westhuizen Isabella vd Westhuizen 13 February 2016

    Why do you feel excluded form Beyonce’s video may I ask

  9. GeorgeIvanovich GeorgeIvanovich 14 February 2016

    I did not watch Beyonce’s video, but had seen excerpts of it. I don’t really know what to make of it, whether it is divisive, exclusionary, racist, anti-police or pro-black….till I watch it I shall reserve my comment.
    However I find the whole Black Lives Matter (BLM) matter to be a sham and hypocritical. It seems to me bmo only happens when a white cop shoots and kills a black person, whether it is done defensively, or to prevent a crime or stop a crime in action or prevent injuries to others. There are many, many more black lives taken by black people. Recently two murderers shot many rounds of bullets into a black person’s home and killed a black baby in the USA. THERE WERE NO PROTESTS BY THE USUAL SUSPECTS. The messages are: it’s OK for a black in America to kill another black (even an innocent baby); and ho-hum this is normal for and among blacks.
    Rap artist Minaz recently accepted $2MM for a performance from a black billionairess and praised the fact that she was black and a woman to boot. She did not know, or care to know, or ignored the fact that this woman’s father was another one of those “presidents for life” and all that wealth was illegally taken from her countrymen who are desperately poor. Message: black lives don’t matter in Africa, as long as blacks rob blacks and I benefit from it.
    And what is with Beyonce sporting blonde hair? What’s next? Blue eyes?
    Let’s move to the next phase of the social evolution : a post racial society, where we truly accept people for who they are. Judge them by” the contents of their character and not the colour of their skin.”

  10. Sifiso Xolile Ndlovu Zgwanyanw Sifiso Xolile Ndlovu Zgwanyanw 15 February 2016

    I was in a gallery during the week, the white lady attending to the customers came up to me asking if I needed help with something, to which I replied that I was finding the artwork quite fascinating. She then offered me a great tip, that if I go outside of the mall behind the shops close to where the taxis are, the art there would be much cheaper! Many will interpret this whichever way suits them but I know what it is.

    On the same day, while trying to print some documents in a very upscale copy shop, a not so nice white man there, in a dismissive manner, informed me that he had a virus on his network so he could not offer me services, much to the bewilderment of a very sweet young white college student who asked the not so nice man why he had no problem assisting her minutes before I walked in? To cut the long story short, there were some brief exchanges between all of us, leading to the young lady helping me to find another shop elsewhere.

    The 3rd episode, on the same day, was in Woolworths – clothing section; I asked for an extra bag from a black lady behind one of the counters, I approached her confidently because I saw how she was so helpful and so friendly to a white lady needing assistance. I could not believe it when the lady reacted very differently to me as she rudely denied me the extra bag unless I show proof that I had purchased something in that shop.

    Many black people will relate to such things happening to them often, the system of exclusion is very much everywhere; we experience it daily. The point to take away here is that there is a system that excludes black people, sometimes at the hands of some black people and sometimes at the distaste of some white people.

    At the end of the day, as a black man, I know what I go through daily.

  11. sdjnsjnsa sdjnsjnsa 15 February 2016

    Oh dear. So you want Apartheid? We should separate ourselves?

  12. grant grant 15 February 2016

    The problem with all of this is that when a principle is wrong, it is wrong. You start getting into all sorts of trouble when you make exceptions. So if I have shown up to the FBGO event and tried to enter, they would have had to exclude me. I would have asked on what basis and they would have said my race and my sex; I was not black or female enough. I would have asked how they knew that and they would have had to resort to apartheid style arguments; skin colour, hair type etc. to show me to the door. I would have been racially profiled and excluded from an event in my own country that I may have had a genuine interest in.

    Would it have been so terrible to have the event without the militant exclusion? Almost no white people, men and other offending types would have known about it or bothered to attend. It would have caused no harm and done loads of good. Why not include in the discussion instead of narrow the debate and dialog. Surely the end result is to expand the reach of this thinking to all people or is it the start of a secret cult like the Broederbond?

    Nobody argues the need for these discussions and the need to uplift previously disadvantaged people but do we really need to resort to the dangerous practice of racial profiling to achieve this? And what happens when the people who already have political power and are rapidly accumulating economic power decide to keep these events and institutions and way of thinking in place way past the point where they are justified? In all of history is rare that those in power will decide to scrap an advantage accruing to them. Who decides when the time has come? When you put aside higher principles in favour of a goal it is seldom a story with a happy ending. Those principles are either sacred or they are not. If they are not who are we and what did we learn from our past? Apartheid started with the same reasoning.

  13. TheNewFreedomFighter TheNewFreedomFighter 15 February 2016

    Yes! White people were (during apartheid) and, in many cases today, still are arrogant. I’m not sure that it is always intentional arrogance, though, because when an attitude becomes entrenched in one’s world view it’s hard to objectively recognise it. Does this mean it is inherent in white people to be arrogant? No. To argue that it is inherent for white people to be arrogant would be an equivalent racial stereotype to many of the “Blacks are always…{some stereotype}” kinds of statements/beliefs that pervade many people’s attitudes.

    For me, the solution doesn’t lie in disparate groups but in diverse groups.

  14. TheNewFreedomFighter TheNewFreedomFighter 15 February 2016

    Interesting! I’m sure your experiences are soul destroying. Yet, as a white person I often feel exactly the same. In my local municipality for example, I stood at an information kiosk to ask a question. The black attendants were busy eating chicken and chips and their hands were full of oil and food. They asked me to wait, which I duly did without complaint around the corner. Imagine my surprise when they served the next black person that came along. When I asked why, they gave me an unmistakable stare of hate and simply ignored me. They seem embarrassed when I confronted them but that had no visible effect on how they treated me. I also frequently find the folk who pack your groceries to be very rude towards me. I’m a very self-sufficient type so it wouldn’t worry me in the least to pack my own bags or find my own parking or fill up my car with petrol, but I tolerate their service because they clearly earn from it. I mostly greet them in a friendly manner but sometimes I walk away feeling insulted by their cold stare or half turned body as they engage someone else to avoid me. The signs of (dare I say) hate or intolerance or indifference are just as easy to see as the signs you’ve pick up on in your experiences.

    Our experience of bigotry in SA is a shared one.

  15. Mark Hadfield Mark Hadfield 15 February 2016

    What a bunch of nonsense. A post racial society means people are not excluded because of their race. Don’t tell me that because of the injustices of the past, it’s ok to exclude white people now. You are truly misguided, and the people creating ‘POC only’ spaces should be ashamed of their hypocrisy.

  16. Kyle Everett Kyle Everett 15 February 2016

    “This is done not to exclude or divide, but to create additional safe spaces for POC within the group.” Perhaps the intent is not to exclude or divide but by your own admission the effect is precisely one of exclusion.

    “Because understanding the references to Black Lives Matter and Blue Ivy’s baby hair doesn’t mean that I can relate to them.” True, but it doesn’t follow that a lack of relation prevents you from contributing to the discussion of said topics. Your own views as a white woman bring an important element to the discussion. Surely any truly-fruitful discussion should seek to involve all perspectives equally?

    “We are often unaware that these same spaces are unfriendly to people of colour.” So the solution is not to rid these spaces of their exclusionary nature but to create new exclusionary spaces which make white people feel excluded? I simply can’t agree with that.

    “Same thing with an organisation like the Black Lawyers’ Forum. You’ve seen and heard the comments, right?” Ah, but the devil is in the detail. The BLA allows white members to join it. It seeks to advance the needs of a previously disadvantaged group without deliberately excluding white people as incompatible with its views and goals.

    “Effort is required to make a space safe for POC; the same effort is not required for white people because most of these spaces are already safe for us.” Creating new exclusionary spaces does not make the existing ones safe for POC. Furthermore, by that logic if POC were to one day have enough safe spaces it would be okay to then start creating exclusionary spaces against them because they already have enough safe spaces. I must disagree. An exclusionary space is wrong due to its nature, not its number.

    “Feeling excluded, in this context, is a good thing. It gives us a miniscule taste of something that people of colour have experienced their entire lives.” We don’t need to literally be excluded in order to understand what exclusion must be like. Empathy is incredibly powerful tool most humans possess. Interesting that the same POC who demand it of others ignore its efficacy when it suits them.

    “Complaining about it is a way to centre white feelings over black experience.” And yet you have no issue with the reverse?

    “But what I’ve tried to say is that, when it comes to historical exclusion, my feelings don’t matter. Because they have always mattered. In excess.” So your solution to making black feelings matter is to make white feelings not matter? Surely the equitable solution lies in making black feelings matter -just as much- as white feelings.

  17. DavyH DavyH 16 February 2016

    What’s the big deal? It’s not as though these are legislated exclusions from public areas or events. Let people have their own space.

    Just make sure it applies to everyone, equally.

  18. Dimitri Saffendis Dimitri Saffendis 16 February 2016

    Nope, reverse racism is still racism.

    Also – travel a bit and you’ll see that racism is not just a one way black victim/white perpetrator thing – its all the permutations

    And lastly – Beyonce sucks…you’ve been duped people!

  19. Pan Jandrum Pan Jandrum 16 February 2016

    These young women did not exclude my niece because they doubted her capacity for empathy.

    They asked her to please understand that her presence would inhibit their freedom to talk honestly amongst themselves about their experiences of sexual abuse.

    And I think I understand why they would feel inhibited: the sexual status of black women is way below that of white women.

    You need to have more respect and empathy for the needs of others, Kyle.

  20. Isabella vd Westhuizen Isabella vd Westhuizen 18 February 2016

    White people put up with that sort of thing on a daily basis in the government service. Their motives are suspected. They are always though to be trying to undermine the service in some way
    They are always in the wrong
    You guys have hoped reface all this with your new rail hierarchy

  21. Isabella vd Westhuizen Isabella vd Westhuizen 18 February 2016

    Back in the day there were gentlemen clubs in London
    No jews, no Catholics, no Women, No Irish
    Those White Anglo Saxon Protestants were simply creating a bit of free space for themselves where they could share their lived experience

  22. Martin Hedington Martin Hedington 20 February 2016

    Just for a moment, change that header to ‘Some spaces exclude black people, and that’s a good thing”. Now, how does that feel?

  23. ian shaw ian shaw 25 February 2016

    Isabella, it is quite possible to create a space in your own mind which excludes influences that you don’t like.

  24. ian shaw ian shaw 25 February 2016

    Martin, I am not surprised.

  25. Luke Luke 3 March 2016

    So, one is brought up in a PC environment where exclusion is wrong, where racial segregation is wrong, where elitism is wrong, and now basically it turns out that wasn’t really the case at all. It’s only white exclusion that is wrong, white racial segregation and white elitism. Well perhaps now we can breathe a deep sigh, the truth of the matter is finally out.

  26. TheRealMidnite TheRealMidnite 6 March 2016

    Congratulations on (somehow) never “feeling excluded” until you watched a Beyoncé video. For us mortals, it’s a far more frequent occurrence.

  27. TheRealMidnite TheRealMidnite 6 March 2016

    Sounds pretty much like the treatment I get whenever I walk into any government building.

  28. Corey Corey 30 August 2018

    No kidding, on all levels she’s awful.

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