Talking About Racism: Conversational Learning
Remember who the true enemy is.
I had a post schedule and everything for the next few weeks, and then my mate Nana-Adwoa from Dope Black Mums came along and shot that in the fricking foot. You know when someone says ‘it’s not you I’m angry with’ what they mean is ‘I like you…please don’t fuck it up.’ Well, this was one of those times. George Floyd. Black Lives Matter. Two homeschool mums pinging back and forth on WhatsApp; one white, one black. Here goes…
6pm and I’m listening to her podcast, thinking: ‘Shit, that’s me.’ No wonder she’s fuming. Perhaps not just with me, but with everything. Let me explain. I was raised near Cornwall in a rural and remote part of the UK where I honestly had only met one black person in my life by the time I started school. Her name meant ‘girl born on a Saturday’ and I was in love with everything she did and said; partly because she was a year older than me and partly because she was so…different from me. But you couldn’t say that in the 80s and 90s. It was all about not seeing the difference. It was about being ‘colourblind’, as popularised by the song of the same name. Coffee black and egg white. Counting Crows. Not that it had anything to do with race, but we thought it did. I’m sorry if that’s not how to approach things now.
Back to the pod. And it’s not just the ‘I don’t see colour’ stuff that makes me squirm, but the bit about what we can all do to help, and the importance of talking to our kids about racism. That’s a damn good point. Why don’t I address it more often? A few years ago, we moved out of London into a rural and, we discovered, very white area. Race doesn’t come up every day here because there isn’t much diversity. My husband’s waist-length salt and pepper beard and our fierce bickering outside the local post office in French is about as Brexit as it gets. But that’s not really it. I think, if I’m honest, that I fall into the category of people who feel in their hearts that everyone is equal, whose stomach does a flip every time that image of George Floyd being suffocated pops up on a newsfeed, but who feels that all the noise and anger doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. I am cautiously optimistic that I’m wrong this time, though.
So anyway, I went with their advice. The ladies at Dope Black Mums, that is. I decided to talk to my kids about what was happening in the world and it went like this:
‘So, you know, M_____’s mum is quite sad at the moment? I am too, actually.’
‘Why’s that?’ (frowning, munching toast, heads up)
‘Well, a man was killed by a police officer. He was a black man.’
‘Oh. What did he do?’
‘Nothing. Well, something very small.’
‘But that’s not fair.’
‘How did the person kill him?’
‘It looks like he stopped him from breathing for…too long.’
‘Thats, that’s awful! But, did the policeman know he was hurting him? Did he make a mistake?’
‘I don’t think so. I think he used way too much force. I think he was bullying him because he was black. Which actually happens quite a lot. That’s why M_____’s mum is upset.’
‘Oh, my god! They must be terrified.’
‘Yeah. Yeah, I guess so.’ (feeling strange, like: why didn’t I think of that? I only saw the tragedy, not the fear. Fuck.)
‘But mummy, I really like M_____’s family. I will protect them. I won’t let anything happen to them.’
‘I don’t think they want that, baby.’
And that’s when it hit me. Maybe that’s exactly what M____’s family do want. And everyone. Someone else to actually fight their battle for once, because they are sick and tired of doing it alone. I don’t think I’m a racist. But I do think I’m complacent. So revolted by the idea of playing the white saviour and so numbed by the sheer amount of shit in the world, that without realising it, I’ve backed myself into a corner that I honestly didn’t see coming. The indefensible defensive position of: ‘I believe in equality, I treat people equally, I won’t allow for discrimination around me or my kids or in my classroom, and if everyone in the world was the same, we wouldn’t have a problem.’ But we do have a problem. So I’m going to have to rethink my line.
Why am I writing this? Because I am not a Black Rights activist. Wait, hear me out before you pounce. Black Lives Matter is incredibly important and I agree that now is the time; I think, just maybe, that there’s currently enough dynamite in the mix to get this really burning and I want to see that happen. I’m doing things I hadn’t thought of before, like Googling how to get involved. But that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing it because my friend is hurting and I should have her back. I should turn up with a baseball bat and not let anything happen to her family. I shouldn’t find excuses.
I don’t have many friends, which is the way I like it. So, when I say she is my only black friend, that’s because I only have – like – three or four friends. People who matter, I mean; not a headcount. I’m naturally a bit reclusive, so when I see a spark in someone, I tend to chase it. That’s how I ended up with my husband; bad-boy-turned-city-techie who grew up next to La Castellane on the outskirts of Marseille. And that’s how I met Nana-Adwoa. She looked fun and she sounded smart; that’s enough for me. Look, the world really is full of crap. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The rise in high-profile disappearances in China. The water crisis facing South Africa. George Floyd. What makes anyone pick up a pen, or a baseball bat, and get involved? I think it is friendship. I think it is knowing someone who is worth knowing and who, when it comes down to it, can give you a tiny toe up the ass when needed. Because the world needs human connections to thrive, not hash tags and hate.
We all need someone like M____’s mum. A family we really want our kids to grow up knowing. A reason to Level Up (thanks, Ciara!)