My husband and I often joke that when he gets on the bus or the train, the seat next to him is pretty much always the last one to get taken. Except it’s not a joke, it’s his reality. He claims not to mind, because it gives him a lot more space than the average commuter has. But, he did mind the day when a little old lady saw him coming, grabbed her purse tightly and hustled to cross to the opposite side of the road. He was dressed in a suit, walking to the bus stop on his way to work.
A year ago I was asked to record some video learning modules for a former client. On the day of recording I got to their offices and was asked “Is your hair going to be like that for the recording?”. Spoiler alert: it was, because that’s what the hair that’s on my head looks like. Ironically the video modules I was recording were on Diversity and Inclusion. But that’s a whole other story.
I have consoled a black friend who had the community police called on him at a park where he was playing with his bi-racial son who looks predominantly white. Quick thinking, he showed pictures on his phone to convince them that the child was in fact his own while everyone around stopped what they were doing and looked on in silence. He was shaken, embarrassed and angry. But not as angry as my white friend whose son looks predominantly black. When he was a baby she was out and about with him in the buggy, when a lady came up to have a peek. On getting a closer look at the sleeping baby, the lady shook her finger and told my friend that she should be ashamed before spitting on the ground. My friend went home and cried that day. But as she told us the story months later, she was steely-eyed because that was just the first. By then she was used to the dirty looks and snide comments.
Just before lockdown, I was travelling for work and a black child in school uniform tried to get on the bus. He didn’t have his student pass though, so the driver didn’t let him on. Fair enough. But I watched as 2 stops later, a white child without a student pass was let on without debate.
All those stories are minor ones. Small things. Other than hurt feelings, no one has any scars and we are all alive to tell the tale. But I have many many more stories like this and could tell them all day. And I’m sure many black people could do the same. Prejudice, privilege and racism in the UK maybe isn’t as in-your-face as it is in the US, but it is there. I live it. The fact that no one is dying, doesn’t make it ok.
Now that I’m a mother, raising black sons this is something that consumes my thoughts. At the moment they are tiny, but one day soon they will be big, strong, black men.
I intend to give my children every privilege possible and keep them safe for as long as possible. But I also have to send them into the world. And as I’ve illustrated above, the world isn’t always kind.
My future will involve some tough discussions as I explain to my sons that they live by different rules. There is no room for error, they must walk the straight and narrow and stay out of trouble. Because where there is trouble, the consequences for us are often different than the consequences for others. How will I explain to them that their skin colour, something out of their control, is the reason for different standing and treatment in society?
Yesterday morning I woke up and #WhiteLivesMatter was trending on Twitter along with #BlueLivesMatter, a deliberate misunderstanding making a mockery of our message. To be clear, the Black Lives Matter movement’s message is not now and has never been that only black lives are important. We are screaming that our house is burning down and asking for help to put out the fire. That doesn’t mean that your house isn’t important or doesn’t matter. We’re saying right now at this moment in time, can we make this house – the one that’s on fire, a priority. Or put another way:
Is what we’re asking honestly so unreasonable?
I’ve written this post because I wish for my sons a world full of allies. Racism is happening every day all around us. It is real and it’s in our community. It’s something that we will always have to fight against, and the black community cannot do it alone. We need everyone to open their eyes to privilege, prejudice and discrimination. When you see it, call it out to help stamp it out. Don’t stay silent. Use your voice. Future generations are depending on us all and it’s within our collective power to have the discussions and take the actions that bring about change. I will not sit on the sidelines. I will not be silent. I am ready to work and I hope you join me.
Thank you…. ALL of this resonates with me SO MUCH.
I found this article interesting too: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/03/racism-george-floyd-britain-america-uk-black-people?fbclid=IwAR1460esVNzJ_St4gHJyO5z1mF3i_qE1Lxpwz29l8u6TRftfZbOvleRfZuM
Thanks so much for coming to share Julie! I read that article and am so glad to point to and link to it here so others can read and continue to learn.
It’s so sad to see in the so called developed world people of one ethnicity have to be protesting so much for their rights to opportunities. It seems as though COVID-19 has taught some persons nothing.
Hi Dana, thank you so much for sharing your story and reminding people like me, a white and privileged person, that I have to stand up and be an active, loud ally to all the black community, in the UK and other countries. I am disappointed to see so few comments in support of your post, although your post is trending on LinkedIn, which is great. However, it is not enought to simply Like the post on LinkedIn. It is not enough to simply read your story and move on. You deserve the support of us all and the recognition from all of us, of the importance of your message and the call to action we must respond to. I hope, in just a small way, my personal support for you and your family and to the wider black community, from me and my family, is the start of our voices coming together that will be a crescendo in the near future and the alliance you and I are seeking will be real and lasting, meaningful and beneficial. I give you my pledge to try to make a positive difference and will not be silent.
Paul thank you so much for your message and your public declaration of support. I believe that people are still thinking about with the “right” thing is to say, and worried about saying the “wrong” thing publicly. The reason I say this is that I’ve received many direct and personal messages of support and check-ins. And many of them start “I’m not sure what to say or what to do”. I think even reading the post is a great first step, as is taking the time to acknowledge and reach out whether publicly or privately. But in the same breath, thank you for being brave enough to make a public statement and to add your voice to ours. Please don’t be silent.
Racism exists whether overtly or covertly and is so deeply embedded that it cannot be totally eradicated. As a grandmother I agonize that my grandsons would be firstly gauged by their outer appearance and stereotyped based in their racial and ethnic characteristics. Education and re socialization are the keys to change.
Absolutely agree – and we all need to join the movement to force that education and re-socialization because it won’t happen without our efforts.
It’s shameful and extremely sad that we live in a world where racism exists; and what makes it worse is that we pretend that it only exists in a land far, far away from us!
Change can only really start when each one of us accepts that racism is still deep seated in the psyche of humans. Only then we can change the way we think and respond consciously and sub consciously.
Thank you for being a voice of change, Dana!
Thanks Tanu! What prompted the post was actually me logging into Twitter and seeing people say that this was a US issue, and that we didn’t have an issue with racism and racial tension in the UK. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes and felt compelled to open the eyes of others who live in so much privilege they are unable to see what is right under their noses. I hope that sharing these stories, shocking and heartbreaking makes people realise that there is a problem that we have to work together to solve. Because you are right, racism is here and deep-seated and we can only confront it by bringing it to the light.
Thanks for sharing your story. I think there should be even more revolutionaries so I am glad that you have started a movement and you have inspired me to think about ways to start my own movement. PS: The twins are just gorgeous!