White children and the importance of black characters

On the leafy South London streets where I live, the should we, shouldn’t we conversation about moving out of London is nearly as common as beards and coffee shops in Shoreditch, (or rain in Manchester, if you’re reading this from somewhere outside of The Centre Of The Universe).

Aside from the fact that we clearly need to get better chat, there is something else that irks me about this conversation. Almost without fail, the largely white and middle-class participants will say that they like living in London because of its diversity. It’s not uncommon to hear people say how pleased they are that their child’s school is ethnically, linguistically and religiously mixed, and I’ve even heard parents say how proud they are of their child’s diverse group of friends.

At my most critical, I resent the implication that the children from minority backgrounds are somehow there for the benefit of white children. There seems to be an unconscious assumption that it is the brown children’s role, their presence, that will teach our children not to be racist. I feel frustrated by the apparent attitude that proximity to difference is the path to a post-racial society by some undefined gradual process of osmosis: no effort required – just add melanin!

Seconds later though, I feel the tug of my own white privilege and I reason with the intention behind this thinking. We want our kids to be accepting of difference and we believe that being around people from different backgrounds is fundamental to this.  The problem with this assumption is that its reductive counter-point suggests that children born white and raised in a majority (sometimes wholly) white area are destined for EDL membership and an “opinionated” Facebook presence.

In my heart of hearts I can’t help thinking that this obsession with the appearance of diversity may be well-intentioned but it is nothing but an veneer. It glosses over the deeper work all white people need to do to tackle the foundations of racist structures. It salves our consciences while we retreat into insulated passivity and fail to be serious about our anti-racism.

Even in multi-cultural London schools, teachers are mainly white; the history curriculum erases black British history from its pages for all but one month of the year; and Gove’s 2010 attack on the English curriculum has resulted in a focus on white, male and stale (mostly dead in fact) writers. So it does not really matter who your kid sits next to in class, who you walk past in the street, or who your neighbours are.

In all aspects of our wider society, value is placed on whiteness and it is this, not the ethnic breakdown of our children’s classrooms, that we should be agonising over.

In whispers from the world around them our children are told daily who is important and who is not, a fact made acutely apparent in a recent study by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). The study found that of 9115 children’s books published in the UK last year, just 1% had a main character from a BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) background. 4% featured any characters from BAME backgrounds at all, while “a quarter of the books submitted featured diversity only in their background casts.”

These figures become even more shocking when we’re told that almost a third of children in our primary school classrooms last year were identified by the Department for Education as being from minority ethnic backgrounds. Essentially, the books our children are reading do not reflect the world in which they are living.

In an article in the Guardian, the director of the project for the CLPE, Farrah Serroukh, carefully identifies the impact this lack of representation will have on the psyches of the black and brown children reading those stories:

“When you’re figuring out the world, being able to see yourself in books, as well as people who don’t look like you, is really important. It means you see your story as valid, and it can contribute to who you imagine yourself to be – and a kid should be able to imagine themselves as anyone in the world. These mirrors are so important.”

As a mother to mixed-race children the importance of this is something I have become acutely aware of. We work hard in our house to make sure our children see faces that look like their’s because we want them to believe that they deserve to take up space. We want them to feel like they belong. But the fact that my arrival at awareness was only triggered by the births of my own brown children makes me confident that amongst the many white, middle-class left-leaning Guardian readers there would have been few who would have read that article and seen its relevance to their own households.

Perhaps I’m being unfair but my suspicion is that there will be plenty of white parents of white children who will have read that article and thought, “What a shame… for them…”

We will fail to see the disconnect between our own hopes to raise decent human beings and the absence of black and brown characters in the books in our homes. We will fail to see that an over-riding emphasis on white faces and white stories reinforces attitudes that whiteness is somehow more accomplished, more interesting, more important and more valuable. We will fail to see that we are upholding the values of white supremacy.

If white people are serious about confronting and dismantling systemic, institutional and societal racism; if we are serious about raising our children to accept and more importantly appreciate difference, then we won’t see that statement as over-sensitive or dramatic. We will understand the power of implicit messages, of internalised narratives and unconscious bias, and we will commit to doing better.

We will show our children that we don’t just accept people that do not look like us, we value them and we can start to do this by bringing their faces, voices and stories into our homes.

Because when it comes to combatting negative messages with positive narratives, it actually doesn’t matter where we live because we can all buy books.

 

Are you paying attention? Social media and Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.

“The progress is healing the wound… they [white people] won’t even admit the knife is there” Malcolm X

The title of Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race refers to her frustration and exhaustion at having to repeatedly explain herself to white people when talking about race in Britain. The book as a whole is a rebuttal of the ignorance, denial and defensiveness that plagues this conversation.  The irony is that since writing the 2014 blog post that turned into a 2017 book, Eddo-Lodge says she has spent more time talking to white people about race than ever before.

The success of the book is of course down to Eddo-Lodge’s skill as a writer but whereas previous polemics about race have failed to capture the attention of the mainstream, social media has this time played an instrumental part in increasing the book’s reach. The actor and activist Emma Watson is amongst a number of high profile people who have shared it with their millions of Instagram followers more than once, and to date there are over 2000 posts on the hashtag #whyimnolongertalkingtowhitepeopleaboutrace.

For many it’s a discomforting read that challenges our sense of self and how we relate to the world; for some it confirms what they already know; while others have said it provides the language and framework to talk about what they have always felt but did not know how to express.

When social media influencers with follower numbers in the tens and hundreds of thousands post about the book I imagine people who will never have considered reading it “because of the title”, or because they don’t think it is relevant to them, might reconsider. And this IS good – only by bringing a conversation about race into the mainstream can change happen.

But while I think it’s positive that the book is being so widely read, I still feel unsettled by some of what I see being shared on social media.

Whatever we share on social media immediately takes on a performative element. Regardless of the intention behind it, content is also there to entertain – in the form of humour, catharsis, support, or education, social media by its nature is something we waste our time with. Ideas are shortened and simplified in order to fit into the caption and so lose nuance and depth.  So when it comes to social media posts about an already charged issue like race, we (white people) have to be especially clear about our motivations for sharing our thoughts.

The truth is that this is just a book for white people – for many people from minority ethnic backgrounds, it is their LIFE. And while white people appear to be selfie-ing their way to self-congratulation with the book and glass of wine on the coffee table, and then move seamlessly on to a “lighter read”, many black and brown people are living this reality. To fail to acknowledge this in glib posts about how much you gained from the book means you’ve missed the point – the book might be aimed (in part) at you, but it’s not for you.

At times it feels like white people are posting about this book to prove we are not racist. In fact we should be showing we understand that through our ignorance or silence, and our resulting complicity in a system that routinely oppresses people of colour, we, as much as we might not like it, are. Unless we are working to challenge and dismantle this system we are part of the problem.

We don’t become anti-racist by having black or brown family members or friends; we don’t become anti-racist by simply saying we are; we don’t become anti-racist by avoiding uncomfortable conversations for fear of offending; we don’t become anti-racist by making excuses; we don’t become anti-racist by reading a book.

With all that being said, I’m sure I’m being unfair. Many (most? all?) people posting about the book have good intentions. People are reading, sharing, and then go on to use the points of influence in their own lives, as Eddo-Lodge always suggests we should when posed the (demanding) question, “what can white people do” to challenge racial inequality. Reading the book might well be a signal that you are ready to engage; posting about it might be shorthand for, “I care, but I’ve no idea what to say”.

But let’s not forget that intention is always a problematic defence – if you punch me in the face by accident, I’ve still got a broken nose. That is, when we post about this book, our intentions might be pure, but I’d argue that isn’t enough.

When people say to me that they’re scared to engage, or worried about making a mistake, I say GOOD! We should be scared. We should be worried. We should be careful. We should not arrogantly assume that we have the right to an opinion on anything that we know nothing about.

The problem with wading in with nothing but good intentions is that too often the conversation gets derailed. It becomes about tone, hurt feelings, or whether we should even be talking about race: aren’t we all one human race after all? This is a waste of everyone’s time – at best it is a distraction; at worst it is hurtful for those who’s experiences are being brushed aside and undermined.

So what do we do? It’s tempting to throw our hands in the air and proclaim, “We’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t.” Except, no.

My point isn’t really that white people shouldn’t be posting social media updates about the book. Like I already said, the more people that read it the better and social media can spread the word most effectively. My point is more that we have to reflect more honestly  on our intentions. Social media has trained us to perform – to prove what we are doing and we have to ask ourselves whether we are performing anti-racism? As Eddo-Lodge writes, “don’t be anti-racist for the sake of an audience. Being white and anti-racist in your private or professional life, where there’s very little praise to be found, is much more difficult.”

Perhaps we could read the book and not post about it straight away? Maybe spread the word by passing your copy on, or buy a copy for someone else. Go away, engage in the issues more deeply, read more books, follow social media accounts that make you feel uncomfortable and I’d strongly recommend you don’t comment, just sit with that discomfort for a while and try to find its origins. Want to do more? Find online opinion pieces that challenge your thinking, attend events (if you are able to) outside of your comfort zone, listen when you’re with black people, speak when you’re with white people, and question your own thoughts every single day.

And then, in the words of the final paragraph of Eddo-Lodge’s book:

“…it’s up to you. You don’t have to be the leader of a global movement or a household name. It can be as small scale as chipping away at the warped power relations in your workplace. It can be passing on knowledge and skills to those who wouldn’t access them otherwise. It can be creative. It can be informal. It can be your job. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re doing something.”

And if all this seems like too much trouble? Then you might have read the book, but you were certainly not paying enough attention.

 

Places to start

Listen to  the podcast About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge – in this she also promotes other podcasts that might be of interest

Visit https://mediadiversified.org and read read read

Visit http://www.gal-dem.com and read read read

Join the Facebook group The Start: A forum for radical social change https://www.facebook.com/groups/190412511596128/. It’s based in the USA but a lot of the conversation is relevant here in the UK too. It is run by white women in collaboration with Rachel Cargle whose Instagram page you can find here: https://www.instagram.com/rachel.cargle/  It is of significance that the group is run by white women as too often the burden of education lands on the shoulders of members of marginalised groups. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves.

Read The Good Immigrant – a collection of essays edited by Nikesh Shukla. You can buy it here https://unbound.com/books/the-good-immigrant/

“And why is that?” The question we should be asking

A few weeks ago I’d forgotten I was pissed off with Grazia for 1. photoshopping Lupita Nyong’o’s hair and 2. pretending it was the fault of an errant photographer who had no input from anyone at the magazine, and I was enticed into buying a copy by a front cover strap-line that read, How to have the pay gap chat.

The article was pretty standard fair for Grazia – a broadbrush presentation of the issue with a little too much emphasis on individual women “standing up for themselves” for my taste, but I was happy to see the issue being explored in such a mainstream magazine.

Pages later I was less happy after reading a column headlined I’ve dumped my mum friends who treat their husbands like an extra child, accompanied by the strapline, Celine Smith is tired of her female friends letting partners shirk parental responsibility…

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Oh Celine.

For a moment I wondered whether I was the one getting it wrong. Strong opinions tend to have this effect on me – other people’s certainty always makes me wonder if there is some truth in what they are saying.

I wondered whether women are being complicit in “letting” their male partners behave like children while they are late for dinner with their friends, don’t leave the house without the kids for FOUR YEARS (Celine’s capitals), and are generally treating their partners “like the teenager down the road you pay a tenner an hour”.

For a moment I wondered whether the responsibility does lie with women to dig their heels in and take no shit, while men can’t really be blamed for taking advantage of a dynamic that benefits them.

For a moment.

Because of course, the over-riding gargantuan factor that Celine seems to have failed to take into account is this: GUILT.

The truth is that even her “forward-thinking friends” have been born and raised in a patriarchal society that feeds us the narrative that women are nurturers, bound to the domestic, while men are “hunters” doing “stuff’ in public. Even when we’re aware these constructed roles are houses built on sand, the pressure to conform often overrides our core beliefs and leave us riddled with guilt.

What Celine fails to recognise in her angry diatribe against the friends that have let her down, is that whichever way a mother has it there is guilt to be found: if she stays at home with the children she “fails” because she is “economically inactive” and does not contribute to society in the way it values: money. If she goes out to work and pursues a career she “fails” because she betrays her “natural” role as a mother. If she works part-time in a position below her pay-grade she is “failing” to capitalise on her potential. If she attempts to pursue a career part-time while raising a family she “fails” because she will do neither “properly”.

Meanwhile men are lauded for picking up their share of the burden. We can all tell a version of the story, husband takes child to school one morning a year and Mum, who takes child to school every day, is greeted at the school gates at the end of that day with comments like, “oh he’s a good egg…”

Basically any man who takes ownership of his share (any share – I mean we might be talking crumbs here) of the domestic burden is treated like a hero, while the woman who hands it to him is treated like a failure, probably including by herself.

And before anyone messages me anything along the lines of “oh you just hate men”, this isn’t an attack on individual men. It’s more that in our efforts to deconstruct gendered roles and create actual freedom of choice for both women and men, the last thing we need is Celine telling us that gender disparity is our fault for letting it happen…

Given the reason why I even bought the magazine in the first place, it is ironic that an extension of Celine’s attitude is often seen in opposition to the idea of the gender pay gap. It’s validity is thrown into question with Well, we’re not comparing like with like, there are more men in higher paying positions, and women choose to pursue careers that pay less, which brazenly fail to understand that THIS IS THE POINT. What needs to be discussed is WHY? What are the structural and cultural barriers standing in the way of women on their way to, and once they’re in, the workplace?

And what dear, misguided Celine needs is the friends she has dumped to sit her down with a glass of something cold or a cup of something hot, and explain that going after the women who “allow” men to take the piss is a self-defeating distraction. The question she should be asking is, “And why is that?”.

 

Image credit to Rebecca Strickson

Does how we define success lift the guilt of admitting defeat?

Like most of us, I love my kids more than life itself and they were a major driving force in my change of direction two years ago when I ended my career as a teacher.  So why do I now find myself pursuing a version of success that is damaging to the life I had in mind when I made that decision?

Since then I have spent six months as a full-time stay at home mum; six months juggling those responsibilities alongside retraining; and the last twelve months juggling part-time flexible work alongside being the primary carer.

These days our childcare arrangements mean I work two days spread across three while the rest of the time I look after our two children. I thought I’d found the solution to pursuing meaningful work while balancing the demands of family life, so why do I find myself worn down by repeatedly working into the evenings and at weekends? Why do I find myself thinking about work when I should be focused on my children? And why do I find myself frustrated by the limitations placed on my success by the demands of being their primary carer?

Well, partly because my maths is bad. I have roughly 17 hours of childcare each week spread over three days but, from the beginning, I’ve taken on enough work to fill three actual full-sized days…

But apparently that is not enough of a stretch and as my fledgling business grows I find myself afraid to turn work down, taking on more clients, making more calls, sending more emails, replying to more messages, working more hours, putting my time under more strain, and yes, earning more money.

Why?

Because I want to be successful.

But what if I can’t be. Or at least not in the terms of what we are told success looks like?

What if I have to accept time is finite, and so is my sanity? Being the primary carer means that for the sake of both, I have to make a choice.

It doesn’t feel like much of a choice – be the mother I believe my children need, but limit my own achievements outside the home, vs fulfil my potential but perhaps at the cost of my relationship, mental health and the happiness of my children…

When written like that the choice is obvious, but the perhaps in that sentence is key. Toying with the idea that We would be fine! I would be fine! They would be FINE! my mind is in conflict and the resentments run deep because why does it fall to me alone to make this decision?

This is a choice unconsciously influenced a long time ago and the balance of earning power has always been tipped against me. It seems that becoming a primary caregiver was inevitable, whether I liked it or not.

And it’s a choice made sour by the awareness that men typically do not have to make it. In a thirty-something version of a threenager-rage, I stamp my feet and insist, NOT FAIR!

My less charitable moments question the commitment of men to the cause of gender equality – so few take up Shared Parental Leave, or are even prepared to ask for flexible work in order to take on their share of the caring responsibilities. And while I know it’s not straightforward – there are plenty of barriers in their way too – I also catch myself wondering, How hard are you really trying?

I know that partly to blame for all this (middle-class – there is no getting away from the privilege that underlines this whole ramble) angst is my own internalised definition of what success looks like. Society intrinsically links success with our bank balance – an attitude that prioritises what we earn over everything else, and you don’t need me to point out that mothers earn nothing…

I’m not however, suggesting that if mothers were valued more highly we would all be happy baking, rather than winning, our own bread. In fact I’m suggesting the opposite: if motherhood were valued more highly – if caring and nurturing children was viewed as successful in its own right – then perhaps attitudes to fathering could also change. Perhaps if success were defined differently for us all we would all be freed from the need to build up the bank balance to feel like we are winning.

And then, if we saw men and women in equal number sacrificing (or at least slowing down) their careers in order to raise children, it might leave us feeling less pressure to prove that we can do it too, and less resentment if it wasn’t possible. Perhaps it would feel less prickly if our achievements were not limited by biology, but by practicality.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps – ponderings on a fantasy-land are indulgent and definitely don’t help me now. Awareness of the deep-rooted influence of the accepted definition of success doesn’t mean it is easy to break free of that mindset.

Back in the real world, I’m left with That Choice. It feels oddly familiar – I’ve been here before and after investing years into a career I watched it drift away on the winds of change once the small people arrived.

The only thing that is certain is that I’m not getting any extra hours for work any time soon, and if I’m totally honest, I’m not even sure I want them – I remain committed to my original reasons for starting all over again in my career.

It’s this shadow of “success” hanging over me that I need to shake. It’s the resentment that my life hasn’t turned out the way I expected that I need to discard. Rather than planning my life along the lines of what do I want? maybe I have to think more about what I want more; rather than being weighed down by what feels like an admission of defeat, I need to linger longer on the things I’m winning.

 

Event: Small biz vs Facebook – what’s the big deal?

Are you finding Facebook gives you face-ache?!

We totally get it! All the different options, what to post, when to post, how to advertise, what to advertise, and what on earth does it mean to boost, can feel pretty over-whelming.
But what if we told you that as much as we LOVE Instagram, we think Facebook still offers an unmissable opportunity for small businesses to market themselves and grow – would you be interested in hearing more?
If you would like to invest in your business’s social media presence, come along to The Hunter Collective on 28th March 11am-2pm. We have a panel of business women who’re living the reality of making Facebook work for them, as well as the social media experts ready to advise on how you can do it too!
Speakers
The businesses
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Kerri Northcott: founder of Coco and Indie, a thriving online children’s handmade clothing shop. Kerri has single-handedly built a Facebook following of 17k in the last two years. She is passionate about helping other small businesses grow so is going to tell you all about how she has harnessed the power of Facebook to drive sales!
Instagram: @cocoandindie_
Facebook: @cocoandindieuk
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Gemma Whates: founder of All By Mama, a unique marketplace featuring a beautiful range of products created by parents working around family life. Gemma has built an incredible Facebook following of over 30k in the last three years and will let you in on all the secrets to her success!
Instagram: @allbymamauk
Facebook: @allbymama
The social media experts
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Cat Davies: Digital Mum of the Year 2017 and co-founder of Our X Agency, Cat has worked with brands from Mumsnet to MTV. She has significant expertise across many areas of social media and is brilliant at translating her knowledge into practical strategies you’ll be able to take away and use for yourselves.
Instagram: @catxdavies
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Nicola Washington: Nicola is the founder of TM[M]I Social and blogger at Too Much Mothering Information. After graduating her Digital Mums training in 2017 she now works with a range of small businesses including Don’t Buy Her Flowers. She is a creative thinker who thrives on the challenge of using social media content to create a community that converts into customers. Nicola will be hosting the panel chat and will ask the questions that will be most use to you.
The venue
Bright, airy and super-cool, Hunter Collective is a new flexible co-working, hair salon, events and studio space perfect for freelancers in the beauty and fashion industries.
Hunter Collective
2nd Floor
River House
143-145 Farringdon Road
London
EC1R 3AB
Ticket price £40 includes:
An opportunity to invest in your business’s social media presence
Panel chat with expert knowledge and practical tips to take home
Q+A session where you can ask the social media experts or business owners for their advice
Unlimited tea, coffee and soft drinks
Pastries and snacks including incredible brownies from Norah’s Brownies
Goody bag full of treats from a wide range of brands and small businesses
Networking with other small businesses
<<With more still to be confirmed!>>
**Early bird offer** The first ten ticket buyers will also receive a 10 minute social media speed-mentoring session with Cat or Nicola. We will be in contact by email if you are one of the lucky few so make sure you leave your email address in the notes when you’re buying your ticket**

sH&Me on us

To point fingers at the parents and ask why they didn’t say no is a distraction. To suggest H&M <enter stage left riding their Scandi-white-horse> were acting as moral guardians, reclaiming the word “monkey” and saving black people from its use as a racial slur (a necessary step in securing a post-racial society donchaknow) is so far-fetched I would laugh. If it was funny.

The more likely explanation is that this is another incident to add weight to the argument that when businesses, brands and organisations are largely homogenous and/or unaware, things go wrong.

At best the offending image is tone deaf: it is a symptom of an organisation so steeped in a single story that no one sounded the alarm, or at the very least no one listened.

At worst it is outright racist.

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In another life as a teacher I once had to discipline a teenager in my care for calling another child a “monkey” during a dispute. I also had to explain to his father why his son being called “yellow teeth”, while cruel, was not the same.

In amongst the anger and disbelief at the image, plus the consequent reactions of some people, I always try to remember that father is probably not alone in his lack of awareness.

So here goes:

The word “monkey” was used to dehumanise black people in order to justify their enslavement and the brutality of colonial rule. As “monkeys” black people were less intelligent than white people – we were doing them a favour in taking over their lands and putting their natural resources to work making us money. As “monkeys”, black people did not “feel” the same way white people did, so when we bound them in chains, beat the men, raped the women, and stole the children, we could tell ourselves it was just like working and not paying an animal; whipping a mule to make it move faster; mating a cow and a bull to create more livestock. It was all justifiable because black people were “monkeys”; they were not human.

And to anyone who says the word “monkey” is not used as a racial slur anymore (we’re not in the 1980s wrote one Tweeter) – just Google “monkey chants football” to find the easy answer to that.

But beyond who was to blame, and why it was offensive, one more thing has struck me about our reaction.

A day after the offending image went viral across UK social media, the outrage has spread across seas. The heartfelt response from many has been to produce counter-images of the little boy in question: pictures of crowns, the words “king”, and “regal”, have replaced the offending slogan and been reposted across social media.

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But not on all parts of social media.

Perhaps it is my own fault for the timeline I have curated, but even when I searched #shame #handm on Instagram for the images it seems to me that most (all?) were being posted and reposted on accounts owned by POC.

But the original picture was not styled, taken, approved and published because the room was full of black people. This image is the result of many, many rooms full of white people, blinkered by their privilige.

This picture and the issue it exposes is, by its very origins, a white people problem.

So why are POC doing all the work to correct sH&Me’s “mistake”?

Why are white people being so quiet? Why aren’t we paying the same attention to this as we do when Oprah makes a speech? Who are we trying to protect by not speaking out?

And I say this from a place a empathy. I am a white woman. Every time I dip my toes into the quagmire that is race relations my insides clench and I question the validity of my voice. We don’t have lived experience so have to finely balance being vocal about the injustices we see, while being respectful to the people who live those injustices every day.  We can empathise without speaking for people.

If you find that difficult to navigate then join the club! But if you truly believe in working towards a more equal society then you have to see this risk for what it is – a tiny speck of insignificance in the face of the onslaught of inequality POC experience every day. White people and our feelings are not the priority here.

Instead, the priority must be to voice our dissatisfaction – not meekly behind closed doors, not in a tut of disgust in response to a social media post, not just a comment on something someone else has written. We have to get our hands dirty.

Raising our voices and saying THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE has never been easier. The keyboard warrior is a figure of scorn in some circles because it’s easy to sit at home, post a picture, signal your virtue to the whole world, and go on with the rest of your life unaffected by the actual issue. And I don’t disagree with this criticism – indeed, activism does not and should not stop at the blue light of a phone screen.

But the power of social media is undeniable – #metoo has proven that.

So if you care, if you no longer want to be complicit, but you’re not sure you have the right words, go and read. Go and learn. Do the work. Google shit. Channel your anger – don’t ignore it because you can and the issue is not “yours”.

In the same way that women’s rights are not a female issue, racial equality is not a “black” issue. They are both human issues.

And in the meantime, know that your voice counts, your dissatisfaction is valuable, your offence is valid. If you’re still not sure what to say, just say this: “This is wrong. I don’t yet have the words to explain why but I know it in my bones. I stand with you.”

Because yes, we must listen to People of Colour to learn; yes, we have to be careful what we say; but this is not the same as saying nothing at all. 

 

 

 

Want to know where to begin?

Google these terms: unconscious bias; white privilege; intersectionality; complicity; inclusion; diversity; micro aggression; whitesplaining

Read Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Read anything and everything here http://www.gal-dem.com/politics/

There is a list of books here http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/16-books-about-race-that-every-white-person-should-read_us_565f37e8e4b08e945fedaf49

And that is just to start you off 😉

 

 

Diversity, inclusion and Grazia: being seen is important, but so is being heard

What you are about to read here is not revolutionary. It’s probably a version of a hundred different opinion pieces, and if I’m honest that sometimes makes me wonder whether I should bother.

Especially when I write about race.

I am white, I am learning, I am no expert, and I definitely make mistakes at times. I obsess over whether my voice is valid; should I leave the discourse to people who are actually living the issues I write about; is my presence patronising; or even worse am I acting like some kind of white saviour – step aside, they’ll listen to me, for I am white?

But while this might not be perfect or original, maybe it will be the first time one of you has read about these ideas. Maybe there is space for this because it might just encourage one more person to start learning (and unlearning) too. 

This blog post has been in the thinking for a few weeks because while diversity and inclusion seeming to be very much “on trend” in the advertising world at the moment – hello John Lewis, Debenhams, McCain, Ikea, River Island advertising campaigns just to name a few – it is concerning how often brands are getting it wrong.

I fear that brands are literally treating inclusion and diversity as a trend. Perhaps they want the zeitgeist light that shines on them as a result of engaging with popular opinion, the problem being it will ultimately be replaced by something else?

Or is that unfair?

Are these brands truly investing in inclusion and diversity, not as part of some patronising pity parade, nor as a PR exercise to make themselves look good, but because they believe inclusivity to be right, as well as recognising the importance of it to the long-term health and wealth of their businesses, organisations and industries?

Two days ago Lupita Nyong’o took to social media to criticise Grazia’s treatment of her hair.

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In response she was called ungrateful, over-sensitive and rude.  In a fairly typical example of white privilege at play the argument was that no cover stars are given approval on their pictures, while all cover stars are subject to editorial decisions. This is the case regardless of race and Lupita shouldn’t expect special treatment.

What they were all missing however, is the implication of editing black hair.

You don’t have to Google too deep to find accounts of many black women who have already explained that their hair is political, and touching it symbolic of a wider hurt. There is a reason #dtmh – don’t touch my hair – exists on social media.

In (extreme) brief, black hair was forcibly cut and covered up during slave times, so to touch a black woman’s hair either physically, or via the impersonal stroke of a Photoshop cursor, is to echo the acts of violence perpetrated against them over the centuries.

But also, many black women today will talk about how they endure invasions of their personal space as white people ask to touch their hair, play with it, pet it, and call it “difficult”; they will tell you how natural hair is considered unprofessional, and how Eurocentric standards of beauty tell them that afro hair is unattractive.

It’s impossible for me to really understand how this feels, but I do know I have no right to tell someone else how they should feel about it. So tell me again why a black woman shouldn’t complain when part of her hair is edited out of a picture, and the natural texture is removed from the rest?

And while you’re at it, perhaps you can tell me why an apology that amounts to nothing more than ducking blame and playground finger-pointing should be treated with anything other than derision?

Having already got it wrong, Grazia’s apology then compounded the insult by failing to demonstrate a willingness to listen and learn. They had an opportunity to embrace what Lupita called out, and to influence the attitudes of thousands of white women more effectively than endless silent covers of voiceless black faces.

And they fucked it.

The statement lacked any acknowledgement of the hurt the cover caused. There was no attempt to engage with the explanation that Lupita provided as to why she found the cover insulting. There was no attempt to learn.

So while the question Whose fault is this? is important, the bigger question becomes How inclusive are you really, Grazia? Who is in charge? Who is on the editorial staff? Whose voices are being listened to behind the scenes when decisions are being made? Who is on the PR team that put together that apology?

94% of journalists in Britain are white, compared to 87% of the general workforce; 3% of the UK population is black, compared to only 0.2% of working journalists; 7% of the general population are Asian, compared to just 2.5% of working journalists*. The more senior the position the worse the imbalance gets, the irony being that publications only suffer as a result of their thudding uniformity.

I’d like to think that most white people do not believe that POC are less able than we are, so why the resistance? Surely we have to be ready to accept there is something underhand at play here?

Because let’s not pretend this is an issue that only faces journalism. On this occasion Grazia got it wrong but we only have to look back at the last few months to know that a lack of representation in The Room, stretches much further: Pepsi created an advert that took a life and death issue and turned it into a commercial opportunity, while delivering the double blow of a white saviour coming to the rescue; Dove recently declared a product was for use on Normal to Dark Skin; Boden designed a skirt for children full of mermaids with only white skin and long European hair, and then posted proudly about it on Instagram; and L’Oreal sacked black, trans model Munroe Bergdorf after it revealed she had previously spoken out against white supremacy.

We all know these examples are only a fraction of what is really going on in businesses, institutions and industries up and down our country, so while increasing the visibility of POC is important, we also have to turn up the volume at which we hear their voices.

It is not good enough for brands to promote themselves using images of POC, while failing to engage with the issues POC face. It is not good enough to apologise after the event when it could have been avoided entirely if your workforce was more diverse.  Responsibility has to be owned and actions have to be taken because representation everywhere matters.

 

*http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/british-journalism-white-male-study-shows-a6950176.html#gallery

Never mind shadow bans – a self-imposed Insta-ban can be good for the soul

It’s important to say from the start that I know this is not a real problem.

But.

It’s a week since I threw my toys out of my pram, had a tantrum and realised I needed to prioritise a few things above Instagram.

I know.

I wish I could say it came from a wholistic desire to improve my life with less screen time and more outdoor yogic breathing and green juice. Or something. But the main drivers were actually a need to concentrate on my relationships; work that paid cash money; and a gasping need for some headspace.

First though, came fear. Contrary to the FOMO comparison culture that we’re warned about when on social media, rather selfishly I was not nervous about missing out on what other people were up to, and I wasn’t bothered about being involved (ok, maybe a bit). More alarmingly, I was fearful of giving up my daily dose of validation.

Pre-procreation me got her double-taps from work. It felt important, and I felt good that I was good at it. A new career has meant starting all over again and confidence is at times in short supply. I’m a dictionary definition for Imposter Syndrome: certainty that I know what I’m doing is fleeting, and it doesn’t take much to knock my confidence.

Motherhood meanwhile offers little opportunity for congratulations on a job well done. Parents hope that at some point in the future someone will stand up at a wedding and say, “Thank you for raising such an awesome human”, but 30 years or so is let’s say, a long-term goal.

For the rest of the time the bulk of the work is unseen and unappreciated accompanied by an additional kick in the teeth that if you’re doing your job well, and raising a child who feels confident and loved, the likelihood is that they will at times make their security clear by being an arsehole.

And contrary to the sacrificial mother-figure we’re expected to be, I have realised that I need validation. I crave feedback; I want to feel like my opinions matter; and I want to feel like I am something other than “just” someone’s mum.

You can call it selfish if you want to, I’m sure there are elements of that in there, but I’m also pretty sure I’m not alone.

The social media explosion of insta-mums, mum bloggers, vloggers and floggers can surely be attributed in part to the current climate of talented women being pushed out of the workforce once project procreation kicks off.

We’ve been sold a dud one – we can’t have it all afterall, and as we wrestle with the knock that delivers to our sense of identity and self-esteem, strangers on the internet become a source of the approval that we don’t get anywhere else.

But that first evening, as the time crept towards my “Optimum Posting Time”, I reminded myself that tonight was not the night and I felt… relieved.

Mining my own life for coherent thoughts and feelings that I deemed thoughtful enough, funny enough, informed enough, good enough, for the internet had become a burden.

And that first evening’s relief was not the only moment. So often I thought, “oh I need to write that down… where is my phone… oh no I’m going to forget… that would make a good picture…that would make a good Story… WHERE IS MY PHONE?” and I found freedom in the realisation that there was no need .

I had been existing in a constant low level of anxiety, always on alert in case one of my mind’s mental tabs closed down. My brain constantly scanned and flickered over thoughts, checking they were still there and not lost in the same vortex of knowledge as The Krebs Cycle (A level biology, 1998), and the Corn Law Reform Act (GCSE History, 1996).

This bonkers pressure – which most insanely of all was completely self-imposed – had to be released. And the manic cheerleader in my mind, who for months had been waving her pompoms of gratitude so that my internal tickertape didn’t turn to the darker side of comparison, needed a rest too.

As a result I was smiling more, and thinking less, taking notice of the kids eating their breakfast, and not plotting my next trip to tidy the toys which would invariably lead to me standing still amongst the debris staring down at my device.

In general though, the house has got messier as my mind has got tidier – it seems lower levels of anxiety equal a lesser desire to control my environment.  And my desire to create is back. To write properly, not for social media, but because I like words.

But that’s not to say I’m giving it up. No, because like all the best addicts I’m good at justifying my habit: it’s my job; I learn from it; I get to “meet” people I would otherwise not meet’; and it is a source of inspiration and ideas. But with time to reflect on the damage social media demons are inflicting on my mind, I do have to get control.

So my new rules are that I’m not posting every day, and I’m not posting because I feel I should. You won’t find those two statements anywhere in social media best practice, but maybe applying what works to make an online living, might not be the best approach to actual life.

I’m going to post because I want to. Whenever I wonder whether or not to share pieces like this self-indulgent twaffle, I’m also going to remind myself that this is what is happening in my life, so it might be what is happening in yours.

Because while we all accept that the truth often isn’t pretty, the temptation is to make sure it is always emotive and altruistic. In reality, as embarrassing as it might be to admit, the reality is that honesty is sometimes just horribly self-absorbed.

 

Starting school: time-keeping, playground politics and the PTA

It’s coming up to that time of year. When social media is flooded with pictures of the first day of school and the words “How is this possible?” are worn thin in disbelief at the inevitable passing of time.

And that is said completely without judgement. Photo reels will be scrolled, “Look how tiny she was” will be exclaimed and tears will definitely be shed. Since having children I’ve become a gifted crier and its my default reaction whenever I’m happy, sad, angry, disappointed, worried, frustrated, or just feel like everyone needs to be a bit nicer to each other because THE WORLD IS GOING TO SHIT… So I am definitely going to cry on Monday 4th September when my girl, my baby, my magic, my star, starts to spend most of her time away from me.

I can’t quite get my head around the fact that she is going to spend five days a week, for most weeks of the year, for the next thirteen years, in a room, with people I don’t know, but she soon will.

I’m struggling with the knowledge that when she walks into that classroom she’s also walking slowly away from needing me quite so much. I’m yearned for that, been desperate for it, and now the time has come I can only think what a dick I’ve been.

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It’s a unicorn horn, alright…

But putting all the slushy crap to one side, I have some other more practical/ petty concerns that are taking up way too much space in my head:

  1. School gate politics. Working mums being frowned upon (yes, really), impenetrable cliques, or the mum who once told a friend of mine not to wear her new trainers on Tuesdays and Thursdays because she had the same pair and that was when she was planning on wearing hers #truestory – the tales I have heard and read about the perils of the playground politics concern me. I know I’ll do what I always do, and hover on the periphery until I’ve sussed the terrain, and I’m sure there will be nice mums too, but I’m not relishing the prospect of dealing with people whose emotional maturity seems to have stalled age six (looking at you mum who ostracised another friend of mine because her child got a small piece of cake in a party bag…)
  2. Arriving on time. Like, how? Two children, fed, dressed, and walked up a hill before 9am? What witchcraft do you use? I used to get the girl to nursery for 8am when I was working in a non-flexi job, but then she would eat breakfast there. It’s breakfast that is the problem for us. I can wriggle sleepy children into clothes before they leave their bedroom, but considering both my kids can down a tube of Smarties like a yard of ale at Freshers Week (just open your throat, OPEN YOUR THROAT… ah shit…!), it never ceases to amaze me how precise their chewing becomes whenever we need to leave the house in a hurry. They watch each other chew.real.ly.slow.ly. and are steely in their determination to break me. There will be shouting.
  3. Bullying. Of me (see point 1)… just kidding (sort of). I’m actually worried about the first time the girl comes home to tell me someone has been mean to her. And I don’t mean the “she took my toy” kind of way that it has been up until now – I’m talking about the malicious meanness that kids everywhere are capable of. I already know that looking into her hurt, confused eyes will crush my insides and make me wonder how appropriate it would be to counsel revenge. That saying about parenthood is like wearing your heart outside your body? This is why it’s a cliche.
  4. The PTA. Being blunt, how do I avoid getting sucked in? I want to be involved, I’ll attend events and bake (buy) some cakes, but I’m really not cut out for being reliable. I can barely manage my life, work, keep small people alive and reply to text messages, nevermind organise socials for mums who will tell me when I’m allowed to wear my trainers and how much cake their kid would like to eat. But I also feel bad when the same people get dumped on over and over again. I need to learn how to be more mean. Maybe those cliques have a point…
  5. Over-expectations of what I can achieve. For the first time ever I will have both of my children in formal childcare/ education for three whole days a week. I am planning to expand my business, write lots more blogs, project manage a (currently fictional) house renovation and move, hoover behind the settee, clean the oven, wash the wheelie bins, have perfectly manicured nails, wear actual make-up, brush my hair and put together outfits in a way I’ve not yet managed in 36 years. I think I’m going to be disappointed.

Other than that though, I’m really looking forwards to her starting school…

Are you a veteran school-gate mum? Please share reassuring tales of cups of tea, gentle conversation, and people whose politics don’t make you want to stab yourself in the eye with a spoon. Or perhaps you’re a newbie too – what are your dreams and fears?

When white women have brown babies: (un)learning and what can I teach them?

Becoming a mother unleashes an uncertainty onslaught unmatched by any other stage of life. Under such attack the most useful thing anyone can ever say to a new mother is, “You are the mother your children need. You are enough”.

But what if this isn’t always true?

What if the space of unknowing is so great that it creates a vacuum into which your child can be sucked, chewed up and spat out unrecognisable to herself and those around her?

Because white mothers of brown babies don’t know. We haven’t been there. And as we grapple with the certainty of knowing we should lead by example, we are also struck with the certainty that in some ways we are clueless. We realise we are not enough.

I am a white middle-class(ish) woman. Coming to terms with the privilege that affords me has been a sudden awakening in the last few months and for that I am sorry. I’ve expressed this regret to people who reassure me that I have not done anything “wrong” – people can only operate from their place of awareness – but still I would quite like to sit with that discomfort, own it, and notice how my “instincts” have been muddied with the realisation that they too have been the unsuspecting victims of unconcious bias.

White people in Britain are taught to ignore race – we feel uncomfortable talking about it; even typing the words “white”, “black”, and “people of colour” makes me wince. But of course, we have that privilege – we have the option to ignore race, to pretend it doesn’t make a difference, but when a white woman has brown babies she has to finally sit up and take notice.

So I am reading as much as I can; talking and listening to people who know. I know I have 36 years of unlearning to do and so far I’m somewhere around the third sentence.

I’m not expecting, nor do I want, congratulations for this. I just want to talk about how and what I am learning because in a deepening of the wound of the uncertainty-onslaught motherhood inflicts on us all, I have realised that I’m not qualified to guide my children through the challenges they will face, and it’s sometimes a lonely place.

I’m working through those thoughts by writing because this is what I do. I strive to make sense of my thinking by tip-tapping it out and posting it out there for anyone to see. I invite agreement, challenge, even derision, because it helps to clarify my thinking.

So this is where I begin.

I’ve already got it wrong.

Drowning in Disney images of pale-skinned Princesses, many with blonde hair and blue eyes, I worried in her third year when my daughter repeatedly asked when she would grow “lellow hair”. But I downplayed it.

In a perfect example of Are you sure it was meant like that mentality I told myself that the omnipresence of a Eurocentric standard of beauty didn’t matter that much. When I later watched my daughter swell in prideful recognition that she could be Moana (making allowances for a four years old’s awareness of the different origins of brown people), I jolted awake.

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Moana

My skin crawled in appalled recognition when I was taught that allowing strangers to touch my daughter’s hair out of curiosity was as inappropriate as allowing them to stroke her skin. I had failed to protect and promote the sanctity of my daughter’s body and have had to ask myself some uncomfortable questions about why.

The creeping truth is I have allowed strangers to pet my child like an exotic animal because I didn’t want to embarrass them by saying no. Crucially, I placed their potential embarrassment above my child’s agency over her own body because I didn’t understand the significance of what was being asked.

The assurances of friends who tell me the whiteout of their commuter-town communities would not pose a problem, were we to take the plunge and move out of London, have been met with the same silence. Why? Because I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable either.

The pretence sees me asserting that my only concerns are that I don’t want my children to stand out by default – if they want to claim their individuality they can dye their hair pink or wear outrageous clothes, I say.

I occasionally go further to explain how I don’t want to live somewhere they are so different that the colour of their skin can be used as their identifiying feature – you know A, the mixed race one. I imagine the words “mixed race” being said in a nasal half-whisper that suggests some sort of discomfort with the words, and I assume we live somewhere everyone understands the term “half-caste” is not ok (but then, we all know what assume did…).

But I usually avoid venturing into the territory of explaining how the colour of my childrens’ skin impacts the way the rest of the world sees them. I rarely explain the ways teachers, peers, other parents, the Police, future employers and employees will treat them differently – unconciously perhaps, but still differently (and I’m including in this the creepy fetishising of mixed race children that happens throughout our society). I avoid talking about it because many white people get defensive, challenge it, and I feel uncomfortable insisting.

Finally, I avoid the white-supremicist-elephant in the room that, in a world where images of Saffiyah Khan, Ieshia Evans and Tess Asplund necessarily go viral; in a society where Katy Hopkins’ vile brand of attention-seeking “straight-talking” has an audience, my children will be safer growing up in London. At least here there will be other people who look like them, with whom they can share their experiences.

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Saffiyah Khan

It’s telling that the friends who tell me my fears are unfounded are unfailingly white. My mostly left-leaning friends nod to the existence of racism – you can’t be a good lefty if you’re in denial of bigotry – but some also perpetuate a myth that it doesn’t happen where they live. And it’s telling that I don’t set them straight.

I fail to challenge their blindness to the institutional, structural and societal racism that surrounds them, and I fail to point out that the reason they don’t see it is because where they live there are no people of colour to fall victim to it, or they don’t see it because they’re not its target.

Like most white people living in majority white spaces I’ve excused people expressing views that too kindly get called “borderline”. It has been safer and more comfortable for me to pretend they “didn’t mean it like that” but I’ve realised that I have to take responsibility.

I have to risk alienating and offending people. I have to risk being told I’m being over-sensitive. And when my gut tells me what we’re all too afraid to say I have to say it anyway.

I have to do what people of colour have been doing all along while I made excuses.

I’m going to be afraid and uncertain. I’m bound to get it wrong at times (I’m aware even this very blog post might be getting it wrong) but I can’t do nothing. I can’t pretend that there are no difficulties in preparing my children to navigate a relationship with the world that will be completely different to the one I understand. There are going to be times in the future when the teenage refrain, “You don’t understand” is going to carry extra weight and I have to accept that.

So this is my way of starting that journey – openly, honestly, imperfectly.

Because my mixed-race children aged just two and four have already taught me that my dearly held life-long left-wing views are worthless when not deepened by action. It’s uncomfortable to admit that only being genetically invested in their future has prompted this reflection, but I have finally learned it’s not enough to just say “I’m not racist”.