I hope my children never say shit like, ‘But some of my best friends are black!’*

Driving home today, we heard the news on the radio. It was discussing the American football player who refused to stand for the national anthem; it was discussing black people being killed by police in America.

And so the questions came.

‘Mama, what did that say about the police hurting black people?’

‘Mama, why are police hurting black people?’

So we spoke. I told them if a white person and a black person committed the same crime, the black person was likely to be more harshly sentenced, to spend longer in prison. S started to cry – she said we need to speak out and get these people released.

I told them how people of colour are more likely to be treated unfairly in daily life. How they might be denied the same opportunities white people had.

What a hard thing to say to my children, but how easy it was to say it. If we are allies of the human race, we cannot deny racism. It exists. My children could quickly grasp the idea of racism on an institutional and individual level. It was easy to have this discussion (don’t be afraid), but so hard that we had to have this talk.

I said, I hope the two of you grow up to be people who stand up against this sort of behaviour. You might be able to challenge racism in your future jobs, you might be able to reach out and include people that might be left out. But don’t wait till you are grown up. You can make a difference now.

And they talked about how they could help make things better. They spoke as children do, ignorant of the centuries of enslavement and oppression, but so sweet and pure and ideal.

‘Mama, _______ is kind of sort of black and he’s so nice! Mama, ______ is black and she’s very, very kind.’ They went on, naming names of children they knew. Using these children as examples of wonderful people of colour – but not yet realising their friends might be hurt now or in future because of their colour. Not understanding they themselves might be hurt one day because they are raised by two mothers.

But they named names*.

And I sit here, home after a morning walking through thunder and lightning, thinking that the most important thing is connection. Putting names and faces and stories to real people instead of buying into stereotypes.

I’ve had emails from people saying they’ve used our family, me, to discuss with their children about queer families. I don’t mind. I come out, I am who I am (trying to have) no hesitations because I know it’s important to the world to be a real person. Not just a label.

So, my sweet children, go on naming those names. Go on questioning the system. Go on planning how you can make a difference.

And, my sweet friends, go on thinking about this stuff. Consider discussing it with your children. They are capable enough to handle the hard stuff, and really, aren’t we all responsible for challenging racism? One way to do that is to teach the next generation that inequality exists. It’s real. But diversity is wonderful; cultures are deep and rich and powerful. They are worth defending, worth learning about.

These conversations are worth having.

 

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Don’t erase me.

Note: I only speak for myself here. I hope I don’t annoy or offend people who may feel like I am speaking for them and saying things they don’t need or want said. Let me know in a comment so I can think/learn!

Here’s the problem with saying things like
I’m colourblind; we all bleed red.

Why do gay people feel the need to come out? Love is love.

ALL lives matter. 

Look, I get you. I realise you’re saying things about how the world should be. But I’d also like you to know that being colourblind, being blind to differences and saying we’re all the same and all equal, well. It’s not great.

It invalidates the experience of living an othered life. When I hear people saying they don’t understand why gay people need to come out, it can feel like a tidal wave of erasure coming my way. My experience doesn’t matter. I don’t know what it feels like to be queer in this modern world.

But the thing is, if you are white and straight (and male? well educated? have money?) you probably don’t see that there is still a big problem. Lots of big problems.

Black people aren’t making up racism or exaggerating what it means to be black in today’s society. Why would they? Why would gay people be so scared of coming out if it wasn’t a colossally huge deal? And why would they (why would I, I own this, it happens to me) have to come out every single day to new people they meet, if it truly didn’t matter?

Sometimes I can say I have a wife and the conversation moves on, but usually it’s fraught with well meaning apologies for assuming I have a husband, asking me about gay marriage, etc. Sometimes it’s been less…pleasant.

My experience is other.

Saying things like, ‘Please, people, let’s stop talking about #blacklivesmatter and white privilege, we’re all Americans,’ boils my piss. Because the simple fact is, only a white American would be able to say something like that. Look around at every other minority, they’ve got a different story to tell. We may all be Americans, but we are not all living the same experience.

And, quite frankly, all this ‘colourblind’ stuff feels like privilege and assumption and oppression even more. You may mean it like, ‘Hey, we’re all people.’ And while that’s great, the assumption that you ‘don’t see difference’ means that you assume everyone is having the same experience you have. You are wiping out our voices, you are ignoring what we say, you comfortable where you are and assume everyone else is, too.

But I think the only way we are all going to get there, get to that place, is by doing the hard work. The uncomfortable work, if you aren’t used to it. It can take balls to come out again and again, ten times a day, but I do it because I don’t want to be ‘whitewashed’ (for want of a better term….maybe straightwashed?), because I want my children to know it’s okay to be who they are, because other people I meet might be trapped in a very tight and alone place, and I’d like them to feel comfortable telling the truth with me.

It can take bravery to try to find out the answers to questions you or your family may have. Why do some women wear headscarves? Why are black people ‘still’ so angry about slavery? (Yes, my mind explodes at this one, but this is a very common thing to hear in America.) Why do people want to emigrate to new countries, and what is that like for them? 

Do the work. Do a bit of research. Have uncomfortable conversations about inherent racism, about privilege, with your friends and family. Try to imagine what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

And please, stop erasing me.

We are all different and that has the potential to be such a strength. This world is full of colours and shapes and sizes and abilities and loves and stories. When you say we’re all the same, you are speaking from tremendous privilege and perhaps idealism, but you are not speaking the truth for all people. There are many rich subcultures all around us all, and what a shame it is if we miss the opportunity to learn more about them, to make friends with people unlike ourselves, to celebrate all these differences and how they enrich us all.

Minority people have spent years, decades, centuries carving out spaces to be proud of themselves, to not fall prey to shame and violence. When you say we don’t exist, when you say our experience isn’t valid, you are trying to wipe out the things that we have fought hard for, the things that make us special, the things that are a big part of who we are. If you want us all to be the same, to be a world without wonder and difference, I’d gently suggest that the way to do this isn’t to cover your eyes and pretend you don’t see us. We are here. We are ready and waiting for you. We want you to stand by us as allies, we want you to delight in our differences, we want to be acknowledged.

We are not all the same. And you know, that’s okay.

All I can do is love. 

Here’s my understatement of the year:

Man, things have been politically and socially messed up lately.

Here in the UK, the vote for Brexit (for the UK to leave the European Union) has triggered a huge rise in xenophobic hate crimes. Muslims (including British born), Polish people – hell, any flavour of immigrant (except, perhaps, white and well educated) is experiencing violence, having vitriol spewed at them, living in fear and uncertainty for their futures.

Many companies are choosing to leave the UK, the pound dropped in value overnight to unbelievable new lows, and the strongly held opinions of the leave/remain camps have caused friendship and family breakups. Political leaders appear to have no plan, other than quitting their jobs and stomping their feet.

In the US, a spate of violence has occurred – and not your ‘usual’ mass shootings that seem to barely affect people anymore. I went to bed one night with the news of a black man being held down and shot point blank, and woke up to the news that yet another black man was shot in his car – with a four year old child in the back. I won’t go over the details of these horrific killings, but I will say that my facebook community has been heavily invested in these debates. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter (which I support, 1,000,000%) has people foaming at the mouths.

Most alarming to me aren’t the out and out racists, but the ordinary people left scratching their heads and saying, ‘But don’t all lives matter?’ These are the people who genuinely don’t see why the BLM movement is necessary, the people who say they are colourblind, the people who probably have good intentions but don’t realise the ramifications of what they are saying.

These are the people who went nuts when policemen were shot and killed in Dallas, following a peaceful protest on behalf of BLM. The sort of protest march that has happened twice in London in the past few days, with no violence attached. Of course no one is saying murdering police is a good payback for them murdering black Americans, but suddenly it’s turned into a big contest between ‘black lives’ and ‘blue lives.’

I straddle both worlds, having lived in America until I was about 21/22, then moving to the UK. My friends live across the globe, but most are in the UK and the US. So when shit goes down in either place, given the (shameful?) amount of time I spend on Facebook, I see all the posts and arguments and memes and misunderstandings. Many of my friends are very political, and most are very liberal.

One said this week, ‘Why are we all talking about this? Is there a point? We need to stop talking and start doing.’ She’s right, of course, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What can I, a sole person with no wide political or social reach, actually do? I’m not going to be going into Parliament or Congress to fight for law changes – but I can help raise awareness, I can strongly support minority communities (ever mindful that I’m queer and an immigrant, which no doubt colours my thinking), I can try to participate in respectful discussions. I can STAND UP against racism.

Most importantly, I am someone who DOES have one area of strong influence – my children. They are the next generation, the next brave people who will rise up and make their voices heard.

My strongest way to be and do is to do just what I am doing. I talk about difference with my kids. We have lots of hard discussions in a way that doesn’t feel so hard, because I start from the base assumptions that these things are worth talking about, and that my children are capable of having these discussions.

I want them to never be colourblind – I want them to see the richness and diversity of all our fellow human beings, I want differences to be celebrated and acknowledged, I want them to understand why when one group of people is targeted with hatred or violence, it affects all people. Keeping quiet implies tacit support of the oppressor, and I hope my children grow and learn how to navigate the tricky waters of society. I hope that even if they don’t take the waters of xenophobia or racism by storm, that they make ripples felt the whole world wide.

It’s up to us, to all of us. We need to lead by example. Black lives do matter. Immigants do contribute to our society. We can’t hope or try to erase whole communities of people from the wider social experience just because they speak another language or have skin that’s black. These people matter.

And so do our voices, and our actions. Do the little things you can. I’ve written my MP, I openly support and campaign for minorities (and gun law reform in America, but that’s a whooooolllle different story), I tell my children that we are all different, and that is okay. It’s better than okay, it’s glorious.

I am me, and you are you, and if only we all joined together, how much more powerful and beautiful this world would be.

Who are the Muslims we fear?

I’ve always thought that it is hard to maintain hate in the face of actually knowing someone. You know. Saying hello, learning a name, maybe having lunch together.

That’s why I’ve always been very open about being queer – it’s not always been easy or pleasant to be out, but I like to think it helps others who might not be ready to be open about who they are. It’s one thing to hate an anonymous person or group – but once you know them? My, it’s hard to hate that nice fellow you chat with every day.

So for my family and friends that fear Muslims, let me tell you about a few I’ve known.

In London, I worked in a very diverse team. I always felt happier sitting with the black and/or Muslim crew, and it wasn’t until a friend pointed out that I was probably happier there as I was also a minority (albeit with white privilege and able to pass as a heterosexual). So, here are some scary Muslims I met.

One was one of the smartest people I’ve met. She was very serious, thoughtful, and insightful. She studied for her MA at the university where Suzy would attend for her MA the following year, and gave us the lowdown. She was always someone to have an interesting, smart conversation with. She laughed easily and had a gift working with young people.

Another spooky fearsome Muslim was a woman who had a dirty laugh and loved any excuse to use it. She was so authentic and funny and irreverant, and I knew any time I was working in close proximity to her I’d almost wet myself from laughing multiple times.

While I worked there, I also had a lot of young Muslim clients, some male, some female. One particular young woman I supported emotionally for eighteen months. I saw her three times a week, sometimes more, and she was a gift. She was in her late teens, an adult really, and she was exploring what it meant to be her in this world she lived in. A year after I stopped working with her, we saw each other on a random London street. She ran across the street to embrace me, and I squeezed her so tight…if only to let her know, in some way, how much I had cared and still cared for her.

Now I live in a different city, which is also marvellously peopled with people from around the world. Our home education community is large, and we are lucky enough to know (and be getting to know!) Muslim women and children …who oddly enough, haven’t threatened us or made me fear for my life.

One of these women, my children refer to as ‘superhero _____’ because early on in knowing her, one tripped over a brick on the pavement. He fell and ripped up his knee quite badly. I was rather far away in the park and heard the screams. I also heard when they stopped. She’d stopped to comfort him, and that small act of kindness has impressed itself deeply on my children.

Another woman we’ve only just met was deep in the woods with us earlier this week, and some of the adults and children were talking about ISIS. Cue a great opportunity to talk about racism, stereotypes, judging other people.

And on Tuesday nights at gymnastics? My bestie there happens to be a Muslim woman addicted to ice lollies. We’ve chatted occasionally over the last year, and she’s often seen rolling her eyes at her children, smiling and chatting with whoever she’s sat next to, etc. We’ve not talked every week, and we’ve never talked about deep issues – but do we have to? We are both tired mothers waiting for the day to be over so we can go to bed.

Sure, you may say, my friendly misogynist. These are all examples of women. Women aren’t scary.

What about the guy who entertained my children today while they waited for a Christmas present for their other Mummy to be ready? He laughed and joked and made them howl with laughter.

Not all people are good. I get that. But a lot more people are good than bad. A lot more people are here to say hello, to make connections, to help each other out rather than to hurt each other.

And I can say that while I’ve got a lot of shit from (mainly American, not UK) Christians about my sexuality (not all of you, not at all, but perhaps more broadly from the Catholic church I no longer belong to….and yes, some people I know who send long emails about my sins), I’ve never got shit from my Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, or Pagan friends (and of course, some Christian friends!). Not once. I’ve been met with grace and kindness and friendship.

I aspire to meet others in grace, kindness, and friendship. I’m thankful that I moved abroad, that I had a chance to meet people who were different (and yet so similar) to those I left behind. My horizons have been expanded, I (usually) challenge racism and the like immediately, I am living with two children who don’t comprehend disliking someone because they are brown or wear a head scarf.

All these terrifying Muslims I’ve known, they’ve given me friendship, lots to think about, laughter (and once, some AWESOME bread that I can still taste now. Thank you, superhero!). These women (and men!) have been beautiful, smart, sunny, angry. They’ve been naughty partners in crime, colleagues in study, someone to gossip with in the playground. I don’t hesitate to be openly horrifed by policiticians or ordinary people who spew hateful language and ideals.

Once, at the university where I gained my first degree, we had a rally. A rally where everyone ‘other’ was welcomed. We stood in the darkness, holding candles, and listened to each others’ stories. Stories of gender, of religion, of sexuality, of race. Sometime in that evening, looking at all these other magnificent and gorgeous people, we all realised how much stronger we are together.

I was nineteen when I learned that, really felt it to be true, and it’s not stopped being true yet.