Let’s Keep Talking About Race
Wendy Cave, mother and music / marketing consultant shares her first hand accounts of racism, her thoughts on the suburban white bubble, and why now more than ever we need to disrupt how our kids are taught about race,
in order to bring about real change.
“You’re a quadroon!”, said our history teacher Mrs Hardy in class, in her direct, friendly way. I was thirteen, and I’d never heard my racial heritage defined in such a way before. And so, I began to discover many more strange words used to describe people of colour – mulatto (my mother), octoroon (my children), mixed-breed, cross-breed, half-caste…words better left in the past. Mrs Hardy never taught us about the African diaspora or the brutal history of the British Empire, but I now understand that these words come from a colonial system of racial classification, the language of slavery.
As a young girl of mixed black and white heritage growing up in a predominantly white middle class suburb of Liverpool and happy in my brown skin, it baffled me that others seemed so uncomfortable with my ethnicity. On my first visit to the hairdresser, she stood back and stared at my hair, utterly bewildered by it. White family members and friends would try to reassure me, “It’s ok, you’re not really black, are you? You’re almost white!”
“So…where are you from?” racially ambiguous people like myself are always asked. “Liverpool”, I’d answer. “No, but where are you really from? Where are your parents from? Why do you have such a nice tan? Is that your own hair? Can I touch it?” I do often feel these questions come from a place of naive curiosity – as an inquisitive person myself I fully understand the urge to examine and explore new and unfamiliar things. However these enquiries can of course be very offensive to people of colour, this exoticisation and singling out of their “otherness”. If this behaviour were reversed,imagine the bizarre comedy of me trying to stroke a white person’s hair on first meeting at a dinner party.
I’m also very aware of the painful issues around ‘colourism’, another abhorrent legacy of slavery, and the fact that my light complexion gives me a privilege not afforded to people with darker skin tones. Light skinned people of colour, particularly in the music, film and beauty industries are presented as the ‘acceptable’ face of blackness – a more palatable, less threatening representation of black culture, and I know I would have been more likely to have experienced more racism had my skin been darker. This is a privilege I want to use to initiate conversations around discrimination and equality whenever I can.
Having worked in the London music industry for many years, I’m now back on the lovely Wirral peninsula, busily raising my own beautiful children. I thank my lucky stars every day for the loving, supportive community we’ve found here and motherhood has gifted me the most precious tribe of warrior women I could possibly have wished for. I feel me and my children are truly loved and accepted for who we are, and that is a beautiful thing. We walk in the woods and swim in the sea, have picnics and playdates, watch sunsets and spend wonderful days making happy memories…and yet, it’s striking to me that I never hear conversations about race here. Are people uncomfortable talking about race to a person of colour in case they ‘get it wrong’? Or perhaps many people here have simply never been affected by racial issues, so it’s just not on the radar?
The growing global force of Black Lives Matter now offers us a renewed opportunity to work together to combat racism, so now more than ever can we please keep talking about race. Let’s keep talking to our children. As mothers we are so powerful. We are our children’s first teachers.
When George Floyd called out for his mama in his final moments, I felt the deep primal longing of every mother – to heal, to soothe, to protect. To fight for what is right and create a better world. Let’s teach our children that racism is a social construct, designed to divide us – about white privilege, about racial hierarchies. Racism can be fought at our dinner tables, in our bedtime stories, at the school gates. We as parents can crush racism by demonstrating love and tolerance. Not being racist is not enough – let’s make sure we raise actively anti-racist children.
Let’s keep talking to each other…
These difficult conversations start with ourselves – let’s be honest about any implicit prejudices of our own that may affect our words and action. Let’s not be afraid to admit our own privilege or discomfort around race – it doesn’t make you a bad person! We just need to commit to learning and doing better in the future.
How to be a white ally…
Use your privilege to speak up – use your voice and challenge racism wherever you find it, especially in the presence of your children.
Educate yourself, and then others – be assertive, get uncomfortable.
Please don’t say ‘All lives matter’… In saying this you are either failing to see, or refusing to admit that systemic racism against people of colour exists. Of course all lives matter, and the reason BLM exists is because black lives are being undervalued and brutalised in our society. Black people are being killed on the streets simply because they are black. BLM does NOT mean white lives matter less. BLM is asking for the support of white allies because black people are suffering in a way that white people are not. If you have never experienced discrimination or felt at risk of violence purely because of the colour of your skin, that’s white privilege – it’s not a privilege you should feel guilty about, but one you can use to support people of colour as they strive for equality. A white person’s life may be hard too, but the colour of their skin has not been a factor in that. Non white people experience racism all their lives – it is so deeply wrong, and we are tired. We are one human race, and if one group in society is in need of help, we should all stand together.
Please don’t value property over the lives of black people. Martin Luther King Jr. said “A riot is the language of the unheard.” If peaceful protests are consistently ignored, then unrest on the streets will be a natural outcome. Please don’t say ‘I don’t see colour’…We all see colour – don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Don’t try to erase the experience of black people. See the struggle, see the inequality, and challenge it.
So what will you tell your child about why statues are toppling from their pedestals? What will you say next time a family member or work colleague makes a racist comment? How will you use your compassion, power and privilege to help build a kinder, more inclusive world?
Black Lives Matter marks a pivotal point in the history of equality and race relations. It is a movement, not a moment. It’s time to embrace our beautiful differences.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Together we rise.