When something significant happens in the world today, we no longer automatically turn to established media sources for news. We look to our friends, to those we follow on social media, to personal blogs, to watch events unfold through the filter of individual opinions and biases. Sometimes we only hear about news through such updates.
When I wrote my recent blog posts on race, drawing from my own experience as part of a mixed race family, I had no idea that this subject would so soon transition from a tentative, often controversial conversation to mainstream, organised outcry. Throughout these weeks of global protests, campaigns, lectures, courses and voracious reading (learning and unlearning), I have been tempted to share my evolving thoughts on the subject. But actually, I’m not going to. I don’t think the world (or the virtual part of it) needs another white person’s opinion right now. There are times when it simply seems wiser and more beneficial to the overall cause to serve as a road sign; times when arrows and explicit ‘this way’ messages are more effective than sharing a commentary on the journey. It also seems somewhat antithetical to take up more space on this subject when there is already ample material (especially from black writers and trusted institutions) to be digested and considered as we ‘do our work’ on racism. Why dilute the discourse with another dose of my opinion?
In the process of educating myself on race, I slowly became conscious of the fact that I would need to tackle the subject head on with my children if I wanted them to be confident and proud of who they are. Being mixed race is a point of strength, biologically speaking, and I wanted it to be so in their hearts and minds too. I didn’t want race to be an incidental factor in their lives, semi-ignored and barely mentioned, until such time as it is highlighted by others from outside the home - be it positively or negatively, superficially or more profoundly. While I value the magic and innocence of childhood, I think it is equally important to encourage children to talk about the things they see around them (including themselves), with truthfulness and respect.
Learning about race (prompted in no small way by having mixed race daughters myself) has become a passion of mine. Shamefully, I have come to the subject very late and am having to do a lot of unlearning. By unlearning I mean such things as questioning previously accepted assumptions, and trying to see history and reality from another angle to the one I was raised with in the UK. It started with meeting my husband who, while born and raised in France, is originally from Ivory Coast. Becoming part of his family and simply having more conversations about race - the interesting parts, the uncomfortable parts - really opened my eyes. And I realised what a responsibility I had, as a white mother, to be informed and proactive. The colour of my daughters' skin is not an aesthetic; it is something that will shape their lives, and something that has been devalued and made into a disadvantage throughout history’s white narrative.
With COVID-19 spreading like another wild fire, this is one of those significant moments in humanity’s collective life. Such moments come from time to time, it seems, in different forms and degrees of intensity. They shake the norm and ask new things from us. They remind us that we are not gods. And at such a moment it is timely to really look inside ourselves and decide who we want to be. We can choose to see beauty and hope, or ugliness and despair. It truly is a choice. We can panic and withdraw ourselves from the chaos, contemptuous of those who have stockpiled and left shelves empty. Or we can extend sincere concern beyond our immediate family to our neighbours and wider community, and see there all the beautiful acts and attitudes of kindness that are springing up like wild flowers.
Phew, it’s been a while! Not only since updating my blog, but since writing at all or even mentally preparing to write. For a couple of months I was operating in what felt like ‘emergency mode’: fuelled on adrenaline (not all bad, but adrenaline nonetheless), swamped by must-do practical duties, trying to squeeze back into the UK system after three years in Malta (not as easy as you’d imagine, on any level) and exerting most of my effort to simply hold it together with a lot of uncertainty and two preschool children. It’s like when you’ve hurt your back and are having to manoeuvre yourself cautiously so as to not aggravate it, only mentally. I felt like I had to tiptoe around my own self, trying to avoid thoughts and situations that might trigger further stress, as if they were actual twinges of pain. But of course, this is tiring and unsustainable in itself. And so the whole move abroad was a far bigger transition than expected: a physical relocation as well as a massive test to my inner equilibrium. I had thought it would be a return to familiarity, but really it was the start of something unrecognisably new. I should have predicted that really.
We all know the birth of a baby changes a family. And beyond them, the circle of relatives, friends and neighbours also rejoice; the date is now a birthday and is significant to all those touched by this new life. How much more so when that ‘circle’ of loving supporters comprises millions upon millions of people. And so it is that Bahá’ís and their friends and neighbours all around the world are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of The Báb this October.
Spiritual. Such a confusing word. There are probably as many different connotations for it as there are for ‘happiness’ or ‘work’; it just seems so subjective. And because the word is used in so many contexts, it can often be misleading, or alienating. Does it mean religious? Mystical? Weird? Unscientific? Does it relate to me or not?
We’re all familiar with the scene that’s become somewhat of a cliché: a person taking a picture of their food, a famous site, or themselves without seeming to appreciate the moment or their loved ones around them (children included). There is a drawing that shows a man drowning in the sea, and dozens of spectators holding out their phones to film him rather than help; this tendency in modern times has been exaggerated for comedy’s sake, but it persists and resonates because we know it is sort of true. Phones are whipped out to capture every moment - but truly for what? To remember? To share? To document? Because everyone else is doing the same? Whatever the reason, it seems that we are constantly leaving the enjoyment of the present experience, in pursuit of something else.
On a Sunday a few weeks ago, I had some free time. With two small children and a busy weekly routine, free time is not something I feel I often have. But it came and curled up on my lap like a purring cat and - truthfully - I almost felt uncomfortable with the prospect. It can take a lot of ‘unlearning’ to really relax and do things that have no immediate outcome or purpose. So, I decided to take my youngest daughter for a walk - a walk at a leisurely pace, with no fixed destination.