Good News Blog

October 27, 2010

It is good news week on this blog. An open forum discussion, ‘Lewes & Diversity – Have Your Say’, is to be held at the Pelham House Hotel in Lewes on November 23, 18.30-20.30. The leader of the local council, Ann De Vecchi will chair the event and there will be three speakers: Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote, Yaa Asare a Brighton lecturer who has studied race in education, and me. Everyone who wants to will be able to have their say. The organisers hope the event will foster understanding, awareness and community cohesion. The forum is a direct result of an article I wrote…

That is good news, is it not? And so I decided to celebrate with a small selection of the many positive emails I have received – far outweighing the rest – since my article about racism appeared in The Sunday Times Magazine on August 8th. All these respondents were strangers to me. I have made some changes to retain their privacy. Is it odd to describe emails telling stories of racism as ‘positive’? Maybe it is, but I do know that I meant the article to speak for people who would read it and recognise their own experiences, as well as hoping it would shine some light on the more subtle forms of racism. So subtle that many people don’t even see them for what they are…or seem to think they are ‘weak’ and not worth worrying about.

EMAIL EXTRACTS:

I wanted to respond to your article in the Sunday Times particularly as all I have heard about the reaction to it seemed so predictable. I empathised and understood the truth of every word you said and I also knew that the likelihood of the ‘majority’ not understanding it, and accusing you of ‘having a chip on your shoulder was very strong. If the majority did understand and empathise with it, maybe you would never have needed to write your article! I am married to an anglo indian, my son is married to a mixed race nigerian/english woman, I have 5 grandchildren of varying hues, we all live in Inner London. My knowledge and experience of what you are saying comes through not just my personal but also professional experience n my work as a youth and community worker; comes from taking inner city kids out of London, comes from them having to experience being stared and pointed out, treated rudely, treated benignly as objects of interest, being asked where they come from.

Also from my experiences of being in the country side with my husband (who looks kind of european) and my sister in law (who looks fully Indian) and my husband attracting no interest and my now ‘totally english’ sister in law plenty. The greatest frustration for me about the whole damage this does is the fact that people who experience it are NOT believed about what they experience. I am not being very eloquent as I find writing confined to this little box quite inhibiting! I hope you, Petal and the kids thrive despite all the negativity, you look like a lovely and loving family and I’m sure you will. I’ts going to be a very slow process, whatever the ‘majority’ says but eventually things will change.

*****

I read your article in the Sunday Times and really enjoyed it. It was fantastic; as a young black person growing up in the shires I have always been the only black person in school or my class and I could relate to much of what was written in your article. I now study where I am one of three black people in the whole school! My brother studies in another field in which there are not many black people in this country. I say this just to encourage you and Petal that your children will all do well, with supportive and sensitive parents like yourself. I hope your article challenges many peoples perceptions especially in the education system today.

*****

Just to let you know not everyone in Lewes is against you. Thank you very much for writing the article. I can relate to some of it on some level. I also think the reaction is highly amusing. If indeed there were no racial tension people would be approaching you and saying ” I’m sorry you feel that way, how can I help to make you and your family feel better” Anger is of course a defense. Think you’ve stirred things up wonderfully! Keep your spirits up and your pen writing!

*****

It was quite interesting reading your article. I am a black woman who is married to a white man and living in a provincial town. We have three children and have experienced the same nonsense with schools. Unfortunately some of the Private Schools are just as bad. With the exceptions of a few, I’m afraid to tell you that you will just have to keep your eyes open and also to help your children with their studies wherever you can. My children are doing well academically because I have ignored a lot of negative comments and done my own thing. As for brandishing the children as troublemakers, we have been through all that. The least little thing is blown out of all proportion. I hope your wife Petal has been blessed with a sharp tongue as I have a feeling that when it comes to schools in this area, she will need it. As for the question, Where are you from?…..London. I mean where are you from originally? I get asked that so many times that I have now started answering with: I don’t know I was adopted, which usually shuts them up. Hope all goes well and you don’t feel you have to move, which of course will please some.

*****

I read your article in Sunday Times and felt a lot of empathy regarding racism and people attitudes. I met my wife who had a white mother and black father in London and we settled in Scotland together. We received an awful lot of friendly and not so friendly comments to the extent that my wife hated going out alone. Strangely the most common “word” was Paki which she found nearly as insulting as nigger. At school my kids were OK until their parents saw their mum and it was like being sent to Coventry. Over time my family became accepted but there was always the racist “stranger” who popped up up in shops and even in PTA at school. A lot of the abuse that we received was maybe down to ignorance but I truly believe that my kids were mentally scarred by this. Anyway just wanted to let you no that you and yours are not alone.

*****

Thank you so much for bringing middle-class areas like Lewes into the real world! As a resident in Lewes (originally from London as well) your article was well received in my household! Yes like your family I am not a white Lewesian! I totally understand and relate to what you and Petal feel and ALSO to what your children experience first hand. Being born in south London and experiencing the rise of National Front and the Brixton riots in the 70′s forced me to deal with and try to understand the need for racism. I was one of the only girls of “colour” at my school (I know things have changed drastically now – maybe more the other way). Every day I was subjected to verbal racial abuse and physical abuse at least once a week. I would be bullied by the white kids for being a “paki”- even though I was not from Pakistan (very confusing for an 8 yr old). And the token asian kids would bully me for not being asian! I remember the worst was being tied to a tree by these horrible twin white boys and being urinated on just for fun! And before you ask I am not mentally scarred! Life was like that in the 70s-80s. But what saddens me is that for such a “PC” town like Lewes that STILL there is a hint of it. But what saddens me more is how at least in the 70s, 80s we at least knew who were the racists; now everything has gone so underground that one does not know who is who. I do believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions to a degree. But your examples you have have written in your article regarding what your lovely children have experiened at their local school and from their peers has disturbed and unsettled me.

*****

It really made me laugh, only because I can relate to so much of it. I’m mixed-race, black father and white mother, and grew up a long way from the city. I could really understand what your children have gone through. I was the only mixed race pupil at my primary school and was singled out a lot. And to this day I’ve always been afraid to accuse anyone of racism because I know it will probably bring on a roll of the eyes, with whispers after I’ve gone that I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. My brother had the same too. He got disciplined at our secondary school because he ‘refused’ to fashion his hair into a side-parting. The deputy headmaster couldn’t understand that it’s hard to style afro hair this way and interpreted his behaviour as disobedience.The one thing that annoyed me most is everyone’s assumption that my parents were separated. They couldn’t understand how my father, being from the Caribbean wouldn’t have just impregnated my mother and then ran off. Surely that’s what all black men do? I still get that now and again, the last time was about three years ago. And the funny thing is, people don’t even hide their surprise when I tell them they’re very much together. I know everyone’s an individual but I would like to say don’t worry about your children. I went through some pretty irritating times as a child, but now I wouldn’t have changed those experiences for anything. Like your son, my nostrils were the focus of abuse (“you look like you picked them with your thumbs they’re so big”) but to be honest, everyone i knew got stick for something or other. The ignorance of the teachers, while probably incomprehensible to you, will do your  children a lot of good. It made me suspicious of adults and acutely aware that just because someone had authority and is in aposition of power, it doesn’t make them right. I really enjoyed your piece and it hit the nail on the head in so many ways. Thanks for writing that and I hope things get better.

*****

2 Comments (add a comment)

  1. Tweets that mention Good News Blog | davidjamessmith.net -- Topsy.com October 27, 2010

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brian Cathcart, David James Smith . David James Smith said: It's good news week on my blog. http://www.davidjamessmith.net/good-news-blog/ [...]

  2. David October 31, 2010

    Having had some time to reflect on the hulabaloo caused by your original article I have to say it has had an interesting effect. I heard about it second hand so it was presented to me as a “shocking libel on our town” etc. I may have been swept along with the general panic but now feel differently. At a recent talk by Nick Davies I realised that my perceptions of the media were niave and that the danger of manipulation was real. People have been encouraged to feel they are “burdened” by immigration and a multicultural society and this has allowed an irrational fear of otherness to lodge in our minds. The only way I can see to overcome this is by integration but as to how that can be achieved..?

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