Living as we do in a culture of domination...
Sometimes it is hard to write. My fabulous social media Mage, Megan Hudson rightly suggested that given October is, amongst other things, Global Diversity Awareness Month, and given that she knows how important this topic is to me, that perhaps my newsletter this month could focus on that.
My guess is that little did she know the tailspin this would cause.
It threw me headlong into a whole host of the archetypal assumptions that huddle together to cause writer’s block: I don’t know enough about this to be intelligent enough. Other people are way more qualified to write about this than I am, I should leave it up to them. I will get this wrong, make mistakes, upset people, and make a mess. I will make a fool out of myself. I’m going home now and pulling the duvet up over my head. Whose silly idea was it for me to write a monthly newsletter?
My journey with diversity began, as it does for many, with the colour of my skin and the circumstances of my birth. In my case the former is so-called white (kind of pinky-beige really), and the latter was in Kampala, Uganda 520 days before the country gained independence from British colonial rule.
If Debby Irving hadn’t articulated it already, the title of the story of my life would have been that of her brilliant book Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race. My parents were an Irish mother and an English father, so I also grew up amongst narratives of the consequences of pain inflicted by the British upon the Irish. My paternal grandfather, whom I never met, stopped talking to my mother when she married my dad, and my great uncle Michael was murdered at nineteen years of age by the Black and Tans dragging him to death behind one of their army trucks.
I exiled myself from Africa after I finished my degree and spent 19 years adrift from the Continent of my Soul because I was too foolish, too immature, and too scared to face up to the attitudes most white folk I encountered in Kenya (to where my parents had moved to escape Idi Amin) had, attitudes they presumed I shared.
In the UK I looked and sounded like I belonged, but I knew that I didn’t. But whilst there I was able to do what anyone who comes from the power group can do: I could bounce around cushioned by the bubble – I could behave ignorantly, even though it was plain to see, every day, that black people were the ones being stopped and searched by the police, way, way more often than white.
When I chose to return to Africa, albeit much further south than my country of birth, I vowed to be part of bridge building.
Why, then, did my heart sink at Megan’s suggestion? I’ve been pondering that. I have learned a lot in the 23 years I’ve been back on African soil, too much to summarise for this missive. Bullet points seem to me like an odd choice at this point, but here goes:
Your attitudes don’t matter all that much unless and until you have power
If you are white, you have power. Period.
One of the many privileges that power bestows on you is the bubble
The bubble means you can be ignorant
Power acts like a Harry Potter invisibility cloak on the people who have it
You don’t notice you’ve got it
The ones who notice power are the ones without it
Because in having power you don’t notice it, you can be in the bubble and not know it
The bubble is like a comfort zone, it’s nice to be able to be in there
Things that disturb you in your bubble make you feel uncomfortable
It is very hard to wake up white and find yourself in the story of race, but not anything like as hard as being black in the story of race
As bell hooks said, love is a verb not a noun
This newsletter has been but a fragment. All I have addressed here is a snippet of my own personal story around race. But Diversity is so much more isn’t it? It is within us, in our conflicting voices. It is gender. I could have written this whole newsletter about the magnificent, challenging, thrilling, and tender story that is my journey with Malaika, my daughter, assigned male at birth. It is class, and economics. It is age. It is physical ability. It is mental health. It is neurology. It is food and dress and dance and music and art.
Global Diversity Awareness Month is an invitation for all of us to get out of our bubbles. To stretch ourselves and reach into that which is unfamiliar, to learn, to be open, to be interested, to grow. To work at love. To really let ourselves understand the art of loving.