Lucy's blog: The day you didn’t have
I had been jotting down ideas for this blog with lockdown in mind. My husband and I are working from my mother’s house in the land that high-speed broadband forgot where we are locking down to support her and help make arrangements because my grandpa died from COVID-19, in a care home we have been banned from for months. I have a Year 1 who has been home-schooling without live classroom sessions for 11 weeks and is now the guinea pig year to go back into socially distanced school. This year has been a shock to my system, as it has been for everyone. It’s like opening the door in the middle of winter and being hit by a wall of icy cold air. A wake up in some ways but it has also frozen the very air inside your lungs and left you stunned, partially numb, in cryostasis.
Whilst it felt like this novel virus had frozen the world, systemic racial inequalities were not slowed by the cold. They were exacerbated. So instead of musing on lockdown life, I want to take a few moments this week to speak about my white privilege.
I think one of the difficulties with this phrase is that ‘whiteness’ does not absolve you from experiencing hardship like poverty, homelessness, redundancy, grief or struggling with your mental or physical health. Life can still be very, very hard and the coronavirus crisis has created a unique moment in time where everyone from junior employees up to the company management, and even our children, are facing and sharing the challenges of a rare and global event more openly than we’ve ever seen.
But, if you are white, there are things that didn’t happen in your day. Or your yesterday. Or your last month. Or your childhood. Things that aren’t happening to your children. White privilege is nine tenths about the day you didn’t have.
These are (just some of) the ways that privilege has intersected with the challenges I have faced in the last few years.
I had a child unexpectedly young. I have never been asked whether I have children in a professional context. When I do share that information, I am met with praise for my ability to manage a family and a career and not shame for my age or circumstances.
My husband is foreign and when we applied to get married, it was not investigated by the Home Office. Our conventional, late 80s white baby names spared us the gruelling investigations that many face to prove that their relationships are genuine.
When I didn’t earn enough for a spousal visa and he was required to return to America, I was able to make a few long trips so we could spend some of that time together. My passport is met with the eyes of a border guard who assumes I am a tourist and will go home afterwards. I never get pulled into the side room for extra questions.
That separation did not last forever. Just before we were (finally) able to live and work together in London, I had to get the flat by myself after 2 years working intermittently, and with a spotty credit rating. I persuaded the landlord I was a good bet because my new job would correct for my track record. He took that chance on me.
Amidst a global health crisis, we are among those lucky enough to stay home and keep safe. British minority groups are disproportionately among those whose jobs meant they could not do the same. Our racial background is not a risk factor for COVID-19.
Alongside the hard moments, we have experienced the benefit of the doubt. We have made choices that turned out to be mistakes and had the opportunity to try again, to overcome those challenges. The narrative is one of resilience and hard work. But there are other experiences we could have at every turn that countless others, who also work hard and try to do everything right, do experience. Those are days we did not have.
Acknowledging that being white did not make any of these hard things harder is important - it’s a shift in the narrative we need to see - but it’s also the tip of the iceberg. So sign petitions, write to your MPs, make donations and put opportunities in the paths of people of colour where you can. As parents, we need to make sure our children know a world of inclusive history and literature and celebrate the stories and lives of black Britons and Asian Britons whose contributions were left out of our own syllabuses. Because the day I actually did have, the one where my family could be together and safe, is the day we should be striving for everyone to have.
Lucy lives with her six-going-on-sixteen year old mini-me, brilliant American husband and co-parent, enormous cat (and currently also her maxi-me mother and her could-be-a-bear dog).
Category: A Citymother's Diary