Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the ways we tone down those issues that matter deeply to us. We speak out about our experiences and we’re told we’re too much. We advocate for other people and we’re told it’s not our place. So, eventually, we just stop saying it out loud. We retreat back to the comfortable discomfort of how things used to be, and life feels a little jagged, our spirit a little busted, our soul a little bruised.
This blog space has lain dormant because I’ve been shying away from writing about the things I really want to speak about. A strange crisis of confidence happens when you watch the world finally forced to talk about something fundamental to your existence (racism)… and then, just as quickly, you realise that life was easier before. Before, at least, you could kid yourself that, deep down, surely everyone would demonstrate a basic level of empathy if only they knew. So where do you go once everyone knows but that blanket empathy you’d expected and dared to hope for is nowhere to be seen? Where do you head to in this culture of doubling down?
I could tell you the exact conversation that led to me and Stevie committing to using our little platform here at Century to speak about social justice and to challenge inequality. It was a conversation between the two of us about racism and race that rolled on over weeks, in waves of untangling and sadness and self-examination until we each, eventually, found a settling separately and, later, together. There were so many layers. But once we’d begun that conversation and reached that point, messy and painful as the process was along the way, there was no going back. It's ongoing.
It comes down to this: we only have one life. This is it. And our words and actions? What my son hears me saying and sees me doing every day? That’s what is passed down. The way we each move through the world has a ripple effect. It’s legacy. It’s about not always knowing how to do it but showing up anyway, uncertain and unpolished, and not looking away when someone tells you their story. It’s about finding connections without playing top trumps with each other’s trauma.
How do you reach your late 30s, as I did, without having had a real conversation about the impact of racism in your life and the lives of people who look like you?
You absorb it.
You’re told every time without fail that you probably imagined it.
You grow up with overtly racist political parties recruiting in your town centre, in your peripheral vision. You learn to get ready to run when you see Doc Martens and a shaved head.
You absorb someone screaming the N word at you, your dad and your siblings at 9 in the morning on your way to school. And then you get on with your day with your white classmates and your white teacher and your dad goes to work to tend to and diagnose and listen to and care for white people.
You brace yourself for the regularity of hearing the N word, or the P word, which lands differently somehow because you can laugh at their geographical idiocy. But the N word, you feel that one deep, every time. You absorb it, every time.
You’re told it has absolutely nothing to do with race and how dare you try to insinuate anything. You absorb the shame of being called a liar by an adult in front of your peers, time after time.
You hear monkey noises in the supermarket. You absorb it. In the next aisle someone stops you to tell you that your dad detected their illness early and saved their life.
You watch TV documentaries of Stephen Lawrence’s murderers laughing and admitting their guilt, sandwiched between comedies and cowboy films, and then you go to bed.
You tick the box ‘Other’ again and again and again and shake away the twinge each time. It’s just a word.
You’re told that whatever you’ve experienced has nothing to do with race.
You wear headphones everywhere, the music loud, so you only have to deal with the looks.
You take a ten hour journey with a family member to revisit the scene of a racialised violation at an airport. You talk about other things on the train amidst holidaymakers. Once there, the staff responsible apologise for the bad apple who isn't on duty that day. They assure you that what happened to you isn't official policy. You learn that an apology after the event is the best possible outcome. You eat your sandwiches and go home, never talk about it again.
You leave your small town and realise it wasn’t just a small town thing. Sometimes the texture of it changes a little, but the effect is always the same.
This is what is absorbed. This is a tiny, incomplete snapshot of the moments that are absorbed by anyone from a minority background, by those of us who stand out as different for any reason. This is the flipside that explains how our society produces adults who don’t know how to talk about difference. Who mouth the word “black” or “gay” in conversation. Who believe whole-heartedly that aiming for “tolerance” will get them a gold star.
Moira Stewart and Trevor McDonald were the closest thing to a Black community that existed in the town where my siblings and I grew up. Later, Ash in ‘Casualty’ joined the gang. But now, as adults, we have the words and the language to make our own damn platform. We can create the spaces that were lacking in our youth. We can advocate for the people who are navigating prejudice and we can hold space for the honest conversations that have to happen between all of us in order to grow.
So, this is a welcome.
Welcome to this blog and all it will be, moving forward. A safe, brave space for sharing stories about mental health, home, intersectionality, gender, disability, race, sexuality, creativity, neurodiversity, and wellbeing. For cultivating the hope and breathing space and representation and community that we didn’t all have growing up. For practicing the gentleness and bravery and vulnerability and kindness it takes to not only share but to really hear.
Let’s stop keeping our stories to ourselves.
.We can’t wait to share stories and experiences from Guest Writers. Would you like to write something or be featured or interiewed? This isn’t about being polished or having the perfect words in the perfect order: it’s about showing up exactly where you are. If this post has resonated and you’d like to contribute, using your name or anonymously, just drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Story’ in the subject line. See you soon x