Every situation has a flip side. For all the pain this global pandemic is chucking at us I am grateful for the gifts it is giving us too.
Many of us have been able to slow down and, outside of living through the horror of the fragility of society and an underfunded safety health service, have adapted well to spending all our time at home and spending that time with our families. Some of us have even enjoyed it.
I am one of those people.
I thought I was more relaxed because I wasn’t commuting, wasn’t having to navigate time, nor deal with the lack of it. But these new ways of living are not what is making me incredibly calm, work is harder from home without the support or company of a brilliant team, I have realised I am totally calm because above all else my 13 year old son is home. He is not going or coming home from school by himself, he is not exploring his new and very limited freedom with his friends, he is not going to park to shoot basketball or the cinema or to Nando’s. He is home where I know he is safe.
In the old days I worried about him constantly. I was worried about him looking older than his 13 years and being jumped by hood rats or the police.
In the old days he had a basic GPS watch that he could make emergency calls on and that enabled us to see where he was. It’s not that we don’t trust him, we do, we don’t trust that he will be safe from people who think that mugging kids, or worse, is a normal thing to do. Before the boy started secondary school I went in all the shops on his route home and asked if they had a plan in place for if someone was attacked? Not many of them did, which for a place like Hackney with a massive rate of street crime was a disappointment, but a couple did and my son knows where the safe places are on his route home from school. He knows to sit downstairs on the bus and to always be under a CCTV camera. He knows to always stay aware.
In the old days we reminded every time he went out that if he was stopped by the police that he said nothing other than his name, address, age and that they should call his parents. We have repeated that mantra out loud and in ‘stressful’ conditions so that if it ever happens, he will have heard himself say those words and hopefully repeat them to any officer who stops him.
Every year around 34,000 children in England are victims of gang related violence. 56,000 children go missing from home linked to gang related crime and 350,000 children say they know someone who is a member of a gang. These are not good numbers and we know they are grossly underestimated as there isn’t the capacity in safeguarding teams to report a true picture. And we know that as a young black boy he is 40 times more likely than his white counterparts to be stopped by the police. 40 times!
My child is not a statistic, I have a c-section scare to prove it, and while we can do everything within our control to give him a well-rounded life and a secure one I know it takes just one incident outside of our control to change everything. And that means I worry constantly worrying about his safety.
When the boy was little he was cute, not considered a danger to anyone, now he is a massive man-child with facial hair and a deep voice, he is growing into the independent young person we’ve spent all our time nurturing. We are proud of our boy, he is kind, has empathy, is bright, funny, articulate and well read, but as much as his family and those who love him know all of this strangers don’t. To them he is just another black teenage boy in a hoodie, many strangers won’t see a happy go lucky teenager embarking on life, they will see a threat or a target.
So the other side of this global pandemic is that my son in the house, yes it is robbing him of exploring his independence, of stretching his world beyond is parents coat tails but it has also suspended the fear that I and probably many parents of black boys live with every day, for once in our lifetime, our kids are safe from discrimination and street crime at home.