The unintended consequences of an ironed school shirt

I wrote this post the other day and then got busy and forgot to post it, but this morning I got an email inviting my boy to be a school ambassador and in the email it noted how smart he always looks which kinda underlines why I wrote the post in the first place…

I did not grow up, ensure dull men and bully bosses to spend my life ironing yet every Sunday night during term time I iron my son’s five white school shirts and three pairs of black trousers. I don’t iron them because I have nothing better to do or because I want him to look extra smart, supermarket shirts are perfectly passable un-ironed on a school kid in my opinion, I press them because of the unintended consequences of an ironed school shirt.

You see, I think we do make up our minds about a person when we first set eyes on them and I want people to see a boy, who is growing into a man, who is loved and cared for. Of course you can be loved and cared for in a wrinkled shirt but when society makes up its mind about black boys without them even opening their mouths we have to find multiple ways to decode the subliminal messages and stereotype thinking and I’ve found a starched shirt with a hint of lavender water gives him the edge.  His teachers always comment how well turned out he is, I’m pretty sure they know he is not handy with a spray bottle and the cotton setting so they unconsciously know he has parents who make an effort for him and they treat him with the respect he deserves. I’ve seen a lot of bully teachers at my boy’s new school and fortunately only one of them has messed with my boy – they were given a quick lesson in manners and have behaved ever since. The others read the visual clues.    

I remember listening to a discussion about how gangs prey on kids and the ones they target; those who look like someone is not coming to get them. My son has a clean shirt and well-greased skin, not just because he is loved, but so it is clear to anyone that may think there is a weak link that there is no fragility in his circle of protection. And though he would never admit it my boy also knows the difference looking sharp makes and I think he secretly likes the smell of lavender; it’s reassuring and reminds him school is only for a few hours a day. My boy also knows his clean and crisp shirt is an act of love, he notices kids who don’t have clean uniform and he questions what is going on in that family where washing isn’t done. Now I know the struggles many families face so I’m not here to judge, its bloody tough out there and sometimes something has to give. And yes all kids are vulnerable to gangs, I’m just recognising that where possible don’t under estimate the difference an ironed shirt makes to your kid and the people around them and remember the saying “Fix Up, Look Sharp” was around long before Dizzy Rascal.

The girl who smelt like cheese

I have started a short story writing class at City Lit and its so much fun. It’s a complete mixture of people and the tutor is a doll. Most of the class like me, have written professionally for years but have never been confident enough to write creatively for more than fun. Our group also includes a couple of writers with agents and books and everything and helpfully a GP who wants to write creatively and not for medical journals. Of the wannabe writers tribe most of us have work stuff in drawers and saved on memory sticks. Us wannabe writers totally bonded over not sharing our work coz it’s uncomfortable and terrifying but I’m not here for that, so here goes, here is my homework. We had to write a 500 word flash fiction based on the prompt ‘an unexpected relative’.

The girl who smelt like cheese

She was stood in the living room when I got home from school. Her hair greased into pigtails which curved over her ears like bananas, red and white polka dot ribbons held the ends of her hair together.

I looked at Mummy and I looked at the girl who was much bigger than me, she was almost a teenager, much too big for the Magic Roundabout which on any other Tuesday afternoon Mummy would watch with me while the house was quiet because the boys were at football and Daddy worked late at the train station. The girl looked familiar but I’d never seen her before. She had the same nose as my mother and the curve of her body underneath her blue coat with red buttons, which was identical to mine, was the shape of all my aunts.

Who was this girl stood in my living room smelling like cheddar cheese, taking up space, my space in my house? I hoped she wasn’t staying past tea time.  She looked more like Aunt Grace than like Aunt Eunice, maybe she was a cousin? I don’t remember if all of Aunt Grace’s children lived in England or if they lived in Canada with their father. Aunt Grace had so many children I’m not sure if even she knew how many she had or where they lived.

I looked again at Mummy who was busy looking through her purse, her Sunday purse the one with a gold clasp, the one she kept for best, maybe she was looking for this strange girl’s identity? I noticed a-side the settee was a small suitcase, blue again, with an air luggage tag tied to the black handle, ‘Air Jamaica’ it read, with our address, 22 Richmond House, Carmen Estate, Catford, England, neatly marked out in pencil under the typeface that said ADDRESS. This funny looking girl with her bad hair and copycat coat was from Jamaica. She made me nervous this girl, my stomach tightened not in a good way like when you won a goldfish at the fun fair, but scared, like when a teacher asked you to stay behind after class – who was she, why had no-one ever said anything about her and why was Mummy not bothering to introduce her?

Finally, Mummy saw me stood in the doorway, my tiny frame hid behind the wall.

“Ahhh Jaqueline” she said, beckoning me to come into the room, “this is your sister Marlene, she’s come from Jamaica to live with us, come na, come say hello to your sister and then you can show up to your room.”

My so called sister smiled at me, the gap between her teeth looked funny, like her teeth were too big for her mouth. As soon Mummy wasn’t looking Marlene sharply snapped off her smile and squished her lips firm.  Looking down that family nose of hers she turned her whole face into a scowl and sneered at me. This sister situation was not going to end well, without yet saying a word Marlene had made it clear that she was not here to make friends, she was here to take over.

Why is feminism still so racially divided?

Last week I went along to a book reading for the launch of Bernadine Evaristo’s new novel ‘Girl Woman, Other’ (which I am loving btw) and there was an insightful discussion about feminism, what it means now and what it meant 20 years ago? This got me thinking more over the next few days so I thought I’d share a question I have been asking myself for about the past 20 years.  Why is feminism still so racially divided?

At the moment there is lots of discussion around lack of opportunity for women to work flexible hours, about equal pay, about lack of career advancement. All really relevant discussions that need to be had. What no one is talking about is why black and brown women are rarely included in these conversations? Do these workplace barriers not apply to all women regardless of ethnicity?

I’m a feminist I always have been, to me feminism means all my sisters have equal opportunities for success and personal growth whatever that means to them. What I observe is the feminists with the loudest voices only considering what they, with their white privilege want and in my nearly 49 years of reflection I haven’t known feminism to be any different.

Back in the 1970s and 80s we had a society with the economic security to enable all women to stay at home, isn’t that what the history books tell us? Well this applied to some white women and very few black women. The black women I knew at this time worked two jobs to make up the family’s income make ends meet. In the 1990s we saw more mixed relationships and, in this decade, the only black women I knew who could be stay at home mums if they wanted to, were those married to white men.

Roll forward to now and we seem to be going backwards in time, I know a handful of black women who have chosen to stay at home because work doesn’t work for their families. They face the same barriers as their white counterparts but I rarely see any of the white feminists with big platforms genuinely championing all of their sisters or holding a seat for black and brown women at their table. I see a token black woman in their campaign photos, ticking a diversity box, I do not see genuine heartfelt sisterhood across the racial divide.

To be able to campaign for anything you have to have the luxury of time. It’s not that black and brown women are not concerned or affected by lack of workplace opportunity, I’d suggest the reason they are not leading campaigns is because they are busy working, it’s really hard to campaign for more when you don’t have any flexibility in your day. Black and brown women are highly represented in the public sector, retail, hospitality, healthcare and education. It’s impossible to turn up to a mid-week 11.00am campaign photo-shoot when you have a job, bills to pay and you only get a 15-minute coffee break.

So why is feminism still so racially divided? Is it because mostly, the feminists with the biggest platforms are white, haven’t worked on their privilege or recognised that sisterhood is bigger than the women they can easily access? The opportunity for women to have power and influence over the policy decisions that impact all women has never been greater, I hope for us all that those with the best access to creating change quickly take on the challenge of including the voices and life experiences of women that are busy working.

My journey begins

Thanks for joining me! I’m diving straight in …..

I have written a post for the brilliant Make Motherhood Diverse blog, about Mothers Day when your mother doesn’t have the emotional tools to love you.

adoption-parent-child-holding-hands.jpg

“Mother’s Day is presented to us an opportunity to reflect on the wonderful moments we shared with the woman who nurtured and loved us, that wholesome woman who held us when we fell. Bloom and Wild have boldly given customers the opportunity to opt out of the hearts and flowers marketing messages, someone in that office knows, Mother’s Day doesn’t always fill your heart with happy memories, sometimes it’s a trigger for disturbing memories.”

You can read the piece in full here