And on the 80th day (which was this past Tuesday), R went back to nursery school, effectively marking the end of this period of isolation for our family.
She was so excited. We had talked about how things would be different there, and she seemed fine with it, as long as she got to go back and see her friends and her teacher. Hearing my 3-year-old ask about seeing her best friend again, “Can I touch her?” was just heart-wrenching.
She’s back for a shortened amount of time, and it’s very early in the day, as they are staggering the times the small groups attend. But it’s something! E is in Year 2, which is not one of the groups the government has said can return to school yet, so we just have to continue with home learning for her.
As I cycle down our high street, Northcote Road, I’m reminded of that scene at the end of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, where all the people in and around the castle are waking up, emerging from their enchanted slumber, and attempting to pick up where they’d left off.
Some restaurants have reopened (for takeaway, not seated dining) and shops are preparing to open on the 15th, with new precautions in place, of course.
This was the first Thursday night in 10 weeks that we didn’t go out onto our front doorstep to “#clapforourcarers.” R was pretty disappointed it ended; she loved it. It’s now slated to become an annual event, on March 25.
I’m wary, though. I think we could very well end up back in lockdown again in the autumn, when people are spending more time indoors, so I’m conscious of remaining cautious. This summer’s easing of restrictions and our stepping out into this funhouse-mirror reflection of normal life is probably temporary.
As the panic about COVID-19 is waning, the conversation has turned to what’s going on in America right now, after the recent murder of an unarmed black man by white police officers. Again.
All these names, and more. And now George Floyd, whose murder was filmed, and then broadcast around the world. A modern-day lynching.
Black Lives Matter protests are happening all over, as they should be, but it’s problematic during a pandemic, because of the current rules that ban gathering in large groups. Which is only worsening the people vs. the police situation.
I’m sick to my stomach. All week I’ve been feeling outraged, helpless, anxious, ashamed, despairing, and frustrated.
I have made the difficult decision to not go to a protest in London right now, because I don’t want to contribute to the spread of the pandemic. Too many innocent lives have been lost due to racism; I don’t want more lives lost because of this virus, if we can prevent that from happening. And London is just too densely populated to make it possible to socially distance at a protest.
But I feel so guilty that I’m not going. I want to make it clear that I stand with the protestors who are exercising their rights. Or kneel, or lie down with them, as the case may be.
As a white person, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what the right thing to say is, and I’m sure that over the years I’ve probably said the wrong thing many times, and made many mistakes.
I’ve been reading about and thinking through the concept of systemic racism, and I hate that I’m a part of this system, and that for me, it’s not something I ever had to think about before.
I’ve enjoyed an easy life of white privilege, growing up in a middle-class majority-white community, with every opportunity to pave the way for my success.
The only encounters I’ve ever had with the police have been getting pulled over for speeding as a teenage driver, and getting let off with a warning. Lucky me.
This makes me feel very uncomfortable. Apparently that’s good, I should feel uncomfortable. I have to wallow in my discomfort, and use that uneasy feeling as a spark to change.
I consider myself an empathetic person, but I just can’t know what life is like for people of color. The closest I can get to understanding this is comparing it to explaining to my husband what it’s like to be a woman. The discrimination and harassment I have faced because of my sex/gender is something he can only sympathize with, not empathize with. He can be supportive, but he can’t truly understand. As a heterosexual white male, the system has always been in his favor, and politicians have never tried to take away his rights or tell him what to do with his body.
I’ve spoken up for women’s rights, and been all too keen to go march for matters that directly affect me and my daughters. I’ve spoken up for LGBTQ rights. But I’ve been too quiet when it comes to speaking up about racial issues, because I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing. But I’m learning now that the actual wrong thing is not saying anything at all. I didn’t march with the Black Lives Matter movement back in 2015 in Baltimore, after the death of Freddie Gray, and I should have. I regret this immensely. I keep reading that it’s not enough to simply not be racist, we have to be antiracist.
I want to be an ally in this fight for change. I want to personally commit to proactively increase my understanding of these issues and take a stand against structural racism. The injustices black people face every day, and have faced for centuries… ENOUGH ALREADY.
One particular quote that resonates with me is this one from the wise Maya Angelou:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
So, maybe I don’t know what to say, so I need to educate myself. Ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is dangerous.
What can I do right now, if I’m not out there with the protestors?
My friend Anne, who has a much more professional expat blog than I do, wrote a great post this week on the subject of how to be an ally, with lots of resources, and I urge you to please read it at pret-a-voyager.com.
The easiest thing I can do from home, right away, is read. My friend Amber and I both got this book, How to Be an Antiracist, and are planning to discuss after each chapter, holding one another accountable as we make a concerted effort to learn and change.
And I got this one, Raising Antiracist Kids, as well:
A crucial step for me is learning how to talk to my kids about race, and raise them to be better, and do better. We’re starting the conversation by watching the Sesame Street CNN Town Hall on Standing up to Racism that’s live streaming today.
My father was what I’d call a quiet activist. He wasn’t out marching in the streets (at least in my lifetime, I didn’t know him in the ’60s), but he gave so many hours of his life to volunteering for causes he cared about, especially affordable housing, which helped so many people he didn’t even know. I can be a quiet activist, or a loud one, but one thing I’m not going to be anymore is silent.