Oh, Not again…. I wish I didn’t have to post these pictures again.
But I do it because it helps me cope.
It helps others cope.
I know because they tell me.
I’ve often posted these pictures to social media unfortunately. Normally it’s in response to a global grief - a large natural disaster, a mass shooting, or other event that surpasses our comprehension.
They seem to express what we can’t verbalise. The brain process images 60,000 times faster than words do, so that’s pretty effective.
It’s one of the reasons I love to draw. The simplicity of the pen allows all superfluous information to fall away and the minutiae of the message is highlighted.
Headstones offer much symbolism – carved stone that reflect beliefs at the time, materials give indications about the wealth of a family, epitaphs tells you about religious sentiments and values, grave locations tell of social hierarchies, whilst the style of monument can reveal how a family felt about the death of their loved one.It's about life. It’s always about life, which is actually probably the reason that so many of us struggle to talk about death.
And now, it is also life that we now grapple with, in the midst of the global coronavirus outbreak.
The world is trying to contain the virus and preserve life.
This brings me back to angels.
In cemeteries, angels are protectors of souls. In life and more so than ever now, human angels are also protectors of our souls.
Whilst we hunker down in lock down at home, I want to draw your attention to these five categories of human angels.
My friend, Dr Anisha Abraham recorded this in her street in Amsterdam the other night. She says “Shout out to all my fearless health care colleagues around the world who are working tirelessly in hospitals, clinics, research centres and more to fight coronavirus. Tonight, throughout the Netherlands, we applauded health care workers at 8pm and we will it repeat in again tomorrow night. It made me feel so proud and a bit teary eyed. Here’s the view from our street. Stay strong peeps!” Wonderful huh?
Often forgotten, but they too are on the front line. Standard protective equipment is as rare as hen’s teeth for Funeral Directors to buy. Staff are working without it. I’m not posting this to frighten or cause panic, but to raise awareness about the dedication and sacrifices that people are making to fight this virus. It’s easy to forget when we’re watching tv on the sofa warm and safe in our homes. In this article, read ‘funeral staff’ in place of NHS staff and you get the picture.
Yes, schools are closing left, right and centre, but here in the UK, teachers are still teaching kids in school with special needs. Schools are ensuring online learning is available for students to try and keep a sense of normality flowing. Now I know some parents aren’t terribly pleased at suddenly having a 3 month weekend or becoming an overnight ‘expert’ in Maths, Science and Geography – no one wants to look stupid in front of their kids right?
Shop keepers and food delivery people
These champions enable us to stay home, so that we don’t run the risk of making the spread worse. We need them just as much as our other essential services. If the human body could survive on water alone, I’d be the first to try it. Mind you, a little less food might be a good thing for those of us trying to lose weight! As someone said on my Slimming World group page, I will either come out of this 60lbs lighter or 100lbs heavier – only time will tell. I joke because I feel the same. Whilst I am able to run outside I will, but I am soon to set up an exercise space in our house.
Whatever is happening in the world, we still produce rubbish. Mountains of it and if it’s not managed, we end up with other health problems. Thank you to those who collect our rubbish and allow us to live at home reasonably carefree.
But equally importantly...
If you are someone who believes in angels of the spiritual kind, please may I ask you to send your prayers, your thoughts, your woo woo juice, whatever you practice, in bucket loads to the people I am most frightened for – those living in abusive relationships.
Imagine lockdown for 1 month with an abusive partner.
Imagine lockdown for 3 months with an abusive partner.
Imagine kids at home in that abusive space, when their only safe space (school) is now closed.
Imagine a mix of alcohol, drugs, guns, frustrations.
Imagine isolation in this environment.
Imagine how fucking frightening that is!
I have no idea what we can do about this.
All I can do is hope for goodness to come across the spiritual airwaves. If you’re ever going to believe in this stuff, then now is the time to enact your interest. Please send your vibes their way.
And if you don’t believe, that’s fine. I used to think it was all a ‘crock of shit’ :-)
All I ask is that you raise awareness of how some people may be safe from coronavirus, but in dreadful danger from partners/parents.
Check on your neighbours.
Watch. Observe. Help those unseen, be seen when they need it most.
I once asked a police officer at what point I should call the police if I was worried about domestic violence in a neighbouring house. He said, ‘the moment you are scared’.
So if you feel scared for someone’s safety, please make that call.
And in the meantime….
Enjoy lockdown, but spare a thought for all those workers who enable us to be in lockdown.
Unfortunately, I’m deadly serious.
That’s not something you want to discover about yourself.
Racists are those people that I Ioathe. The ‘less than’ people I see on the news being arrested for hate crimes. The people I disassociate myself from because….
I have friends with different coloured skin.
You need to know that as I write this, that my whole body is creasing up in discomfort. It’s the pain of realising that I’m no different to the ‘less thans’ and I’m trying to not feel ashamed.
I want to run. Badly.
Every cell in my body is fighting this admission. I hate it.
And now I’m crying. I feel like I’ve hurt my dear friends who have different coloured skin to me and I hate that even more. They don’t even know that I’m racist… but I feel like crap for actually being secretly pleased that I’ve been able to hide.
F*** This. Is. Hard.
For ease of access to the church, we stayed in Harlem.
And then it began. Five days of realising I’m racist.
So how does that happen?
His words were, “with all due respect, please do not compare your sexuality with one’s race. It is two totally different things.” I was affronted at his assumption that I was like ‘the others’.
I got it. Really I did! I didn’t.
I’ll just reframe my point because he’s just misunderstood me. He hadn’t.
De-Dee Loft Davis is a racial equity consultant I follow on Linkedin. She’s great. About 2 months before New York I’d commented on a post of hers (how WOKE of me eh?) to show support that I understood the micro-aggressions Black people experience, because I get them too as a gay person.
It started a conversation between me and another racial equity consultant - a guy who continued to say, For me, most can hide their sexuality. I cannot hide my Blackness. It is what you see. I understand what you are trying to say by, “Sit in my shoes,” but I really don’t like when people try and compare the two. Both identities should be able to stand on their own.
I still didn’t like it. I really wanted him to understand my position. He wasn’t listening. (I know…..) He didn’t understand my gayness. I continued my argument, reframing and adding more points from my angle. This would make him understand (Don’t say it. I know…).
Suddenly I stopped.
I don’t know why, but I remembered something that Catrice M Jackson had said in her book ‘Antagonist, Advocates and Allies: The Wake Up Call Guide for White Women Who Want to Become Allies with Black Women’. See I knew I wasn’t racist; I was reading the right books.
Essentially one of Catrice’s messages is simply to shut up and listen.
LISTEN to Black voices.
LISTEN to their experiences.
LISTEN to what they are telling you.
So I listened and then I apologised to him. I did come to understand his point.
However, I still managed to tell myself that this was a one off experiences of me misunderstanding.
There’s that blindness of privilege again eh?
My naivety hit me hard. I smiled at people. Nobody gave a crap.
In fact it felt the opposite. It felt hostile.
And there were two hostilities, but I realised that they were both inside of me.
The first? I was desperately uncomfortable and trying to not look privileged. I couldn’t hide it. I’m a white woman walking down a street called Malcolm X Boulevard. That’s enough.
And second, (now I’m really trusting you with this), it became apparent to me how different my body felt when I walked past Black men. It hesitated and it felt anxious.
I tried to tell myself that it was because I’m a woman and we’re good at keeping ourselves safe in public, but deep down I knew I wouldn’t have felt it so acutely if they were White men.
I was ashamed and felt awful. I even found myself blaming them for making me feel this way. Nothing like a bit of projection eh? But I did want to understand why my body spoke to me this way.
I’m still wrestling with the why, but what I can offer for now is:
YOU'RE JUDGED FOR BEING WHITE
I was completely ignored as I walked around Harlem. No one smiled at me. No one said anything to me. No one made eye contact of any description. But if you’re White and thinking that’s normal for any city street, watch what happens when you’re next out and about where you live. You receive subtle acknowledgements all the time. A sorry when someone squeezes past you, a quick stare if you’ve got a slogan on your shirt, people stay on the footpath when you walk towards them or they might give you a smile.
I got nothing. Like A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.L.Y nothing.
In shops, the cashier talked to me as in, ‘that’ll be $5.99 thanks’, but if I said anything else it was completely ignored.
I felt like I wasn’t welcome. I wasn’t.
And why should I be? Centuries of slavery, discrimination and aggressions towards Black people and I think I can be welcomed as I venture into their safe spaces? Their communities? The reality was starting to hit me.
The reality hit even harder when I walked down the street with my wife dressed in her clericals. Her Bishop’s collar received welcomed smiles, greetings, Hello Padre - yes, padre! :-) In the laundromat where we'd been met with disdain in the morning, we were now offered a staff machine and all the help we needed.
Previously, being White was enough to be judged. I hated what my skin represented. I wanted them to know I was different to ‘other white people’, but it didn’t matter. It was irrelevant. I was now experiencing what it was like to be judged for the colour of my skin.
It’s shit by the way.
Having struggled enormously when my wife became a priest (suffice to say, I didn’t like religion much), the irony of her giving me warm passage through the streets of Harlem was not lost on me.
You see, one less barrier existed. One less potential agitation removed. The collar bridged our differences and mutual fears.
I found myself wanting to leave Harlem, because I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to go back to blending. And then it hit me again. Blending is not an option for Black people. Unless they’re in Harlem. And then there’s this stupid White woman walking down the street…..
That’s gonna piss anyone off.
And you know the really awful thing? When I was in Harlem, I wished I had black skin, so I could blend and then I thought about what that really meant outside of Harlem and I didn’t want it.
Not because I think being Black is in anyway ‘less than’, but because I wanted to be accepted and not judged.
This wasn’t a TV cop show or a social media post that you can distance yourself from.
The reality of their faces said everything.
I was now starting to truly listen. Minute snippets of truth slowly sinking into my tiny brain.
A couple of days later, Atatiana Jefferson was shot in her own home through her bedroom window by a Fort Worth police officer responding to a report that her front door was open. Moments before, she had been playing video games with her nephew, heard a noise and went to the window.
She’s now dead.
Black people are subject to deadly force even when they stay home.
I have never worried for my life when the police come to my home or they've pulled me over in my vehicle. Privilege.
RELIEF AND GUILT
It became time to move to another hotel Downtown. Synod was over.
I was relieved to be leaving the tension of Harlem.
This relief was also distinctly uncomfortable, because I knew that I could simply walk away from the discomfort I’d felt. It was an easy option for me. I could return to privilege without any effort and if I wanted to, forget about my experience ‘north of Central Park’. I could slip back into the melting pot of New York’s diversity and everything would all be okay again.
But it’s not.
What is not okay is not doing anything about it.
A switch has been turned on and I can’t turn it off.
I don’t want to.
The challenge for me personally is to work out what I’m going to do about it.
It starts with this blog.
In reading Catrice Jackson’s book, I had hoped to be classified as an ‘Advocate’ with the aim of moving to ‘Ally’.
However, my well intentioned, but misguided comment on Linkedin puts me in the Antagonist camp. I am not proud of this. But I’m also not afraid of difficult conversations.
So for me, it’s back to Catrice’s book to learn how to move forward into ‘Advocate’ and ‘Ally’. It’s too important not to.
Who’s with me?
It's going to take more than one coffee to work through this one.
All the diners had arranged themselves roughly in the centre of the restaurant, except for one table.
Sitting in the furthest corner away from any other diners and under a loud TV was a family; two parents and their adult child who had an intellectual disability. They were distinctly separate; removed from other diners.
Now, humans are fairly predictable. We follow well-worn paths. We clump together. We struggle to be random, even when we try to be. For example, you can tell if someone has fudged their expenses because they will often include numbers ending in a zero or a five.* Yes really. Don't get any ideas! (*Is this where I enter my disclaimer?)
I admit that there may be a myriad of reasons why this family were separate (other diners had since left or they liked the TV? etc), but I couldn't help but wonder if they'd removed themselves because of their son?
And the minute I write that I want to correct it.
Not because of their son, but due to a fear of how people might react to them.
We naturally want to protect ourselves. Who wouldn't?
I know too as a gay woman, how much my own public behaviours are modified to remove any chance of being hassled, stared at or jeered. You self-select your protection measures.
Insight 1: DISCRIMINATION can create ISOLATION on route to PROTECTION
So you don't say anything, but you feel guilty. You feel guilty because what does it mean if I don't say anything? Does it matter? Well, yeah, because it's like I'm hiding. Does that mean I'm uncomfortable by my family's difference? No. I'm just scared about how I will be treated. I want to be open, but if I'm completely honest, I worry that..... And so the thought cycle goes round and round. It's exhausting.
I have a friend who works internationally in the developing world and travels a lot for work. Picture rural areas, broken pavements, pot holes, footpaths covered by market stalls, animals lying in your path, stairs not lifts etc. She clearly impressed them in her interview as she got the job. The first they knew of her wheelchair was when she entered the interview room.
Now, imagine that. Really imagine that.
Think of the emotional energy that goes into removing the chance for discrimination.
The excitement you feel at getting an interview takes a hit when you imagine the potential discrimination and previous experiences of 'not suitable for the job'. You try to work out how much it matters to you; whether or not you want to ask for the disability assistance that's available for the interview. NO, let's remove all chance of discrimination and just turn up. This protects you emotionally whilst holding the uncertainty of how it will be received. That's all before you even get to the interview.
That's a lot of emotional energy that could be redirected into more positive things.
Insight 2: INCLUSION removes wasted energy and creates a sense of BELONGING.
I'm not sure that people who are resistant to diversity realise that inclusion is going on all around them. They just don't see it.
And in many way they're not meant to. It's not for them.
It's a bit like a hidden code - only seen by those who can read it.
For example, my wife wears a sunflower lanyard when we go through airports. It shows staff that she has a hidden disability and might need assistance. A Rainbow flag sticker on a cafe door shows me it's a safe space. A Rainbow badge worn by the nurse and doctor in the UK's National Health Service tells me I'm seen.
These visual cues are so important. We all know to be careful walking near someone with a white cane. It is no effort for us, but makes the world of difference to that individual.
BUT, we still need to listen and not assume that we understand the code. We all speak different emotional and observational languages..... and if we go back to those *fudged expenses (*ahem...insert another disclaimer here), we need to remember that we struggle to be random. Based on our own set of cultural and social reference points, we tend to assume that our own observations of an individual's behaviour equals that person's intentions. Mostly, it doesn't.
I suspect that we've all stomped along that well-worn path of human predicatibility at some point in our lives.
Insight 3: ASK FIRST - Always! and FOLLOW THEIR CUE
The woman approaches. I now see she has britle bone disease. I'm hoping she goes straight past us and doesn't see us. But of course no, she pulls up, right next to us to also cross the road. The five of us in a row, waiting like peas in a pod - sandwiched together between two traffic light poles.
Angie and I stare straight ahead, trying to act as though wheeling a rubber man around in a wheelchair is normal. Mind you, he's quite life-like so people often don't realise that he's not real.
And then I see her.
I see her slowly turn her head to look at Ichabod. The look of surprise is palpable.
She opens her mouth to speak.
I wait, worried.
And then in a broad Glaswegian accent she says Aye, and there I was thinking I was the special one! before laughing uproarously.
I'm fairly sure I then embarrassed myself by chatting to her waaay too enthusiastically. My relief burbling out with freaky friendliness.
It is also safe to say that I didn't 'style it out' particulary convincingly.
But I didn't care. She showed me how to 'style it out' like a pro.
Thank you Glaswegian woman. You taught me well that day.