“Have you ever spoken to your children about race?”, a father was asked during an interview about the recent Black Lives Matter movement. “I had too,” he replied.
The Black Lives Matter movement is only the latest expression of defiance and resistance, as racism is as embedded in UK society as it is in the USA.
The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor may have triggered the recent uprising, but racism’s permeation of all levels of society began long ago and continues to ruin lives.
Whether you choose to close your eyes to it or not, racism is still very much here in Cambridgeshire and as the searingly honest testimonies of parents we’ve heard will show, here in our county it affects children enormously.
It is time we listened.
Please note: All names have been changed to protect anonymity.
If you want to get in touch you can contact us at Cambnewsdesk@cambridge-news.co.uk.
“He was trying to scrub his Black skin off”
We spoke to Isaac about a particularly difficult memory that will never leave him.
He said: “I had to talk with my five-year-old son about race a year ago. I came up into the bathroom and found him in the shower, scrubbing himself really hard with a towel.
“My wife and I asked what he was doing and his response still upsets me now. He said, ‘a girl in my class didn’t invite me to her birthday party because of my skin colour.’ He was trying to scrub his Black skin off.”
He said that prior to this incident his wife had found him in the garden rubbing dandelions on his arm. “He said ‘a boy in my class said if you rub dandelions on your skin you will become white’.
“The two incidents left my wife and I quite angry but we had to keep cool and think of the mental impact this will have on our little boy and his confidence moving forward.”
When asked what his response to his son was, Isaac said: “[My wife and I] said he is loved. It doesn’t matter what colour of skin he has. My wife is Black, but a lighter complexion than me. We started showing the different colours of various people he knows, showing we’re all unique. There will be other parties to go to, but I got the sense he particularly liked this girl.
“I thought as a Dad I was shielding him from [racism] until the time was right to sit down and explain it to him. Someone took that opportunity away from me. I was upset. In my wonderful world I had dreamed for him, he wouldn’t have been dealing with this at his age. In a way, I’m glad it’s happened to him then, because I’ve seen it hasn’t affected him. He hasn’t processed it in the way adults do.”
Did he think to talk to the girls’ parents? Isaac said: “ I don’t remember the girl’s name, I chose to blank it out. My way of dealing with it is finding out how I can empower my son to not think anything less of himself, should this happen again.
“To me, the girl is irrelevant. It’s how my son deals with it that’s relevant, his emotional and physical wellbeing.”
He said that his two younger daughters haven’t come home with any stories like that.
Isaac said: “Do you wait for an event like this to happen or do you preempt it? I would rather I didn’t have to have this conversation at all.”
An 11-year-old young girl watched the clashes between far-right protestors, police and the anti-racism protestors in London on TV on June 13. The girl’s mum is white British, her dad Black British.
Don’t suffer in silence
Samaritans (116 123) samaritans.org operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org , write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, STIRLING, FK8 2SA and visit www.samaritans.org/branches to find your nearest branch.
Mind 0300 123 3393 Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm) promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems. Visit www.mind.org.uk
CALM (0800 58 58 58) thecalmzone.net has a helpline is for men who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support. They’re open 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year.
SANE (0300 304 7000) Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers, daily, 4.30pm to 10.30pm. Visit www.sane.org.uk/support
For information on your local NHS urgent mental health helpline, visit here
She watched these white groups and Black protestors shout at each other on the BBC coverage, then turned to her Dad and said: “Does that mean no one likes me anymore?”
Her Dad, James, said to Cambridgeshire Live about his daughter’s comment: “[Adults] need to be careful with our emotions and how we manage this stuff. The bottom line is the children are going to suffer most and they are our future.”
Growing up in Cambridgeshire
Those who attended the Black Lives Matter socially-distanced protest on Christ’s Pieces on June 6 will have heard Munya Jiri’s story of growing up here. Now at age 23, he bravely shared his childhood story with the crowd:
“From about the age of seven, was the first time I started facing almost direct racism. I hit secondary school and words like ******, c***, monkey, slave, were said to my face daily. When you have these things said to your face daily, it destroys you, brings you down. You start looking in the mirror and saying ‘God, why do I look like this?’.”
He carried on, saying: “I used to go on the internet, I used to go on Incognito, delete my search history so I could Google things like ‘how to bleach my skin’ so I could be lighter.
“I thought ‘oh, I’ll go to school looking lighter, everyone will like me more.’
“I was looking at ways that I could straighten my hair, all these things that young black boys and girls are going through.
“And it hurts during secondary school because during secondary school is a time when most people are starting to build who they are, understand who they are.
“But for most black people, what we learn in secondary school is that we’ll always be second.
“We will never be seen as equals and we’ll always be the ones to be thrown underneath the bus.”