We are proud to present a guest post from Sarah Gregory. If you follow Sarah on instagram you will see that her timeline is full of thought-provoking and inspirational content varying from healthy meals to issues of culture and identity. In this post Sarah shares her experience of raising children that are ‘woke’ to their African heritage despite their European looks and considers the history of what has become the benchmark for ‘normal’. Let’s get in to it!
Is it necessary to raise a ‘woke’ child?
“Mummy black people are rare.”
Ahem as I clear my throat and not over react I calmly say, “what makes you say that?”
“Look around you there are none in here.”
“I’m here, your sisters are here, you are here.”
“Not me mummy, look at my skin”
“The shade of your skin doesn’t tell you who you really are”
The smile on her face erupts.
Ever since this conversation she has been trying to connect to Ghana, to her roots and understand where she is from not just her black mum, but what her story is.
“Have you been to Ghana?”
“No, but I am from Africa, I am Ghanaian.”
Now she is the first one to put you straight and claim her identity, that many would question, with both her hands. She could ‘pass’, you know that horrible turn of phrase, she could pass for being ‘white’. I’ve lost count of the many times I have been asked if I am my daughters mother, in her presence, accompanied by a look of shock.
We all have our own unique set of challenges. We are on a journey and this is a tiny window into our story.
I often wonder what it means to be ‘woke’ for my children in the context of where we live and our family dynamic.
There are multiple definitions, but for me the meaning is firmly rooted in social awareness, judgement and justice.
In this day and age, is there really a need to be woke? I mean who is the boogie man? Who do we need to unite against and fight?
In our day-to-day lives there is no obvious issue for example, no one is shouting the N word on our journey to school. However, our society is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and using this as a marker of revolutionary change is problematic.
In order to determine whether or not racism is a reality or just a ‘chip on a few people’s shoulders, who just cannot get over it’ we cannot use name calling as a barometer of change. Racism has always been structural and from the top down, therefore to question its existence you need to look in less obvious places.
I was called into the headmaster’s office yesterday for a conversation about the school uniform policy as my daughters have been wearing headbands into school, cut from Ghanaian cloth. A few months prior to this, my conversation with a teacher about integrating Black British history into the curriculum had fallen on death ears. My suggestion of simply talking about the Black Roman soldiers on Hadrian’s wall, when they were discussing this topic was somehow internalised, digested and regurgitated in the form of a diversity day, where all the children could have a special day to celebrate their differences and where they came from. Both of my daughters won a special award for tolerance and on the surface, I was placated, my box was ticked and I was satisfied. Not many know that although my daughters enjoyed diversity day and all the attention they had for their dresses, I was concerned by the conversation I had afterwards, “two children in my class’ mummy didn’t come from anywhere else, so they just wore ‘normal’ clothes, they didn’t have any special clothes like us, mummy” My attempt to ‘normalise’ and weave apart of their identity into the framework of their education failed, so I introduced the cloth as everyday wear so that it was no longer special it was a part of who they are.
My trip to the headmaster’s office reaffirmed for me that the demarcation of the norm and the othering of otherness is still very much in our sphere.
The body has changed and what we see is packaged differently, but the evidence shows that the beast remains and just wears different clothing.
The criminal justice system stands out for me. It is true that back in the 1970s you could be arrested, as many black boys were, and thrown into prison for not committing any crime but looking like they might have had the intent to. Many lives were ruined. We can point back to this and identify both the racism and wrongness within the system. A system that has changed!
Fast forward to today however and statistics from several London boroughs show that there is a disproportionately high amount of tasered, stop and search arrests of young black boys. Equally high is the likelihood of them serving a prison sentence in comparison to their white counterparts for a similar crime, if they go up before a judge.
For my children, I do not wish for them to leave my house and sleep walk into a world where there is a false sense of security, when I know that everything is built on shifting sand.
Therefore, I want my children to have a true sense of themselves, to be rooted, confident and prepared to ward off any challenges.
We are not all cut from the same cloth and that is ok. We don’t have to bury, disguise or hide our differences. It’s what society and the media defines that difference to be, that affects us and can be dangerous. Creating an unequal society where one benefits over the ‘other’.
The Truman show only works if it benefits you, right? Or does it? James Baldwin eloquently, explores how you cannot ignore what is going on outside your house, to your neighbour or your fellow human being. The reality is that no one walks away unharmed from any kind of brutality, it affects us all, it stains us all.
As Bob Marley once said;
“Until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes – Me say war.”
For me raising my children to be ‘woke’ is important and here is why;
Just take a minute and suspend your beliefs for a moment, ask yourself what does voodoo mean to you? Do the words respectable, valid religion spring to mind? Does it have a place in the hierarchy of other world religions? What images does it conjure up? Do you smirk at the thought of taking it seriously?
This is a belief system like any other, it originated, like all of us, from Africa. It is practiced today and has even survived the horrors of slavery. It travelled to the Americas and was preserved, united communities and allowed them to retain something that was theirs, from their home, their families and their old lives.
As an arguably traditional religion born on the continent of Africa, which continues to be practiced in various countries on the continent why does it not afford the same credibility as others? I question the representation and the negative seeds that have been planted in my mind over the years, that have previously informed and impaired my judgement.
For me I know how Africa, Africans, Africaness and Black is still continually viewed and portrayed as ‘other’ in comparison to the ‘norm’. Therefore, my children will not hide, they will not fit in, they will not pass, they will be proud to be themselves and they will be raised as ‘woke’.
(C) Sarah Gregory. All rights reserved.3