The mother of all lockdowns
A shorter version of this post was shared as part of the Mums in Lockdown feature on local network Queens Park Mums.
My parents and my big brother moved from east London to the north end of the Piccadilly Line two years before I was born, escaping a neighbourhood where the postman delivered National Front leaflets along with the mail. True story. I came along to complete our family just after Bob Marley died in 1981. I often wonder what he’d make of world events today. These days, I live in Harlesden with my incredible other half and our two brilliant kids, aged 4 and 6. My mum also stays with us when she’s not back in Jamaica - and as luck would have it, she’s been stuck with us on lockdown since mid-March.
I’ve been a wordsmith of one sort or another for over a decade: speeches, corporate communications, blogs, ghostwriting, research…if you can write it, I probably have at some point, and I now do it part-time for an incredible diversity recruitment firm. My third child/other love of my life is my business, Den Bake Shop. I am often awake well into the night creating some delicious and beautiful buttercream creation, with a massive emphasis on quality ingredients and interesting flavours - organic flour, unrefined cane sugar, free range eggs, and from scratch fillings and toppings. The juggle is real!
Having a full house all day, every day, has been a real test of our capacity to cope with this much quality time together, as it has for everyone else. We have never been more grateful for our own space and for having a backyard to turf the kids out into, not least since we’ve been shielding my mum - the park is off limits unless we’re there at the crack of dawn. I think it's especially been tough for those with older kids, especially if you don't have outside space or enough room to dedicate to school work. Here in Harlesden, the infection and death rate has been grimly high, and we have felt the need to exercise a more stringent lockdown than friends we've spoken to in other parts of London and the country. It doesn't surprise me that people are breaking cover in search of human contact, togetherness and good times. It's happening everywhere, and the media focus and particular condemnation when it happens in ethnically diverse urban areas like ours has not gone unnoticed.
We thank our lucky stars on a daily basis - we are very aware of how fortunate we are to have the space to stay home without too much strain, and to be in the kinds of jobs that allow us to work online, without leaving the house. Even with all that privilege, there have still been moments when the working/homeschooling felt like it was going to break our spirits. Both of us struggling to work on already crappy wifi, managing the pile of schoolwork and recognising that there's a good reason neither of us is a teacher has been....let's say....interesting. We have all learned the limits of our tolerance and we appreciate teachers even more than before. The kids are desperate to see some age-mates and are understandably at each other's throats half the time. The positive flip side has been being able to cater directly to the kids’ learning styles and give lots of one-on-one time. And I pity the fool who tries to be mean to either of them in the playground in future, because they now back each other to the hilt!
When George Floyd was murdered in the US, we were still reeling from the chilling footage of Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down with apparent impunity and the awful circumstances of Breonna Taylor’s death at police hands. Trying to mentally process those killings, the disproportionate toll that COVID-19 has taken on black and other communities of colour here both in the US and here, and the racist attack that led to Belly Mujinga’s death, meant I found myself sobbing on the floor of the shower at the end of May. I poured that pain into a Facebook post, which a couple of friends asked me to make public. I’ve been stunned at how widely it resonated, and I've had university lecturers, teachers and even a Church of England curate get in touch to ask permission to use it in their work. Somehow, this time, it does feel like there may be an increasing level of awareness among white people of how deep racism in Britain actually runs, at last.
I was pleased to take part in a Bakers Against Racism fundraiser organised by wonderful local chef Laura recently - it did feel good to do something small that people could instantly rally around and I was pleasantly surprised by how much money we raised. My worry with these one-off events is always that people will quickly switch off from the real, uncomfortable work that needs to happen; followers of mine on social media will note that I am posting much more regularly about the many ways we all need to work steadily to unpack and unpick the fabric of racism woven deep into the very foundations of modern Britain.
There are so many parts of systemic racism to dismantle from every part of our lives, and so many movements aimed at it - rather than driving myself crazy trying to boil the ocean, I'm focused on one top priority. I'm supporting efforts to reform the official British curriculum and make learning accurate, multicultural British history mandatory in schools. I bang on about education a LOT - my parents are immigrants, it goes with the territory! - but I think so much would be improved if we all in Britain had a better, warts-and-all understanding of how Britain came to be.
That so much anti-racist and black-authored literature is now selling out leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic; can this anti-racist momentum and desire for self-improvement really carry through to sustained, systemic change?
We must ensure for our children that it does. Lives depend on it.