As I walked home with my daughters, I was enjoying the heat of the sun and marvelling at what a pretty town we lived in. I felt lucky that we moved here. I took a deep breath and exhaled relief because I had recently come through one of the most turbulent few months of my life and everything was good again.
As I was crossing the road, I saw some people gathered on the other side. They took up most of the lowered section that’s built for wheeled access so I struggled to lift the buggy up onto the high part of the curb. It was no bother, I was in such a good mood that nothing was going to wipe the smile off my face.
The words you shouted hit me like bullets in my back. I was stunned. I felt nervous that some trouble was about to begin so I turned to make sense of what was going on. As I scanned the scene it struck me that everyone was still going about their normal activities. No one had even flinched. Then it sank in that you had aimed your comments at me. I tried to make eye contact with you to show my disapproval but when I saw you tip your head back with laughter my heart froze. I realised that the words hadn’t fallen out of your mouth by mistake.
Disapproval was quickly followed by disbelief. Disbelief was replaced with confusion. Confusion then turned into fear. An intense fear. Adrenaline took over and quickened my step, I needed to get my children as far away from you as fast as possible. I was shaking. I felt singled out, hunted down and very frightened. My heart was pounding and I felt removed from my body. I felt like I had been exposed and I desperately needed a pavement grey coloured camouflage to cloak us to escape your glare. I suddenly became very aware of my skin and I needed to disappear.
At a safe distance, I stopped to check my children were okay and felt a huge wave of relief wash over me that one was still asleep and the other too young to understand what you had said. More importantly, too young to see the real impact it had on their mother. I didn’t want them to sense that I was afraid. It was at this point I grew so angry that I thought to turn back to give you a piece of my mind. Had you not seen I was with children? I wanted to report you to the police. In my head, I scrambled for a witty one liner about you needing some geography lessons as I was, in fact, from a different continent than the one you had assumed. I wanted to mock you with the fact that I’m half English. As my anger spiralled out of my control I wanted to phone my husband and tell him that we needed to move and get as far away from this awful town as possible. I kept picturing you cackling behind my back. I was furious.
These horrid feelings were attacking my body and mind. But I didn’t want them to. I didn’t want to be angry. I didn’t want to feel afraid and I didn’t want to feel confused. I tried to brush them off, pretend I felt fine. For goodness sake I am a grown woman, how could a few silly words get to me so much. But deep down I knew the weight of those words. I felt something change within and could foresee its effect on my self perception, consequently manifesting in the way I raised my daughters. I knew I couldn’t successfully mother them if I felt bad about myself. I couldn’t deny that I felt different somehow and I had no idea how I was going to deal with it. I felt sad as I faced and reluctantly accepted my new label, “Victim of Racial Abuse”.
Then I remembered Jesus. Instantly a warm gentle flowing of calm filled my heart and it became perfectly clear that those words that had come out of your mouth had not only intended to spoil my day but to do me long term harm. They wanted to fill my mind with negativity, anger and self hate. Their aim was to breed within me so I could never look at myself or others in the same way again. I smiled as I recognised and rejected those feelings with such ease, they have no place in my life. Confidently I told myself, “my heart has been filled with love” and love can never coexist with hate, fear, malice, viciousness or any other form of poison against our bodies. They are all lies and there is only one truth.
Now I am terrible at forgiving, it’s a struggle for me not to hold a grudge and those words you said really hurt. But when I felt Jesus’ love drench my heart then forgiveness became effortless, natural and instantly those horrid feelings were replaced with joy. A joy that carried me home that day feeling better and happier than before.
What you didn’t know was that when I was nine years old (probably not much younger than you are now) another boy used the same form of attack on me. He spat one word at me. I cycled home so fast that day and I never told a soul. I lay in bed, squeezing my eyes shut as I recited “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”, over and over. It didn’t work. I was still hurt. There began a journey of complicated self questioning that a young mind was not mature enough to handle.
It’s amazing, I never understood the impact that one word had on me as a child, until today.
From a young age I had been aware of my skin colour. My arm was always the arm classmates would compare their Summer holiday tan on. I understood that it was all natural children’s curiosity, it never had even a tinge of malice. It was the same type of fascination that occurred when someone turned up with a new Pop Swatch, new glasses, a Fanta yo-yo, a perm or their leg in plaster. I knew that this wasn’t the same. That word had struck me like a poisoned dart laced with a viciousness that seeped through my body and made me feel bad about myself. The colour wouldn’t rub off, yes I tried, so I was stuck with it.
It wasn’t until my twenties that I was brave enough to look at my skin again. I discovered there was a beautiful golden tone that ran through it. It looked healthy. There were tiny fair hairs on it that sparkled in the sun. Once I had recognised these qualities in my own skin, it wasn’t long before I started noticing others. I saw beautiful, rich, warm, smooth mahogany tones that shimmered in the light. Incredible pale translucent skin that was flawless. I saw skin splattered with freckles perfectly placed to highlight exquisite features. There were so many different skin types and tones and I began to see how much beauty there was in diversity. Once I’d realised this I was immediately transported back to the mentality I had as child; not to see colour. It’s been wonderful to witness this in the innocence of my children’s minds. When my eldest daughter was 2.5 years old she drew a picture of our family. She used a brown crayon for me and a pink one for her Dad and sister. I expected her to ask questions but she never did. It was just so natural and simple to her. She drew what she could see but she didn’t see that anyone was different.
So back to that sunny day to the moment our paths crossed. I have found that there is an undercurrent of hate in our world, and it will not breed and spread through me, however subtly it wants to. Vicious intent through words has existed long before you were born and I do not doubt that you are a good person with a good heart.
When I put my children to bed that night I said an extra little prayer just for you. I prayed for your happiness, that you would have wonderful people and experiences come into your life and that you would never be targeted by any form of hate. And if one day you happen to remember the moment you said what you said and maybe thought that it wasn’t really that funny after all, I wanted you to know that you needn’t feel bad about it. Please know that all is well.
I wish you good things.
Lots of love
The lady who, believe it or not, was once young just like you and who also thought she was a gifted comedian amongst her mates too.