I almost did a blog at the time in response to Deborah Orr’s February Guardian column which apparently concludes, from a professional footballing incident, that the more we talk about race the more we are being racist. Then I thought better of it. I had just concluded that one of the problems we white-middle-class people have is that we won’t ever talk about it. I wasn’t thinking about over-sensitivity or whatever to possible racist abuse. I was thinking about wilful blindness; the refusal to recognise that skin colour does affect how someone is perceived, not only by policemen and football fans; also by us nominal anti-racists. We do make inappropriate judgements, all the time, and the less contact we actually have with other ethnicities, the more we will make them.
My son’s reception class is a long way from the premier football field, but still – is it racist of me to note the fact that the miniscule group of white kids (likely to become smaller year on year, as their families go private or emigrate to suburbs) tends to stick together in the playground, on the whole shunning even fellow-quite-middle-class black kids? They are doubtless only mimicking their parents’ behaviour. Should one not mention it, for fear of making it worse?
On a personal level, I’m not bothered, really – much less than I was before my son started at the school – since my brown-skinned boy is making plenty of friends as ethnically mixed as he is, and is, I don’t know, perhaps enjoying greater acceptability because of his colour. He appears, after all, to have no problem identifying as black, or at least non-white. So far he has no compelling reason to believe that not being white is remotely a cause for regret. Another case of projected parental anxiety, no doubt.
Because I shop a lot for basics on line (clothes, books, some toys – who can be arsed with the high street nowadays?) I tend to receive too many mail-order catalogues; some get a flick-through before landing in the recycling; others get marked “return to sender” and then left, indefinitely, on the shelf by the door. My idea is that once returned, untouched, they won’t be mailed again. Even when I manage the trip to the post-box, this doesn’t usually work.
However. Couple of days ago I did a routine flick-through a catalogue I used to shop from in the days when I was, very peripherally, concerned with fashion and my appearance. It was full, as ever at this time of the year, of flimsily clad beauties strolling blissfully on white-coral beaches. I felt, I don’t know why, perhaps it was the beach, which looked like one on which I once spent a backpackers’ holiday, a pang of recognition. I used to be a girl like that. Not a model, obviously, but good-looking too in my way. I could turn heads when I wanted to; I sensed myself an object of lust, and admiration, and I took it for granted, even grumbled about it, the way pretty young women do.
My next thought was, thank goodness it’s all over. That occasional giddy exhilaration yoked to the constant insecurity of being judged, appraised and assigned a social acceptability status based principally on looks. The constant, horrid competition with other pretty women (is she prettier than me? Will They fancy her more?) What an existence, really. I am ashamed I was ever, even fleetingly, a party to it.