The subject matter of this new play ticks all my boxes; middle-class motherhood, parenting styles, urban primary schools and most of all Race. I was tipped off about it just too late to see it, but have since acquired and consumed the script. It was a quick, compulsive read, done in one school day afternoon.
In the end, though, I thought it skirted around too many interesting things without actually going anywhere with any of them. While the premise was exciting, the “plot” and conclusion were unintentionally farcical, and it finished up representing to me too closely what it purported to attack: the view of complacent middle-class parents. After spending two acts fielding genuine mixed-race family anecdotes (see below for a few of my own) it came down, as far as I could tell, to an attack on one horrifically pretentious and over-controlling parent. Nothing much to do with Race at all.
And by giving the entire cast of mothers’ offspring a private school background it completely sidesteps the biggest issue of all, in my view . . . How can you address urban primary school experience around race without addressing the virtual-apartheid that is our school system? Is the assumption here that all theatre audiences are private-schooled? That only non-white private-school kids and their parents suffer identity issues? Surely not; after all (whatever they claim) no-one forced them into private education.
While the play gently mocks the “colour-blindness” professed by most white liberals (“It’s just a skin-colour!” my own (white) relative once declared to me in exasperation) it didn’t even get close to pinpointing what’s wrong with this limitation. And you can’t begin to do that without addressing some racial history, or at very least, the current social context of racial difference. The odd middle-class black person does not change the fact that the vast majority of the impoverished worldwide are dark-skinned, while the vast majority of the wealthy are white. Someone else can dig out the statistics, but I’m fairly sure the same pattern applies here in London.
However – I do applaud the attempt. And I do applaud those anecdotes. The more of an airing they get, the better. Here are mine, many of which were echoed in Adult Supervision.
“Oh, isn’t he gorgeous? What lovely hair!” meaning, he’s the first brown baby I’ve ever got this close to.
A sudden over-excitement from “liberals” from obviously very segregated social circles unexpectedly finding non-white people in their midst.
“Is that your child?” (This from a friendly black lady on a bus.) “He really doesn’t look like you.” Actually, he does, but you have to look at his face.
Being regularly confused at school with the other white mother of a black child in our class.
“Excuse me – I can’t see this child’s mother anywhere. Can you help?” (on railway station platform in posh part of London.)
Lots of well-intentioned, spontaneous references to “half-caste” etc.
Lots of assumptions from males, black and white, that I am a desperate single mother.
Or the grandmother. Now that could just be my age. But I sense our skin difference adds a further dose of probability.
And finally, it’s not the case that only dark-skinned mothers of lighter children get mistaken for the nanny/childminder, though I’ll allow it’s probably more common. But it also happened to me, out shopping in a posh deli in a posh part of London. I can only assume my child was mistaken for the offspring of some possibly mid-Eastern or north African family, wealthy enough to hire a well-spoken white English nanny.
And my child is still only six.
It shouldn’t be misunderstood; I don’t hold any grudges. Just about all of those implicated in the above were well-intentioned people I have no problem associating with in general. I’m not about to run around shouting “racist” at anybody; or if I did, I’d probably have to include myself. But they do illustrate something of the assumptions and delusions we all harbour. For me, the real target is the complacency of the privileged about their own ignorance; a deliberate turning away; a deliberate refusal to think.