Creativity Learning Transformation
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Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Posted on 22nd January 2013 in Learning, News, Transformation

Yesterday was a momentous day :

MLK, martin luther king, equality, freedom, justice, dream

Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term.Barack Obama, USA president, ethnicity

Listening to Barack setting out his vision in his inaugural speech I felt again the mixture of anger, passion, joy and hope that I felt four years ago when he took his oath as the first black president of the USA.

I felt angry because it has taken so long for a black leader to reach the top in the Western world; because there are people who clearly want him to fail because of his ethnicity; angry because here in Britain we still haven’t achieved racial equality, so if you are young and black you are still more likely to be excluded from school, more likely  to end up being unemployed and more likely to be stopped and searched by the police.

Newborn, ethnicity, equality, diversity

I felt passion because my support for the King’s dream for all God’s children to be free is a personal one; my son is also of mixed heritage and we have had a hard journey together from his conception. Back in the 80s we faced direct racism, even from my own family, because I had a black partner; even now only 70% of Britons are happy for their child to choose a partner of a different ethnic group (Equality & Human Rights Commission). In the 90s we faced exclusion from a society that seemed to want to divide people by their skin colour; white people said I had betrayed my own kind, black people that we weren’t black enough. In the school years we faced the challenges of finding a strong positive identity when you are part of an invisible minority “but we don’t think of him as black” and your culture isn’t recognised “Mummy why are all the black people we learn about at school poor and living in huts? We’re not like that!”

Just the term black is a challenging one. In the 00s we started a project for parents of mixed heritage children, partly because in ruralbuttons, diversity, craft Suffolk we recognised the isolation of single parent families with a white Mum and a mixed race child (my own situation.)  A black social worker from Essex came to tell us that we were failing at promoting our black children’s identities.  When we said that we wanted a more inclusive term (if I’m a white Mum, calling my child black denies my part in his or her identity) she told us we were racist. Instead of celebrating diversity and promoting inclusion, like the latest policy promoted, she was creating tribal division and judgement. Whereas we wanted to celebrate both our individuality (including all the strands of cultural identity woven into our families) and our common humanity, as equal and united. Inspired by a play by Dael Orlandersmith that came to Ipswich a few years later, called Yellowman, I wrote a poem which explores my personal struggle with difference and my hope and belief that we all have equal worth :

When we were five it began, sorting buttons into neat coloured piles

I drift among a mottled tribe, throbbing to marimba’s beat, chewing pap

Buckra eject me from their house, light reflected into black absorbing all

Kinless I cling my soul to you, small chimurenga of my flesh cleft inside…

…Honey you are perfect as you are, in the skin God wrapped you in, umber sweet

(you can find the full poem here.)

I feel joy because Barack is a living symbol and role model that overcomes these unworthy differences between us. Because today’s children of mixed heritage grow up in a better world, still a way to go, but better than it was for our family in those days.    And I feel hope because yesterday he once again showed that he is a man led by the core values of community and equality and a deep commitment to peace and justice for all people. It’s a commitment I will continue to strive to do all I can to achieve in my own little bit of the world. What about you?

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