Tag Archives: apartheid

Zip It!

10 Jan

‘Zip It!’ A popular expression in our house. Normally employed for smaller human beings who are gobbing off beyond a reasonable level. But the recent horror of Charlie Hebdo has left me and many other parents that I know, wondering if we now need to be uttering this phrase a bit more at the kids.

Interestingly, it seems to be the more switched on, politically aware, well-read and generous folk who are fretting the most about their children saying or doing something that might offend someone else – in this stoked-up atmosphere of religion, politics and race.

Regular readers of this blog will know that me and mine represent everything that your anti-multiculturalist sorts love to hate. So you might think that I have all of the perfect answers when it comes to discussing such sensitive issues with my kids. In fact, no. No. And I certainly didn’t have all of this off to pat before Charlie Hebdo.  Here are some recent examples of the level of dialogue that has always been ongoing within My Fam:

Scene 1 Namibia (southern Africa). Me, Him and 2 kids.  Driving through a police check-point on the road outside of the Capital. Unlike the rest of us – my 6 yr old lad is a chap of very few words….

10 yr old: It’s not fair! They never stop us. They never search us!

Him: You don’t want to be searched. Look at the people in the cars over there. They’re really naffed off.

10yr old: But it’s not fair! I really wanna get searched! We’ve been through these road-blocks about twenty times now and they never stop us. Why?

6yr old: It’s because we’re white.

Me: Whaaaat?

"I'll swap you a Stop n' Search exemption for the Right to Wee"

“I’ll swap you a Stop n’ Search exemption for the Right to have a Wee”

Scene 2- Namibia (southern Africa) a few days later. Visiting a national monument which is only usually visited by people from the different black ethnic groups. We are desperate for the loo.

10 yr old: This is awful! They keep telling us the wrong way to the toilets and we’ve been back three times now and ask and they still just flap their hand at us and tell us to go the wrong way.

Me: The seem to think that we’re just being a nuisance. We should have gone to the loo before we got here, though. Oooh – I’m bursting!

10 yr old: Well, they’re hardly busy… we’re the only ones here in the car park! Why are they being so rude and unhelpful? I feel like they don’t like us! People! Why aren’t you helping us? Before our Mum wets her pants!

6 yr old: It’s because we’re white.

Me: Pardon?!

Of course, in both of these instances the normally oh-so quiet 6 yr old was making a mere observation. One which very much shocked us. Because of his lack of verbosity, we simply haven’t  sat with him and explained to him issues of race, apartheid, politics etc in the way that his older sibling might have had our attention…

Scene 3Leaving our semi-rural immediate neighbourhood we are now driving through an inner-city suburb, somewhere Up North.

6 yr old: Hey, Mum! I think you’ve got us lost, Mum. Hey!

Confused of Africa? Or of UK?

Confused of Africa? Or of UK?

Me: Why?

6 yr old: Because I think…we’re in Africa

10 yr old: What are you on about? You little weirdo.

6 yr old: Look – outside – everyone’s looking like…we’re in Africa! It’s well cool!

10 yr old: Yeah, right – Stupid! Do I see any giraffes? Or those termite mound things? It’s raining! Are you totally thick, or what?

6 yr old: Well – that one over there in the doorway-thingy is a street child. I think.

10 yr old: It’s a drunken man asleep in a pile of sick! You idiot!

Me: Stop being horrible to your brother. I think he only means that there a lot of black people in this area.

6 yr old: Yes – that’s what I meant. I just never knew there were so many black people in England.

Him: (to Me) Keep him away from the English Defence League and their lot, eh?

6 yr old: (sulking) And anyway. I want to go back to Africa now. It’s better than living with you lot.

Me: (to Him) I don’t think his sentiments lie with the EDF, dear. It’s just his use of language and terminology that we perhaps need to work on…

Scene 4 After a troublesome time in the playground

6 yr old: I don’t like them brown boys. I won’t ever play with them.

Me: (shocked) What do you mean? What’s wrong with them?

6 yr old: I just don’t like them.

Me: But … well. You can’t say that you don’t like ‘brown boys.’ You shouldn’t…

6 yr old: Well I just don’t like any of them.

Me: But you can’t say that! You can’t go round saying things like that. Your cousins are… well – ‘brown.’ Aren’t they?

6 yr old: Yeah. But they’re different. I know them.

(NB – It turned out that what he meant was the Pakistani-British boys all knew each other and he found it hard to break into their games. One week later it was “Mum – I always play with the brown boys now and they’re all my best friends!” “Great,” I replied. “But shouldn’t we maybe not use the word ‘brown?'” Only to be corrected by daughter who goes “Well, my auntie always says she would rather be called ‘brown’ because that’s the shade she is as she isn’t the colour of black or of Pakistani. And calling someone a ‘Paki’ is just nasty and upsets people and like… has gone out with Martin Luther King’s time. Or whatever. Although…I heard someone say ‘that Paki shop’ the other day. But there were old and a bit stupid so you can forgive ’em”)

Scene 5 – Our kitchen. Children sharing out coloured sweets.

10 yr old: I’ve made little piles of the different ones, see? But I’m not having any of the blacks as I hate them…..(thinks)  Oh no!! Did I say something racist, Mum?

6 yr old: It’s okay. I hate the whites. So it all works out fair dunnit?

Got sick of discussing matters of race. So promptly lobbed the bitter lemons back at the grown ups.

Got sick of discussing matters of race. So promptly lobbed the bitter lemons back at the grown ups.

These kind of conversations go on all of the time in most households across the land. And each of these little scenarios were remembered by me – not because the kids said something cute and funny – but because my own reaction felt confused. Blustered. I wanted them to know ‘how we try and say things’ in the adult world. But without doing the whole politically-correct overkill thing on them and without squashing their right to expression and to just be… an innocent little kid.

But sure – there was a bit of me that was thinking ‘Gawd, PLEASE don’t say that in school – will you?’ Even though the school knows us, our background and work etc and probably realise that I don’t stomp around in jackboots of a weekend.

So if I feel like this – with my own family, experiences and interests… how the hell must most other caring and concerned parents feel about what their kids hear, see and say – at this particular moment in time?

I can only remind others (and myself) that all of us – whatever our ethnic or religious background – we are only human if we trot out some ‘corkers’ from time to time. At my Nan’s funeral for example, the Minister said “Edith was the kindest soul ever. Who still clung to what some perceive to be old-fashioned language. But this ‘Blackie Preacher’ knew the love in her heart and the kind of woman that she was, so he never minded the out-moded words.”  And a Pakistani friend told me that on preparing to marry a white woman he was told by his elderly relative “first thing you must do is to teach her to wash her hands properly. If they’re not a muslim, these goras are very dirty.”

So maybe we shouldn’t be panicking and maybe we should be more gentle with the kids and with ourselves. Less of the gut reaction of telling the kids to Zip It (unless they’re calling me a ‘clumsy old tart’ again.) If we are the kind of people who are worried about causing offence then our hearts are already in the right place.

And maybe those of us who genuinley care about this kind of thing are exactly the sort of people who can stop the status quo from worsening. I believe that the attach on Charlie Hebdo was a deliberate act to kick off yet another secular versus religious and racial war.  It didn’t even have as sophisticated an intention as trying to flag up discussions about the freedom of speech. It was an act of contempt and hatred –  spread by psychotic nutters who claim to be religious but who haven’t got a breath of compassion or love left in their bodies. People who are rubbing their hands with glee at the confusion and division that they have created between folk this week and because of whom – hundreds of thousands of more innocent civiliants in the Middle East may well end up losing their lives.*

So let the kids speak. They often make far more sense than the adults do.

*Note the cunning refusal to write ‘muslims’ and ‘non muslims’ there. Because we are all just human beings at the end of the day…

Barclays! Nowt Wrong With a Bit of Chest-Staring!

24 Sep

I was a bit gutted to see that in their latest LifeSkills advert, Barclays have opted for the old ‘C’mon kids! If you can’t make effective eye contact – you’ll be on the job scrap heap forever!’ approach.

I would have hoped that Barclays – given their oodles of dosh – could have thought a little bit longer and a little bit harder before they decided to embrace such an off-the-peg and unhelpful approach to customer service training. The last thing people who really, truly struggle with this issue need is a an advert going out there – telling all and sundry that they are somehow ‘wrong.’

Sure, it’s important to tell young people that *some* people (not me, for example – good grief, no) prefer being looked slam-dunk in the eye when they’re asking you where the tins of baked beans are located.

But it’s equally important not to discriminate against those of us who cannot do this – and who cannot be trained to do this. Whether due to cultural differences or disability issues.

Get the balance right, Barclays!

Get the balance right, Barclays!

So c’mon Barclays! We all liked the nice, chirpy lass who stars in the advert…but please drop the emphasis on Eye Contact Or No-One Will Ever Give You A Job tosh.

(and now to re-blog my original article…)

STOP STARING AT MY CHEST!

Now that I’ve got your attention…

This is a semi-serious post. Yesterday I began a discussion with my daughter about ‘eye contact.’  I was trying to pre-empt some of the social misdemeanours that she might commit when we return to southern Africa. The thing is, my lass has *the* most incredible staring prowess. When we lived in Namibia, she used to freak the locals out. We’d often hear ”Why must your daughter stare at me so much?” and “That kid is scaring me with the way it is looking at me!”

Even the cat buggered off and left home after the babe in arms trumped it in a staring competition.

My girl isn’t being rude. But in certain parts of Africa, as Libertina Amathila (freedom-fighter against apartheid-turned politician) outlines in her autobiography, youngsters in southern Africa are taught that it is a sign of disrespect to hold eye contact with an adult. And yet – when Africans from this tradition meets a westerner  – all too often this comes over as a very negative action to the likes of you and me. This person cannot be trusted. Is shifty.

During the early days of living in southern Africa, I found this lack of eye contact to be distubing. Once (when pregnant and probably feeling even more paranoid than usual) I became convinced that Africans were looking at my crappy footwear. Regarding it with total disgust. Probably thinking “Buy yourself a new pair of shoes, you crazy and scruffy white lady!” But it transpired that they were simply moving their eyes away from my face, then away from my bump – and finally resting on my feet. (Well, this is what my partner explained to me. But the tightwad was probably making an excuse up not to have to treat me to a new pair of shoes.)

And of course, the apartheid system also had an effect on whether a black person dared to hold eye contact with a white person. And the legacy of this still very much remains.

And as I was giving my 9 year old a very nurturing and compassionate mini-lecture providing sage advice such as “so don’t go gawping at people. Okay?” I was reminded of the similarities with regards to misunderstandings about autistic behaviour and eye contact.

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don't GAWP at people. Okay?

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don’t GAWP at people. Okay?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I try to raise awareness of autistic spectrum conditions and of any kind of ‘exceptionality.’  And thanks to initiatives such as World Autism Awareness Day and some of the incredible charities and associated campaigners (with a special nod to Potential Plus UK here) society now knows more than ever about some of the more common autistic traits.

Lack of eye contact is often cited as a key characteristic of autism.  And this is just one of the huge barriers that ‘autie sorts’ really suffer from a lack of understanding about. Classroom teachers – if the signs of autism are more subtle in a child – might well simply write the kid off as being surly or rude, if they don’t make eye contact.  Adults with autism can ‘bomb’ at job interviews, for this reason alone. Even some of the organisations that you might expect a bit more awareness from haven’t clicked just how excruciating it can be for an autie to meet your gaze (The Co-operative retail outlet once asked me in a customer feedback questionnaire ‘Did the till operator make eye contact with you?’ Yes dear reader, you can imagine what my response was….)

And finally – a distressing example – I know of one young man (then undiagnosed autistic) who was mercilessly bullied because he couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. Several of the more immature teenage girls in his classroom took hysterical offence to the fact that his eyes would always drop downwards when talking to them. He’s Staring At My Tits.  Cue regular beatings by the other lads and for the rest of his life being known as ‘weirdo’ or ‘pervert.’

So today on World Autie Day – let’s try and not judge everybody else by the eye-balling Stepford Wives cultural and customer service standards.

Let’s convince ourself instead, that it is polite, it is pertinent and sometimes it is the proper thing to do – to look away and to give someone that extra bit of peeper-space.

(So long as you don’t look at my chest today, poppet because this T-shirt has got gravy stains all down it.)

Stop Staring At My Chest!

2 Apr

Now that I’ve got your attention…

This is a semi-serious post. Yesterday I began a discussion with my daughter about ‘eye contact.’  I was trying to pre-empt some of the social misdemeanours that she might commit when we return to southern Africa. The thing is, my lass has *the* most incredible staring prowess. When we lived in Namibia, she used to freak the locals out. We’d often hear ”Why must your daughter stare at me so much?” and “That kid is scaring me with the way it is looking at me!”

Even the cat buggered off and left home after the babe in arms trumped it in a staring competition.

My girl isn’t being rude. But in certain parts of Africa, as Libertina Amathila (freedom-fighter against apartheid-turned politician) outlines in her autobiography, youngsters in southern Africa are taught that it is a sign of disrespect to hold eye contact with an adult. And yet – when Africans from this tradition meets a westerner  – all too often this comes over as a very negative action to the likes of you and me. This person cannot be trusted. Is shifty.

During the early days of living in southern Africa, I found this lack of eye contact to be distubing. Once (when pregnant and probably feeling even more paranoid than usual) I became convinced that Africans were looking at my crappy footwear. Regarding it with total disgust. Probably thinking “Buy yourself a new pair of shoes, you crazy and scruffy white lady!” But it transpired that they were simply moving their eyes away from my face, then away from my bump – and finally resting on my feet. (Well, this is what my partner explained to me. But the tightwad was probably making an excuse up not to have to treat me to a new pair of shoes.)

And of course, the apartheid system also had an effect on whether a black person dared to hold eye contact with a white person. And the legacy of this still very much remains.

And as I was giving my 9 year old a very nurturing and compassionate mini-lecture providing sage advice such as “so don’t go gawping at people. Okay?” I was reminded of the similarities with regards to misunderstandings about autistic behaviour and eye contact.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I try to raise awareness of autistic spectrum conditions and of any kind of ‘exceptionality.’  And thanks to initiatives such as World Autism Awareness Day and some of the incredible charities and associated campaigners (with a special nod to Potential Plus UK here) society now knows more than ever about some of the more common autistic traits.

Lack of eye contact is often cited as a key characteristic of autism.  And this is just one of the huge barriers that ‘autie sorts’ really suffer from a lack of understanding about. Classroom teachers – if the signs of autism are more subtle in a child – might well simply write the kid off as being surly or rude, if they don’t make eye contact.  Adults with autism can ‘bomb’ at job interviews, for this reason alone. Even some of the organisations that you might expect a bit more awareness from haven’t clicked just how excruciating it can be for an autie to meet your gaze (The Co-operative retail outlet once asked me in a customer feedback questionnaire ‘Did the till operator make eye contact with you?’ Yes dear reader, you can imagine what my response was….)

And finally – a distressing example – I know of one young man (then undiagnosed autistic) who was mercilessly bullied because he couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. Several of the more immature teenage girls in his classroom took hysterical offence to the fact that his eyes would always drop downwards when talking to them. He’s Staring At My Tits.  Cue regular beatings by the other lads and for the rest of his life being known as ‘weirdo’ or ‘pervert.’

So today on World Autie Day – let’s try and not judge everybody else by the eye-balling Stepford Wives cultural and customer service standards.

Let’s convince ourself instead, that it is polite, it is pertinent and sometimes it is the proper thing to do – to look away and to give someone that extra bit of peeper-space.

(So long as you don’t look at my chest today, poppet because this T-shirt has got gravy stains all down it.)

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don't GAWP at people. Okay?

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don’t GAWP at people. Okay?