Today, I came across a couple of articles by Lowri Turner. I had no idea who she was, and still have only a fuzzy notion – apparently she is a Z-List columnist who has been on the telly in one of those celebrity reality gawk shows, and made a fair few quid flogging her wedding to the glossies, and generally she just doesn’t fill your heart with a quiet respectful smile.
In these articles (Guardian and Daily Mail, practically identical sentiments expressed) she wrote about her feelings on being a single mother with a mixed race baby. She is white, her two sons by her first marriage are white, and the new baby is half Indian. She states openly and repeatedly that she loves her baby and I believe her. She also talks about her complicated feelings on the subject of her daughter’s race. In theory she is a white liberal who knows that racism is wrong. In practice she has to a greater or lesser extent the same racist modes of thought that we all do, by dint of living and growing up under white supremacist patriarchy.
The difference between Turner and the rest of us is that she has had to confront those painful, uncomfortable truths as she looks at her own beloved, precious daughter. The difference is that she has to KNOW that she finds her daughter’s darkness strange. She has to CONFRONT that she finds it strange that her sons hardly seem to notice the difference that strikes her every time she sees her baby. She has to acknowledge and actually THINK about her fears for her family: that she worries about her daughter’s future in a racist and sexist world, that she worries about how racist and sexist society will perceive her and her multi-coloured family – a single mother with children of undeniably different fathers, one of them not even white.
Turner has been roundly slapped with the label “racist”. Her racism, directed at her own innocent new daughter, has struck many as particularly vile. People say that this woman, whatever she may feel inside, must not say such things lest her daughter in years to come will read them and realise that her mother does not love her at all.
Yes, Turner is racist. Her reactions to her daughter prove that. She as good as admits it. But we are all racist, and – for what this is worth – it does take enormous courage for a white liberal to recognise that in themselves and to admit to it. It takes great courage to stand up and say – I married a person of colour, but that doesn’t mean I’m not racist. That doesn’t give me a free pass. I still need to examine myself and to think and to confront the nasty things I find. The parallel with “feminist” men struggling to recognise and challenge their own sexism needs no elaboration.
Yes, Turner doesn’t strike me as the kind of person I actually want to champion – what little I know of her (which may be unfairly skewed) leads me to suspect that she is pretty much taken up with the cult of celebrity, and that automatically makes her – in my book – someone I probably can’t respect. And she certainly says some dumb things about how she feels that her baby cannot possibly look like her just because they have different colouring, or about how anyone who dates or marries a person of a different race is making a political statement.
But then what? Someone, albeit someone we don’t respect much, has stood up and honestly talked publicly (as a columnist, that is after all her job) about racism – she has analysed her own feelings, examined painfully her owned weaknesses, questioned her own hitherto unsuspected racism.
And what are we saying? That she should STFU? That this should Not Be Spoken Of? That she is a Bad Mother if she seeks to start a public conversation about our latent racism, just because her own confrontation with her own latent racism happened in the context of her reactions to her own mixed race baby?
Should we also STFU about post-natal depression or about the difficulties some of us have in bonding with our babies? Should we also STFU about discipline problems, about our “unmanageable” children, or about how we are tearing our hair out trying to cope against all odds because they JUST KEEP WHINING?
Should we just pretend that being of mixed heritage is the complete non-issue that it should be, when it isn’t? Should we pretend that just knowing and believing that racism is wrong and harmful automatically makes us “colour-blind”, when it doesn’t? Should we pretend that by Not Talking About It, the elephant in the room will simply fade away – when it won’t?
Let’s not. OK?
Let’s not pretend.
Let’s not be afraid of our own truth.
Let’s talk about it.
Let’s learn from it.
Let’s grow up.