Racial Discourse – #twintuition

In #twintuition, Features, HOME, LIFE by Sam Prance

#twintuition is a feature in which PTL’s Editor-in-Chief discusses what he learns from his younger brother and sister. He takes a look into their understanding of the world, their intuition and uses it to reconsider his own perspectives on life and the world at large. This is tuition courtesy of Tom and Addie – ‘listen please and don’t slouch’.

I believe the children are our future, teach them young and let them lead the way.Whitney Houston

I have listened to those words close to a thousand times.

I spent a good part of my awkward teens with Whitney as my soundtrack. Learning her lyrics, mimicking her vocal runs, watching her performances – I would drift off to sleep with Whitney every night. And yet, it was only aged fourteen, after the birth of my younger brother and sister, Tom and Addie, that I really began to listen to those words – to see them not just as lyrics of a song but poetry, wisdom, guidance even.

As children, Tom and Addie are ‘our future’ – their generation will inherit the earth. And it is important that we let them do so on their own terms. In the words of Whitney, we ‘let them lead the way’.

10407811_10203948497246275_2166187406201686112_nSay hello to your future.

However, their lives are already being shaped by the world around them. The past and present are affecting them in ways we can’t even begin to comprehend and their futures and who they become are already being influenced by those who know them personally and also those who don’t. 

The past six years, I have slowly become aware (and occasionally forgot) quite how much influence I have over their lives – be it over their music tastes (Beyoncé and GaGa – although my power in this area is waning) or whether or not they believe in ghosts (Dad, Michelle – sorry about that one). As my boyfriend, Bryan, constantly reminds me, I am to a certain extent brainwashing them. Governing what they like simply by telling them what I like and governing their viewpoints simply by telling them my viewpoints.

And that’s why Whitney’s quote is so important. It is conflictual but it is a conflict we all face when dealing with children. How do we give them guidance, without indoctrinating them? How do we discipline them, without constricting them? How de we teach them, without preventing them from leading the way?

*   *   *

‘I knew it!’

Bryan was meeting the twins for the first time and they had gone all quiet. Like many children, Tom and Addie tend to have no awareness of quite how loud they can be unless they are in the presence of a stranger. Then, and almost only then, are they engulfed by an eery silence – unsure how to act, insular and hesitant.

To break the ice, I suggested we make a puzzle. Addie chose the world puzzle and within minutes they were more comfortable in Bryan’s presence, telling him what they knew about different countries and showing him where they were from. I asked them if they knew where Bryan was from. Silence. Then Bryan explained that he was from Réunion, a small island near Madagascar, and pointed it out to them on a map.

103-253-world-map-puzzle-poster.full_1_The map in question.

‘I knew it! I knew he was from Africa!’

Tom, who had been far quieter than Addie up until this point, was suddenly excited. There’s something beautiful about seeing a child so proud of their knowledge. However, Tom’s ‘knowledge’ hinted at something disturbing, something which has very little to do with him and more to do with the society in which we live.

Bryan is mixed race and bar Bryan my immediate family, my cousins and my aunts and uncles, are white. The twins go to a diverse school in central London but growing up there has been very little discussion of race within our household and, as white children in a society which still caters towards white people, Addie and Tom are yet to, and unlikely to, at this age, receive any commentary regarding their race. As such, it is unlikely that they have spent much time thinking about their skin colour. 

1146712_10151774518141131_54681180_nTom, Addie, myself and some of our not so diverse family.

And yet, here Tom, with no knowledge to go by other than Bryan’s appearance, had assumed that Bryan was from Africa. Seeing that Bryan was black, he most likely made the connection that Bryan must be African. Now Bryan is from Africa, but his skin colour does not confirm that and his heritage is far more complex than that. He is also from Europe, India, South America – he is Creole – conclusions which Tom did not come to. And this made me consider: does Tom think all black people are from Africa? And, if so, is this not harmful? Is he not unwittingly categorising black people as foreign, as some sort of other? And if he and other white children grow up viewing black people as foreign – will this not permeate into his generation’s way of thinking and approaching racial politics? Will British black people continue to be considered as foreigners in their own country?

The truth is I don’t know the answer to any of these questions and all of this is based on the theory that Tom assumed Bryan was black on account of his skin colour. The trouble, however, lies in the fact that I did not ask Tom if this were the case. I avoided the subject. And I think this is common among white people in the Western world. Perhaps out of guilt of our own privilege, we feel uncomfortable breaching topics of race, racism and racial injustice. However, if we do not breach these topics with children and even among ourselves, how do we expect racist views and attitudes to disappear?

To misquote Whitney: if we do not teach children well, how will they lead the way into a better future?

Sam Prance

Sam is the Editor-in-Chief of PTL. He likes adapting surnames into brand names and pretending to be professional. His favourite novel is Cloud Atlas and he has Madonna marathons on a regular basis. Sam tries to make out that he has his shit together but more often than not can be found crying watching Desperate Housewives reruns. Some episodes are really sad okay.

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