A crowd of protesters march in the Long Walk towards Windsor castle armed with signs calling for black justice. A movement triggered by the death of Mr George Floyd who died in Minneapolis as a white police officer held a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. His final moments captured on phones sparked a global outcry.
“Black lives matter, Black lives matter”.
The chants growing as we approach the Long walk. We join in from a distance, my son clapping along with everyone else. I kneel on the soft grass defining this baroque boulevard under the cool shade of an oak tree, looking at the magnificence of Windsor Castle.
I remember the first time I came to the Long Walk. It started with maize porridge. A staple breakfast of ours. A day of global celebration, a black woman was to become part of the royal family. I got ready, rather slowly managing a 7-month baby bump and a heat wave in full swing. We had just moved into this area a few months ago. We excitedly ranted about the great access we had to watch the celebrations as residents. And so, we walked to this special spot, Windsor’s Great Long Walk.
The global media had readied our mind for a phenomenal moment. I picked up a mini national flag, waving it as I enjoyed the buzz in the air and wondered what the screams of joy flooding the space really expressed. Were they proclamations of real acceptance of blackness? Would this change anything…for people like me? Without any answers, hand on belly, hope arising within me, I ulululated. The sharp traditional, sound of joy. My mind filled with endless possibilities.
Today, the passionate roar and reckoning of racial injustice echoing in the unlikely traditional spaces between the mighty 1920 oak and elm trees. My son, always loving this space, he runs behind a tree and looks at me with great eagerness so as to motion me to play peekaboo with him. His dad joins in. We play and laugh and run on the path of the Long walk whilst protesters make their way home. Signs in hand, some masks on faces. My husband and I catch a glance. We are not oblivious to the fact that we are part of a very small handful of black people in the space. We are a minority for a Black Lives Matter protest. I continue playing with my son, as people pass us on either side. Some smile, some look, most keep it moving. My son started waving at some people. I recall a memory.
“Mummy, black…black baby”. A toddler, beautiful blonde locks, points at my boy in the Windsor swimming pool changing room. The boy points again and repeats it proudly, almost lovingly to make sure his mummy heard, “black, black boy”. I paused for what seemed like a very long moment. The mother, red in the face, smiling but her full expression showing knowledge of the moment. She profusely apologised for her child, mumbling something or another about teaching him colours. Later that day, my son and I would sit at the Long walk, a space that had become a refuge for me as I navigated early motherhood. He was just learning to crawl. He would bubble around me, as he enjoyed his growing independence. In my space of retreat, under a tree we had personally selected, the shade we had become so familiar with.
No-one ever sat me down and helped me navigate the quiet tones of racial assumptions. The microaggressions often mixed with smiles and friendliness.
I think again of the 3-year-old boy pointing at my son and calling him black. He is as innocent as my son is, but being raised in a world that seems to be in a hurry to teach them about difference. I wondered what conversations the mum was having in her home with her child. I envisioned pictures of a line-up of babies from different races, my son one of them. As she taught him about colour? Or really about something else? No-one really taught me the “proper” way to respond to the subtle comments about my blackness when I arrived at Heathrow, 15 years ago with 23kg of everything I owned. No-one ever sat me down and helped me navigate the quiet tones of racial assumptions. The microaggressions often mixed with smiles and friendliness. Questioning comments about my hair, my background, my accent, my achievements ever a reminder about my “otherness”. I knew to expect it, we all did. Still, I mentally torment myself with all the ways I should have broken that silence and responded. I asked myself if the little boy had pointed at my son and said, “mummy, that boy has brown skin.” Somehow that sat better with me. Maybe it was my discomfort that really showed. Maybe I wasn’t prepared to confront the external perceptions of my son’s blackness. My post-colonial upbringing never really leaving me.
Today, the whispers of the sound of the protest reverberate through the leaves. It starts to rain. We make our way home and I look back at the path of the Long walk. My world seemingly evolving. The fortified castle behind us, unchanged.
Maybe this time it is different.
As a personal call to action, I am committing to trying to answer some of the questions that have been challenging me lately. What does this call for black justice really mean for me? What does it mean to me as a woman, as a parent?
I am also committing to learning more about the interrelationship of race and urbanism, architecture and planning.
I am gradually developing a list of resources that I will share with you. These will be resources that have personally assisted me in shaping my current understanding of blackness as well as resources for future reading.
More to follow in the next posts. I hope you can come on this journey with me.