Leaving Lockdown, Challenging Assumptions

I was intrigued to see which Tarot card the Major Arcana would turn up today.  It’s The Hermit, a wise old man holding a lamp.  Exuding calm, his simple presence brings new light and hope when we have lost our way.  His message is to discover and nurture our own hidden spark, withdrawing from society if we need to. Talking to family and friends I find we are all wary of coming out of lockdown, of returning to ‘normal’ activities. Friends admit reluctance to commit to meetings, actual and virtual.  Like the Hermit, we need more space and time for quiet reflection and growth.  I like the idea that this wise man is there, watching over me.

This poem, quoted by Seamus O'Reilly
in his Guardian column, appealed to me:

Subh Mills by Seamus O'Neill. (Translated)
There was jam on the door handle, 
But I suppressed the anger that rose up
in me,
Because I thought of the day that the door
handle would be clean,
And the little hand would be gone.
Children have lost some of their innocence, 
some of their trust in the world being a
benign place, taught not to touch door
handles, to keep washing their hands,
to see danger everywhere.

Black Lives Matter has become the focus for young people leaving lockdown to come out on the streets. It has certainly generated discussion. A friend asked ‘Where are you on statues?’ I’ve thought a lot about my own attitudes to race. I  remember a school assembly just after Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11th 1965 to prevent black majority rule in what is now Zimbabwe.  Our school chaplain, Rev Dr William Rogan, spoke in support of Smith and white supremacy,  From the top balcony one of the science teachers shouted ‘Shame on you!’  I was very struck by this unprecedented evidence of opposing views expressed in the setting of my very traditional school.  It generated a great deal of discussion among pupils and staff.  At home that night I had an argument with my parents about it and I think that was the start of my awareness of the injustices of colonialism.

In 1968, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech again divided opinion and I remember many heated exchanges.  By then I was at university and attended political debates which widened my knowledge and shaped my views.  I had still encountered very few non-white people but that began to change.  Friends adopted two mixed race children (this was the 70’s).  My own children were unaware that they were in any way different from them.  A close friend whom I visited in Oxford in the 1980s had an African partner and friends from different racial backgrounds. Now I too have friends of different ethnicities.

Bernardine Evaristo’s book, Girl, Woman, Other, had a major impact on me.  By telling the stories of women of colour from different generations and backgrounds, she paints a vivid picture of the casual racism experienced in Britain over past decades up to the present day.

In Sitting in Limbo, a recent BBC tv drama, a Jamaican-born British man, Anthony Bryan, living in the UK since 1965, is a victim of the UK Home Office ‘hostile environment’ policy. He is suddenly told he has no right to remain and taken to a detention centre. The idea of repatriation has become acceptable although in the 1950’s Commonwealth citizens were encouraged to come here. Many people are still waiting for their cases to be resolved.

David Olusoga, a historian born in Nigeria, goes some way towards explaining this in his book and BBC television series Black and British. There have always been black Britons, seen at different times as equals, novelties, entertainers, freaks, pets, soldiers, cheap labour and, of course, slaves.  Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann tells the story of the free Africans of 16th C England when social class was more important than skin colour.  Theories about fundamental genetic inferiority, limited intellectual capacity, insensitivity to pain, lack of morality,  came later as scientific knowledge developed in the 19th C.  The history of the slave trade is well known, although to read the stark detail of Bunce Island, the notorious British slave trading fort in Sierra Leone and the horrors of the ‘Middle Passage’
(the sea journey undertaken by slave ships from West Africa to the West Indies) is shocking. I was also appalled by the way black soldiers were treated in both world wars.

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson is a
fascinating, if harrowing, historical novel
which uses real events such as the Zong massacre
as the background to a murder mystery. This event
was the mass drowning of more than 130 enslaved
Africans by the crew of a British slave ship in
November 1781. Set in Deptford, London, it
deals with inter-racial relationships, the
politics of the slave trade and, above all, power.
For light relief, I'm painting my nails
and eyelids blue (just for fun) and reading
this clever ghost story by Elly Griffiths.

I read about Grace Nichols in the Observer. Born in Guyana, she wrote this poem in May. It’s called Harbour

How are you doing? Just getting back to normal or creeping cautiously outside and retreating? Where are you on statues? Let me know through commenting below, emailing timewithelinor@gmail.com, WhatsApp or however suits you.


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