I knew that class wasn’t for me but Helen, my key worker, said it might be good for me after Pat had walked out on me and the kids. ‘Confidence Building’ sounded weird but it was supposed to help you speak up for yourself and feel okay about life. The first two weeks went fine and we had a bit of a laugh. The group seemed to get on well, all single parents so we know about how hard that can be and we shared stories of being pissed about by the social. It did make me feel a bit less lonely.
Tonight’s session was different. We were talking about going out in Bradford over Christmas and I said we should stay away from the top of town because a lot of the black pimps hang about there with their girls. That’s when Aisha started. She didn’t kick off but that made it worse.
“Why do you say black pimps?”
I tried to explain.
“They are mainly black. Not all but probably 80 or 85 percent”.
“How do you know? How many men have told you that they are pimps and what proportion are black? And what do you mean by black?” she asked, her voice was quiet but her eyes never left my face. I could feel my cheeks burning. Sue tried to help.
“I don’t think Keith meant anything Aisha. Let’s just go locally and stick to Shipley or Bingley?” But Aisha wasn’t happy to leave it.
“I would like to talk about what Keith said though” she said. So I tried again.
“Look Aisha I didn’t mean anything by it. My kids come to this nursery and the kids are every colour of the rainbow! I’m not against anyone with different skin or religion.”
She just fixed me with her stare. I felt absolutely crap.
“Believe me Aisha, I like you and I don’t want to upset you love. Honestly I’m sorry”. I was nearly bloody begging.
“I know you don’t want to upset me. I believe that you are not against, as you put it, people with a different skin colour. But I also think that assuming that black men in Bradford are pimps is offensive. That’s why I want to talk about it.”
Jane, the group leader tried to intervene.
“Aisha, I think it could be destructive to the group to continue this discussion. I would prefer to get a colleague of mine to come in to lead a workshop on equal opportunities and we could then explore this kind of thing in a safe way.”
“I don’t agree, I think covering over this kind of thing is destructive and a missed opportunity.”
The door opened and it was the caretaker. Saved by the bloody bell. I’m not going back to that group. That Aisha is like a dog with a bone and I’m not going to have her trying to make me feel like crap.
The nursery was a real find for my son. After 3 years of depending on the
grudging help from my mother I cried when the letter came telling me he had a
place. Finally, it felt like I was on the home straight – the final term of my
degree, and free childcare just a few months before Jensen started big
He settled in well and I could tell they were surprised by his language,
pencil control and sociability. Thankfully he is way more confident than I ever
was but he hasn’t had a voice in his ear telling him he isn’t good enough, smart
enough. In anyway enough. Never has he had to struggle for my affection or
tremble waiting for my mood to break. Getting pregnant at eighteen
confirmed my mother’s long held conviction that her only daughter was
a nasty girl.
I was happy to join the ‘Confidence Building for Parents’. I hoped that the group might help me with my shyness. As usual I was pretty quiet, content to watch and listen. Keith is the only man and the other mums make a fuss of him, seemingly there is something heroic about a male single parent. I thought he was okay, a bit brash but harmless.
Black people hear comments like Keith’s ‘black pimps’ remark all the time. It’s
not exactly Bernard Manning vitriol but just so effing exhausting. I mean,
WHY? How would he like it if he heard some posh woman remarking on fat,
white men feeding their kids lard and crap? I had every right to challenge him.
Then Jane tried to swerve the whole thing! Accusing me of being ‘destructive
to the group’. Middle class, middle aged, espousing liberal sensibilities but
unwilling to get her hands dirty with any really meaningful dialogue. All I
wanted was to make Keith think about what he was saying. I didn’t attack him
in any way. I should be proud of myself for having the guts to stand up and try
to make my point.
Instead I just feel alone.