It’s July, and I could swear it’s been a year already. So much and so little has happened. I’ve been out twice during the last few months. Once in early June, when we all went to see my sister for a socially distanced present-swap for her birthday – in the car-park of her flat. Then again in late June to drop her and Matt back to their flat in the car (all be-masked with all the windows open). My Mum is still officially shielding until the beginning of August. After that, who knows? We won’t be dropping it all and going back to ‘normal’, that’s for certain.
There’s a stark difference in my state of mind when I talk to people who have had a bit more freedom. They have been to supermarkets and have left their houses to go for walks. Shielding meant that we couldn’t do any of that. We’re lucky to have a garden, and that has been a privilege. But I’ve noticed how even the thought of leaving our front doorstep makes me nervous.
It felt furtive when we dropped Sarah and Matt home – it was late, barely anyone was around. It was quiet and thrilling. The absurdity of finding a short car ride exciting! It’s about a five to ten minute drive to get there. I used a disposable mask because I don’t yet have a fabric one. I was conscious of how it kept riding up a little to cover half of my eyes, even though it fit the bottom half of my face. So alien and yet cocooned. When we got back home, I threw the mask away and washed my hands, but I also felt as if my life had expanded, if only for a short while.
There has been poetry in this time, even if I haven’t always been aware of it. The poetry of boredom and a restless mind. Of more time with my husband. And simultaneously, the meaningless of time, and yet the precious nature of it. The way people came together to protest, whether in person or online, at home, for Black Lives Matter. Sea-change, conversations that needed to be had. That will always be ongoing until we have liberation. There is grief, and fear, and a lot of uncertainty. And also gratitude.
I haven’t known what to say, or write. And still, I’ve had too much to say and write. This blog post is the first thing I’ve written since the end of June. I wrote about the movement for Black Lives Matter in my journal. That detangling and divesting from whiteness is something that I hadn’t clearly understood until now. Yes, I’ve always felt I could do more, and support the movement, that I believed in it. But I haven’t quite done the work that I need to do.
White supremacy is rooted in the systems we use, in our language, in the things we buy and the media we consume. The UK has its own major issues, with our history and how entangled our systems still are with the remnants of colonialism and imperialism. We brush things under the carpet, and don’t face it. Everything is connected. Unpeeling everything is essential for healing, so we can see what we need to do, and how to do it.
It’s the difference between representation (important) and dismantling then rebuilding systems – liberation. Can we have true representation in a white supremacist, patriarchal, ableist system? What does justice mean? What does it look like? How do we build communities that truly care, and that aren’t built on systems of oppression? A community, ideally, can and should be a sustainable eco-system of interconnected services and people that support and work together.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to support a movement. Sustainability of action, using your skills and passions, looking at where you work, live, and how you consume are all important. There is no point burning out and not having the energy to be present. So self-care is important too. And it’s important to know that you can’t do it all. Focus on a few pieces of the puzzle, where you can do your best.
After a few years away from the deaf community online, this pandemic has brought me back to it too. Mostly on Twitter and Instagram. It’s interesting how much more online everyone seems to be, and how the inequalities exposed by Covid-19 have brought people together. Yes, it has also created chasms but I’ve also seen how hopeful things can be too. I don’t want to go back to ‘normal’ because ‘normal’ is the status-quo. The status-quo is broken.
We have to dream and imagine something better, even in the midst of pain. I’d argue that being deaf has given me an insight into what it means to be denied access, in a different way. What it means to be seen as deficient and different, or as a curiosity. To constantly fight for better, for more. I know the system is broken, because if it wasn’t, everyone would be able to get what they need to thrive.
I benefit from that system – I’m a white woman, I’ve had a university education, a middle-class upbringing, and as a white person I’ve been given opportunities in life. Culture has been representative of my colour – though there have been very few positive representations of deaf or disabled people in the mainstream, most films and TV programmes hold some representation of my cultural experience.
As a white feminist, too, I’ve been part of a movement that traditionally hasn’t been intersectional, that hasn’t listened closely enough to the experiences of Black feminists, disabled people, LGBTQA+, or Indigenous women. I’ve been re-educating myself and working on listening to and reading the work of Black women and feminists. This is something we should all try to do.
So this work is going to be ongoing for me, for us. Give attention to the work, be patient, and support the movement. How you do that is often not visible, not Instagrammable. We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that we need validation for it either. It’s not about looking good or being good, but doing what’s right and building a better world. It’s going to be hard, but it’s also humbling and powerful to make changes within yourself and your sphere of influence.
Let’s imagine and work towards something better, together.
‘The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.’ – Alice Walker.
*A monthly post as part of Pepper Day, a Cheer Pepper community initiative (every 22nd of the month!).
*Also, consider reading this by Vicky Gayle – ‘We Need to Talk About Racism in the UK Deaf Community.’