Me, Myself and My Blog

Hi. I’m Claire Bale. Welcome to my blog.

A space for openness, honesty, discussion and learning. A space where no subject is taboo and no question’s a stupid question. Where I, as a British, mixed race woman in her 40s, explore some of the subjects whizzing around my head, at a time when I’ve never known so much discourse and discovery about race.

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The Trees by Percival Everett

Can you see the wood for them?

The lovely Notts TV Book Club invited me to read The Trees by Percival Everett. All I knew about this book before I opened it, was that it was connected to racist lynching in Mississippi in the “The Trees” in the 50s. With such an evocative title, and such an inescapably important context, I knew I had to read it.

In all honesty – it’s hard to know where do I start with this review? It’s possibly one of the most unusual books I’ve ever read. I fear my thoughts will be as wild as the narrative, so forgive me if they feel a little all-over-the-place.

First things first – did I like it?

I don’t think I can even answer that question succinctly. I had a love-hate relationship with it. I loved the fact it caught me by surprise in many ways. I hated the constant use of the n-word and the toe-curlingly dreadful characters who used it. I loved the unapologetic centering of the thousands of victims of lynching. I appreciated the author’s mocking and humorous portrayal the White racists. I didn’t love the fact that I had no idea what genre I was reading (crime? satire? horror?) – but I loved it for this at the same time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take a breath and tell you a little bit about it….

The Trees is inspired by the true story of Emmett Till. A fourteen year old Black boy who was accused of saying something suggestive to a White woman, Carolyn Bryand, and murdered as a result. He was subjected to racist torture and lynching. Sadly, not an unusual story. It’s estimated that around 5,000 Black men and women were lynched in America in the 18th and 19th centuries. In Emmett Till’s case, Carolyn Bryand later admitted to lying about the whole thing. Her accusation wasn’t true. But by then the damage was done. The extreme racists had been given their opportunity and taken in.

This awful piece of American history is what Percival Everett takes as his starting point for the book.

In The Tress, Granny C is a primary character. She is an elderly White woman living in Money, Mississippi (the town where Emmett Till resided in real life) with her comically dysfunctional family. Her son is murdered and disfigured in a funny-not-funny way at the start of the story. Spookily, found next to his corpse, is the corpse of a long dead Black boy. Granny C is haunted by this, she believes her past has come back to haunt her, and to seek vengeance on those she loves. I won’t say too much more for fear of spoiling it for anyone who wishes to read The Trees, but I’ll just say that this powerful beginning turns into many twists, turns and terrifying instances. The murders continue, as does the appearance of the Black cadaver, bringing with him the messages of revenge and unfinished business from the past. Interwoven with the alarming plot, is some witty crime writing, cop drama, intriguing supernatural occurrences and ultimately, a socio-politically astute time of reckoning for the lost lives of so many at the hands of racism.

As you all know – I love a good book. I like a page-turning story and a beautiful turn of phrase. But more than that, I love the steps that each and every one of them takes me on on my journey towards anti-racism. The Trees, for all it’s craziness, taught me a lot.

It forced me to think about justice, and the lack of it for Black Americans. The thousands of people killed, which are painstakingly listed over six pages of the book, and the impact on their families and communities can’t be denied, and in The Trees, they jump out t at you and bite you on the nose. The revenge sought for the deaths could be more aptly named justice. You may have seen the news articles lately, showing pictures of an elderly lady in a nursing home – Carolyn Bryant – living out her dotage. A luxury that Emmett Till, and many others, weren’t afforded.

Resurrection is also an important theme in Everett’s novel. It highlights the fact racism has sadly never gone away. Racism, brutality and injustice are still facts of life for people of colour in the Western world. The same prejudices rise again and again. The stats on police brutality and hate crimes sadly make it unavoidable to ignore the continuing problems.

Everett highlights the horror and the white-washing of history extremely powerfully. One poignant line “history is a mother fucker” couldn’t be more apt. Terrible, horrendous, unforgivable things have happened in history, but little of it is taught or understood, therefore, you could argue that little is learnt from it. What’s happening in the world today will be the next generations history lesson. What will they think of 21st Century society?

Something I’ve learned lately – you have to make a conscious choice to work towards racial justice. You have to actively seek out the stories of people of colour, otherwise you could easily remain blissfully unaware. It’s not always easy, but I’m glad I’ve made that choice. I’ve learnt, been inspired and taken action as a result. By reading this blog, you’ve made that choice too. Thank you. And let me know what you think of the book!

The power of privilege

The Winter holidays have been a perfect opportunity to catch up with friends, and with great friends come great chats. Conversations always inspire me, and when I was nattering with someone about some training they’d received on the subject of privilege, it made me want to tap out some thoughts on it.

What is it? What isn’t it? And why is it so hard to talk about?

So what does privilege really mean?

There are a few definitions with slightly different nuances, but one that strikes me as pretty accurate is this:

“A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.”

The word “immunity” is an important one here. It makes is clear that privilege is not a particular attribute, but rather a protection against something damaging.

In the context of racial equality, you’re perhaps familiar with the term “white privilege”. This is the absence of barriers that people of colour often face due to their ethnicity. For example, in general, white people are less likely to face the barriers of under-representation in certain industries such as teaching or law. They’re less likely to struggle to find a hairdresser on a UK high street. Less likely to be perceived to be loud aggressive, threatening or even criminal on first sight. They’re less likely to be verbally or physically attacked due to their ethnicity. To be arrested. To be more heavily punished by the police in the case of arrest or complaint. To die in childbirth. The list could go on – from the minor to the major.

Alongside the basic “Black vs white” ethnic privilege is colourism. Something I’m conscious of as a fair skinned mixed-race woman. The closer to “whiteness” people are, the more privilege they own. I may not be white, but I’m used to seeing images of women with my ethnic mix in fashion magazines. I’m unlikely to be called an offensive racial slur. I’m perceived to be less threatening than my darker skinned sisters.

Add intersectionality into the mix and it’s easy to become quite overwhelmed by the multi-layers of privilege that exists in society. For example, If you’re a Black trans person, you can expect many more barriers than a cis Back person, or a white trans person. If you’re a Black woman, you can expect to suffer from both the gender pay gap and ethnicity pay gap (statistics show you’re likely to be paid less than both your male and your white counterparts by 14% and 26% respectively).

Pretty mind-blowing.

But what isn’t it?

It’s really important for me to explain what privilege isn’t. Because assumptions make for this to be a hard topic for many people to talk about. It isn’t:

  • A judgement
  • An insult
  • About your level of “poshness”
  • An indication on how hard you work
  • Something to be ashamed of

But it can often feel this way for those of us who hold privilege. We can often feel guilty, even though our privilege is out of our control.

Why is it so emotive?

It’s easy to associate the term privilege with something negative, and unfortunately it’s often associated with racism, homophobia, mysogyny. It makes people feel guilty for things they can’t control. It can make them feel like others think they’ve been handed their achievements on a plate, undermining their hard work and skills. It causes people to feel defensive, understandably, because no-one wants to be associated with these things.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to turn “privilege” into a word of empowerment?

Wouldn’t it be great to think about our privilege as something positive. Qualities that we inherently possess that give us the power to make a difference in the world. Things that enable us to use our position to lift others?

Because actually, that’s what it is?

We all have strengths, skills, personal qualities and places in the world that we can use for good. It doesn’t have to be about about division, it can be about allyship, solidarity and bringing people together, as long as it’s recognised and utilised.

So here’s what I suggest

If you’re looking for ways to harness your own privilege-power, here are my words of advice.

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Understand your own privileges and own them.

Think beyond yourself – this isn’t about you. It’s about the wider world and bridging the gap between its inequalities.

As it’s New Year, make a resolution to use yours. Start small (have a look at one of my earlier blogs, “The Circle of Influence”) and make a start.

Thank you in advance. I’m excited about how we can turn this polarising word into one of power and progress.

And thank you for being here. Here’s to 2023 and more positive changes in the world.

Sticks and Stones

Well it’s been a whirlwind few weeks in the world of conversations about race hasn’t it? Meghan and Harry’s Netflix docuseries has sparked many a water-cooler chat. You all know my thoughts on Meghan, someone I admire for refusing to be bullied into silence. I chatted to BBC Radio Nottingham’s Sarah Julian on her breakfast show the day after the Netflix release. And I’m pleased to hear from people who have started to see how powerful and prejudiced the British media have been in Meghan’s story thanks to the programme.

Jeremy Clarkson’s recent diatribe in The Sun proves the point. And I am so proud of the 17,000 individuals who complained to IPSO and the 31,000 who complained to Ofcom about his inflammatory words. (The original column has now been removed.)

My mind has been whirring with it all and has got me thinking about the power of language. You know I love to chat. And this blog is all about inspiring positive change through conversations. But equally, from prejudiced mouths, words have a frightening power to harm.

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And still we rise

A couple of weeks ago, Meghan Markle released the latest episode of her podcast, Archetypes, just as she does every Tuesday. This one was about the angry Black woman trope and it set Twitter on fire even more than anything else because of the use of my favourite poem of all time, Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise.

I tweeted my feelings about it, and got a stronger response than I’ve ever had on Twitter before. A couple of trolls yes, but overwhelmingly, retweets from women of colour who resonated with my comment ‘if you know, you know.’ We all feel seen by the words of that iconic poem.

The podcast, Maya’s words, the Twittersphere, it all got me thinking….why have I always loved that poem so much? Why do I feel so strongly about supporting Meghan? And why does the combination of the two make the hairs on the back of my neck rise and tears spring to my eyes?

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Social Me-dia

A personal perspective on how social media works for me.

I had a healthy debate about social media the other day. My conversation partner – someone who has a distaste for grinning selfies and show offs. Myself – a fan of the more meaningful side of Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and their bedfellows.

How do you use social media?

Mindless scrolling to switch off at the end of the day? A way to keep connected to friends and family? To keep up to date with the news? For tuition on how to care for your hair type? (that’s definitely me!)

It’s a part of life that’s not going anywhere, let’s face it, so here’s how I recommend you use it if you, like me, are on a journey of anti-racism.

These are the elements that make social media about so much more than selfies and show offs.

  • Diversity – it’s the easiest way to see all walks of life on a regular basis. A beautiful and varied community is at your finger tips.
  • Representation – it’s also a simple way to find people like you if you’re part of a minority group and don’t often find others like yourself in every day life. If you ever feel that you don’t belong, you can find a place on social media and follow people like you doing great things, overcoming challenges, and just being in the world.
  • Guidance – finding bookstagram was like winning the lottery for me! A great example of social media providing guidance and recommendations, in my case, books!
  • Keeping current – I rarely read traditional newspapers, I’m too aware of their biases. Do you? Or do you, like me, find out the basics of what’s happening in the world through social media, and go deeper into the stories that you choose to investigate further?
  • And keeping in touch – if you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know how important my network is to me. Social media is a great way to stay connected, to show my support for them, and to feel their support too.

So how do you use social media as an anti-racist tool? Here are my top tips.

  • Follow a range of people – of all ethnicities, backgrounds, points of view (yes, that includes those you strongly disagree with!)
  • Learn others’ stories – understand their experiences and take yourself out of your circle.
  • Be active in your support – engage with those who are trying to make a difference. Answer their polls. Comment on their questions. Share their posts.
  • Exercise your critical thinking muscles – challenge what you see, explore alternative points of view, don’t just take it as read.
  • Keep talking – use what you learn to inform conversations. Provide evidence against prejudiced points of view, back up your arguments with the expertise you find online, strike up a conversation about something interesting you’ve read.

In many ways, social media is a way to build the five key anti-racist skills I explained in one of my previous posts, The Big Five. It helps to develop empathy and self awareness; critical thinking; communication skills; self-education and allyship.

Of course, my favourite, is that it gets people talking. But what’s new there?

Meghan, the Media and the Mania

I see #MeghanMarkle is still trending on Twitter, two weeks after her visit to Britain for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. What a frenzy it caused having a mixed-race woman step back onto British soil after choosing to leave us and our media behind.

I remember the emotional weight of learning Meghan’s story last year. You may remember I touched on it in my post Accepta-black, where I reflected on who is deemed acceptable in British society. It seems the fairer your skin, the closer to received pronunciation your accent, and the less fuss you cause, the closer to “ok” you get as a person who’s not white.

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Adultification – More than a Child can Handle

I’ve been building up to this post for a while. The Child Q case was one of those instances that really shook me. Anti-racist work is hard. There are particular instances that knock you for six. And this was one of those times.

But, this work is bigger than me. And this case has opened up many important conversations about an extremely significant type of racism that we all need to understand if we’re going to drive change.

Adultification bias is defined as “a form of racial prejudice where children of minority groups are treated as being more mature than they actually are.” In other words, the world sees Black kids as older than they really are.

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Take a few moments to imagine….

You’re at home. In the neighbourhood you’ve lived in your whole life. Your Mum lives around the corner. Your old school friends are all within walking distance. The shopkeeper knows your name…..

A new family moves in next door to you. They’re thrilled to have bought a big house in such a cheap area. But they don’t approve of your local shops, take-outs, your skin colour and all the connotations that come with it….…

Ok. You can brush that off. No big deal.

But then, their best friends move in on the other side of your house. They look just like them, and nothing like you.

And then their business partner moves in across the street. Followed by their neighbours from their old (‘it was lovely, pleasant, quiet, safe, you know? But it was sooooo expensive.’) And on it goes…….

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What’s Your 2022 Word?

The start of ’22 has seen lots of self declarations of people’s “word of the year”. One of the most inspiring I’ve seen is in the beautiful book by Paula Sutton, Hill House Vintage. (I bought this book for my Mum for Xmas and read the whole thing myself on Boxing Day.) Her word is “Yes” – and it meant a lot me.

By making “Yes” her word, Paula has committed to following any opportunity that comes her way.

Not overthinking things. And not planning things too far ahead. Just going for it.

It got me thinking about what I want out of 2022. And I think my word is going to be “growth”. Here are the reasons why.

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Strong Enough?

Hi everyone. Happy New Year and welcome to 2022. Blimey, 2021 was another toughie wasn’t it?!

How did everyone get on over the festive period? I hope you’re feeling well and ready for this coming year. Whatever your goals I hope you reach them.

In my last post, Self Care Survival, I shared some of my strategies for looking after ourselves. It was prompted by the challenges of the festive season, but we all know that self care is for life not just for Christmas, even if we’re not perfect at practicing it.

Today, I’m collecting my thoughts on how we might define what is is to be “strong”. It’s a follow up from Self Care Survival. By looking after ourselves, through reflection, rest and recharge, we grow stronger. It’s inspired by some of the books I’ve read (always with the books…I know, I know), the things I’ve learnt and the role models I’m surrounded by.

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