We Walk Different Roads
“Don’t you feel scared walking under that bridge? I never walk round there. For years, I’ve avoided walking under that bridge.”
The Sarah Everard case is a peculiar one for me – namely because it was so close to home. My parents grew up in South London. When the news broke out of her disappearance, they literally knew every road she could have walked down like the back of their hand – Battersea being my dad’s area – Clapham being my mum’s.
Weirdly enough, because of their roots in South London, I’ve always felt safer in South. I always felt a bit more aware, always felt as though I’m retracing roads they previously walked down. I’ve walked through Battersea with my dad, a memory lane, passing his primary school, the roads he hung out, and his old houses.
I never quite did the same with my mother until one point last year, she told me about a male friend that saved her life when a man approached her with a knife, pressed it against her back, and told her to not make a noise – just follow him. It was day time. It was a main road.
Coincidentally, a man she tells me she owes her life to, was just walking down the road. The opposite road. A familiar face. She took a chance and ran towards him. He became a life line she had to latch onto. For, at that point, what could be worst than standing there with a knife held against you? There was no risk assessment, no time to be overly rational. This was do or die.
She called out and when she reached him, she asked him to save her. He also took a chance and made a detour from his original path. His presence deterred the predator. He accompanied her home and made sure she arrived safely.
Relief. That’s what I felt as she told me. I’m sure she felt the same way. But my emotions were also mixed with anger.
Anger because of the sheer audacity and what ifs. What if that man wasn’t there? Where would we all be now? In the absence of chance and luck, my mere existence could have been extinguished along with my mother’s.
That’s the reality for women. Retracing the same roads my father took, I had to acknowledge our roads differ from that of our male counter parts. The road she walked down is usually busy in Clapham Junction – I walk down it all the time. It was part of my commute when I lived in Battersea. It almost seems nonsensical to avoid it. But the road is now tainted with a feel of disgust and anger. Trauma does trickle down through generations.
Why Your Feminism Must Include All Races
Despite the Clapham Junction story above (which is in Battersea for you pretend-Londoners), another incident happened when another female family member lived in Clapham many moons ago. She spoke of a separate story, but this one has been etched in my memory and should be treated as a lesson for both racism and protection of all females. It may trigger females of all races – so I do warn in advance.
She had a friend, a white female friend, who she would walk home with. The girl was a bit more curious in respect of men, she would entertain conversations more – and that was fine. It didn’t negate her right to consent.
They would talk through a park in Clapham on their route home one day. The trees and grass would grow high there, leaving blind spots, but as long as you stayed on the path you would be alright. This was their usual route and they were always alright. That’s why they believed anyways.
Her friend would see a few guys in the distance and begin to talk to them.
“Don’t do it. Let’s just walk home.”
The distance between them grew and grew, but she could still see her. Could still hear her voice softly in the distance. It started off calmly, but soon escalated.
Before she knew it, hands had reached for her friend and grabbed her into the bushes. The guys, who were once visible, soon followed.
Prompted by her friend’s screams she ran. Ran hard. Ran fast. She ran for help. There was no way she would be able to stop a group of guys by herself, but maybe another male could help. Maybe he could ward them off.
The first person she saw, she grabbed and clung to.
He probably only needed to shout something to disperse the guys and save her, he probably didn’t even need to get in trouble, he probably didn’t even know what he did and the implications it would have.
“HELP. HELP MY FRIEND. SOME GUYS – PLEASE HELP. SHE IS OVER THERE.”
He looked at the black hands which held him and crumpled his suit. Repulsed, he brushed her off, looked her up and down.
“Don’t touch me with your hands.”
That was all he said, before setting off.
She could tell by his eyes, he had concluded it wasn’t his problem. It was a black problem. His pale face etched into her mind. But the irony was, her friend wasn’t black.
“It was as if I were dirty. Scum.” It wasn’t her first experience of racism, but this one cut deep.
She felt helpless, hurt and as though she had failed her friend. She couldn’t find anyone else for a little while after. A black man ran to help soon after, but it was too late.
“Do you think things would have been different if you told him your friend was white?” I would ask decades later.
“Probably but your mind doesn’t think to disclose that at the time. I never saw my friend’s race at that moment. Back then, people would be like – that’s an issue for the blacks. Not my problem.
… We could have saved her.”
A cruel twist of fate meant this innocent white girl would be faced with the unfair treatment that would have otherwise befallen an innocent black girl. What if she were black? Imagine the man in the suit representing society… it’s not his business.
I’m not sure if she was ever told the full story. Perhaps not. There were no winners here.
The man that walked home, with hatred in his heart probably would have remained none the wiser of how his omission led to multiple scars for multiple women. But he could do that, because it didn’t affect him. He couldn’t relate. Without equal protection it invites predators. To protect women means ensuring the safety of all women, regardless of race. By assuming black women can look after themselves or be looked after by the black community alone means that they will only receive a small proportion of protection afforded to white women. This means many people will walk past situations they know aren’t right, with little playing on their conscience.
This is where the Karens could use their skill set of involving themselves in other people’s business for good 😂😂
You see stories on the internet of black parents searching desperately for their missing daughters. We don’t often make headlines.
Why I am Scared to Raise Sons
I often travel at night much to my parent’s disappointment. But only certain areas. Even then the fear does often seep through. Your walk feels like you’re evading landmines.
“I wouldn’t walk that route at night. Even as a man,” he said.
“Yes, but that’s not the point.” I would respond.
“But it kind of is.” He would maintain.
“Women should be able to walk around risk free, just like men.”
“I agree. I completely agree. But that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world with sick people. And what men are you referring to? Who is walking around at night?”
I was close to saying “But you could”.
Then I realised, he really couldn’t unless he was looking for potential trouble. Black male, walking around at night? How many murder cases have I heard of? Attacks? Stabbings. What about the friends that had passed? I acknowledged it. We were trapped in different cages, but in cages nevertheless. Of course, this is why he drives.
“You have to minimise your risks at all time. This is why I want to you to catch a cab where you can. There’s no point arguing something should be a certain way, and putting yourself in harm’s way to prove a point.”
Black men don’t have it easy. I know the wrong route in London can be absolutely disastrous. The need to be streetwise is equally as pressing. His methods have always resolved around his mantra of “prevention is better than cure”. In a world of victim blaming and extremities, there was a third way. Personally, sometimes I think our generation rushes into obtaining an array of emotional scars and traumas, for the sake of proving a point.
I say all this to say, unless you are in the fortunate position of being a white male, please just try to stay safe right now. Even if it isn’t right. This is the reality we live in.