This is a record of something that happened to me shortly after my first child was born in 2011. It is something that has bothered me intermittently since it happened as it is one of those events that I wish I could go back to and change how I reacted.
I am of mixed ethnicity. I was born in Kent and speak with a London accent (this is merely to give you a background). I have brown skin, and I possibly look Indian or mixed with some Indian influences. I don’t really know – I get asked all sorts of questions about the whereabouts of my origins. But that is another bugbear I may share with you some other time.
My husband has white skin, and our first son was born with a similar complexion to my husband’s. He still remains very pale, but takes a tan well in the summer.
That’s the background. So a couple of weeks after our eldest was born, I needed to get some prescription medications from the local pharmacy. I had been to my GP with my husband and new baby. It was a very new experience being out and about as a brand new family, and I felt so proud strolling around our town with my handsome husband and beautiful child in tow. After leaving the GP surgery, we headed for the pharmacy. We all walked in, baby snuggled in his buggy fast asleep. I approached the lady behind the counter and greeted her politely. I explained that I had been prescribed some medications, as you do.
You probably already know that if you have a baby, you are entitled to free prescriptions for the duration of your pregnancy and for a year after your due date. Naturally, this applied to me. As proof of this, women are issued with a maternity exemption certificate (in the form of a card) to produce, if asked, in instances such as this. A week or so before this, I had needed to collect some medications from the same pharmacy. At the time, a different woman was there and didn’t ask for my exemption card, and merely stated that the ‘contents of my buggy was proof enough’.
This time there was a different woman, and after I explained that the prescription was for me, I said that I have my exemption card, and gladly offered to show it to her. My husband was standing away from the counter with our newborn in his buggy, the buggy facing away from the counter. And instead of the woman accepting to view my card, she walked over to our buggy to look at our newborn son. Now, she wasn’t going over to coo at and admire him. She wanted to see what he looked like. After silently and seriously viewing him, she returned to the counter and told me she would now like to view my card. I half-jokingly responded by asking her if she didn’t believe that he was my child, to which I was met with silence. Flabbergasted by her reaction, I awkwardly showed her my card, and she continued with her business of ordering my prescription. We waited a few minutes, she produced my medications, and we left.
And I was furious. I was furious at her for being so incredibly racist. Yes racist. Not to mention stupid. But, I was even more furious at myself for letting this happen, and not challenging it appropriately at the time. Ordinarily, I would have been the first person to stand up and say something. But maybe in the haze of recent childbirth, new sleepless nights and crazy hormones, I just wasn’t myself.
Now don’t get me wrong, I was not angry at her for wanting to see my card. She was, of course, within her rights to ask me for proof of maternity exemption. But she should have just asked for it when I produced my prescription. What on earth was she thinking when she approached my buggy to view my baby? And what did his appearance tell her? That he didn’t look adequately enough like me that he could possibly be mine? If this is the case, then is it her job to judge this? No, of course it isn’t. As I said, she should have just asked to see my card from the outset. And if she had decided that she doubted he was my son, what on earth was she thinking? That I had borrowed a man with a newborn baby in order to fraudulently acquire a free prescription? Who does this?!
All of this bothered me immensely. I wanted to walk back in and angrily challenge her on all of this. Indeed, I wish I had done so at the time. I wish I could have walked back in and asked her why she was looking at my baby. Hell, I wish I could have stopped her from going over to look at my baby. I wish I could have given her a venomous, fiery retaliation that would have put her firmly in her place, and made her question every further idiotic, ignorant thought that ever entered into her tiny little mind. But it was too late. We were walking home, feeling deflated and I was sounding off to my husband, who doesn’t really understand a lot of the ethnicity-based arguments that I make in the first instance.
I said before that I believe this woman was being racist. I stand by this. Maybe there are people who do not connect with me on this, and that is fine. My husband doesn’t really connect with me on my feelings about this. I know that in the future our children will probably change him. The reason I believe this woman was being racist in her actions is because I very much doubt that she routinely views other couples’ babies. Having said that, why on earth wouldn’t she believe that we were a couple? Or did she sneak a peek at our son on the way in and decide that he was too fair to possibly be mine? I don’t know. The more I think about this, the more angry and confused I get about it.
We live in a supposedly multicultural society, my town is no exception. Yet, these little things continue to happen. And these little comments, little actions, little faux pas can have such deep effects on fellow human beings. The comments and actions of this woman will certainly stay with me forever. Maybe I should have written a letter of complaint. Maybe I should have returned to complain. But the damage was done, and she will never be made aware of her errors that day. Hopefully the next time something similar happens to me, I will be sufficiently on the ball to respond appropriately. Even better, here’s hoping that I never have to!
I would be so interested to hear what you think on this matter.
Till next time.