How have I succeeded? Let me count the ways and an afternoon with racist women

I’ve just been patting myself on the back for what I’ve managed to do the past few days. Most of it has been laundry and housework and after a few days of being laid up with a cold-like virus I was, for a change, happy to do it.

One of the things I say a lot when patting myself on the back is the phrase “compared to most people this isn’t a lot” and that’s actually a load of rubbish. It’s how I imagine people to be and how I used to be myself when comparison is unnecessary.

I’ve done a lot of laundry (using a twin tub so bloody hard work), I’ve cleaned my kitchen, cleaned out the rat cage and now I’m excusing myself from cooking food from scratch because I’ve done enough.

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I’ve recently become a member of a group on Facebook that “helps” people in the community. It’s a place to find volunteering opportunities (in theory) but I’m increasingly convinced that it’s a place where, if you choose, you can be patronised or even patronise other people.

Yesterday was quite a step forward in confirming that idea for me and now I’m beginning to back away slowly, facing the people with a smile on my face and suppressing an urge to run away as fast as I can.

One of the women in the group asked if I’d like to meet her for a coffee and so I agreed to it because its always good to meet new people and met her in a place round the corner from me. It’s not the kind of place I’d choose to have coffee because it’s a “lounge”. I’ve yet to figure out what a lounge is but I do know that I don’t like them.

Right from the outset I felt as though I was being interviewed about what I could offer this woman to make her more prominent in the neighbourhood. She hasn’t been here long and is still about 15 years short of not being an incomer so anybody that is, or has been somebody, is useful to her.

I don’t like being used as a step ladder – I’ll give anybody a helping hand but I won’t be used as a step ladder.

As we talked her eyes glowed at the list of my community achievements which all rank on the senior management level and she is still on the edges of groups trying to break through. I told her about having bipolar disorder and she grasped hold of that quite tightly and her tone changed to her being able to help me. I don’t want help from her and if I want help then I’ll ask for it from somebody who actually cares about me.

A young muslim woman was supposed to be meeting us and, even though she had voiced a reluctance to meet on licensed premises we were meeting on licensed premises. I felt as though she was being told what to do even if it wasn’t what was best for her and that’s just a form of bullying.

We went to a knitting group at a sheltered housing scheme and she told me at least a dozen times that to work with vulnerable people you needed a DRB check even though I’d told her that I’d had an enhanced check as a police volunteer and they don’t come more rigorous than that. By this time I felt I was becoming a personal project and I refuse to be anybody’s project.

Some of the older women in the knitting group were great. One was sat apart from the others as she needed a table and was crocheting on to a square of knitting. She couldn’t get the corners right and I told her how I used to do it. She noticed that my hands shook and we joked about how inconvenient it could be at times.

The bossy woman in the group (there’s always one) and the woman I’d met for coffee fell for each other heavily. They were both of the same religion, had seen each other at church and there was an air of them being above the rest of the group. Bossy woman raised herself higher by letting everybody know she’d been to boarding school.

It came out in the general chat that it had been hoped that a young muslim woman would be joining the group and a photo was shown of her. There was no need to mention her religion or where she came from and certainly no reason to pass a photo around of her. I was a little bit sick in my mouth as the she was discussed by people who had never met her as lonely, disenfranchised, unskilled and desperate for friends. I spoke loudly about how colour, religion or country of origin was not necessarily a part of being one of the invisible women – ask any woman who has been in an abusive relationship how invisible they felt – but this was taken as a confirmation that their racism and the view that they had of this woman was correct.

I don’t think the two women who were the most patronising were, by any coincidence, practising Catholics (I remember giving money to save black babies from themselves when I was a kid) and I don’t think it endeared them to me when they acknowledged a love of Mother Theresa because their adoration of her somehow, in their eyes, justified racism.

These women consider them the movers and shakers in the neighbourhood and yet they cannot see that they are not. They are far from being so and will never earn the respect that they both yearn for and hope that they already have. I find it very sad.

So today I’m counting my successes both past and present as something to be proud of even if they are wildly different, I’m refusing to be used as a step ladder and I’m backing away from people I see as poisonous as quickly as a I can and without confrontation.

See how grown up I can be? That’s real success!!