The younger ones came to the session today, 15 of them.

 A couple of mums stayed for most of the time and Rainer, Inga and Habiba as well as Cathy and Penny were there. 

The session took off really quickly, even before we had managed to pack away the pool table. (We find that having the pool table there is like having a screen on. It draws the attention to it all the time and monopolises the agenda of the session. The children cannot focus on playing because they are yearning to play pool). However when it is out is occupies all the space in the room and makes it impossible for the children to play without elbows getting jogged. And there are always rows about who goes next, who cheated etc…)

 The children wanted to decorate the hut and draw and make things.

 I brought a camera in for them and the pink sari fabric that had caused a bit of dissent in an earlier session.

When the kids saw the fabric their response was exactly the same as I had heard on that first play session.’ We don’t want that Indian fabric here. Take it away. We are white and this is our home.’

 This was an echo of what I had heard from the other group saying. ‘we hate pakis.  They get everything and we don’t. Their houses get done up all new and ours don’t.’

 These little ones saying the same thing. ‘We don’t want no Indian stuff here.’ They are talking about a piece of fabric and they are being this harsh, how do the non-white residents of the estate feel?

 Habiba and a new Bengali boy were sitting together getting to know each other.

I asked, what about Habiba? She’s our friend, she’s part of this group.

There was uncomfortable silence. Almost as if they had assumed every one in the room was white, like them. They had not noticed she was Asian.

‘She’s not Indian, She’s Bengali’. She escaped condemnation on a technicality.

 No one was unpleasant to the little boy. We all made a quiet fuss of him. He kept close to the adults and especially Habiba.  He also said to me that he felt uncomfortable because no-one was speaking his language.

‘But you told Ma all that  in English and I understood you perfectly. Why don’t you teach me some Bengali? ‘ (When Cathy checked with His Mum this morning she said he had loved it and wouldn’t stop talking about what a good time he had had.  This is great news and we hope that he starts to come along regularly.)

By the end of the session Habiba and these same kids who had reacted with such hostility to the sari fabric, were having a rough and tumble play on the settees.  They were all giggling and joking together so relaxed and happy. A superb piece of playwork from Habiba.

Meanwhile Rainer was having a difficult time of his own with some of the kids overstepping the mark and testing his boundaries.

As usual there was a lot of lovely stuff but this racism made the atmosphere tense. There were also phone calls from some of the mums to their kids telling them not to leave the centre because there was a big gang of Asians on their way over to the estate.

 The reaction of fear from the kids was immediate and genuine, then the bravado came back and a  panicky stressed  sort of playing started. There was a lot of chocolate and sweet milky drinks taken by the kids during this session, they were more hyper than I had seen them before. At about six o clock three boys came in. They were all carrying stout wooden sticks and putting on very male mannerisms. Cathy did an amazing bit of work and brought them into the centre and got them to sit and chat and make necklaces.    They asked me to run another session, as this one clashed with a club they went to, and I said I would if I could find the money to fund it.

 They were the last to leave, and they went off collected there sticks again and started to harass the shop keeper next door.  Again Cathy made them come back and apologise to him, I went in the shop with them as they did it – in a fake Indian accent.

Disappointing.

I am trying to find more Bengali playworkers who will take this on, being kind and loving to the kids so they have a different experience in their lives.

 After all many of them go to Christian schools and mix with white families on an estate that is predominantly white. Their lack of understanding about nationalities and their disconnect between the abstract idea about other cultures and their relationships with Habiba et al,  makes me think that this is not so much a racist response, not yet. We still have time to avoid that.

 And, perhaps today was the end of our honeymoon period and we are in for a few weeks of the Treacle moon. There is always a point when the relationships of trust are established and the testing begins. May be this is our test.

 Today was Holocaust Memorial Day

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