The Disappointed

Maybe it’s getting old, maybe it’s the effects of lockdown but increasingly those talking about a new normal look like wishful thinkers.

The government is opening zoos before opening schools. Antelopes before A-levels. Profits before pupils.

Some say the coronavirus crisis will make us more empathetic and community minded. Surely the events of the last few days have knocked that on the head. The deep division of the culture wars remains raw. 

Instead of engaging with protestors to understand their anger a bunch of Red Wall Tory MPs did a photo op cleaning up the Parliament Square statue of Winston Churchill. Until a local authority cleaner – black, called Winston – came along to do the job properly.

The narrative seems to have already moved on from anger at racism to statue rage. Of course it has not among those affected. The reason George Floyd’s last words – ‘I can’t breathe’ – have sparked worldwide protest is because they sum up the suffocating experience of racism. Toppling Edward Colston was a symptom and a symbol. This is not a protest about public art.

Yet the media coverage is focussed on the most tangible element of the cause. This morning the white male presenter of the Today programme spoke to a white peer about a statue of a white man. There’s your structural racism right there.

But it’s not just the most recent protests that may wilt in the face of conservative interests and institutions. 

Spider creep

A few weeks ago there was talk of men engaging more with the family, re-assessing their work life balance in light of lockdown. Public discourse over the decision to can plans to get all primary school kids into the classroom by July has been dominated by mums. We’ve a male Education Secretary. The ex fireplace salesman seems to be too inept to be allowed on the airwaves but competent enough to occupy a seat at the Cabinet table despite being an unfaithful husband, an attention seeking spider creep, and sacked from Theresa May’s cabinet for leaking state secrets. Quite the CV. In his absence Rob Halfon, love cheat chair of the Education select committee, has shared his views. And these are invariably balanced or complemented by those of ‘mums’ – women reduced to just one element of their existence.

So much for any rearranging of gender roles. And for more on that see the research that landed today showing that those parents with the most education do the most homeschooling but more pertinently that women, whatever their schooling, do more domestic work than men.

Even as I type a new piece of research arrived in my inbox showing men think working from home will allow them to spend more time with their families (obv) and help women to progress in the workplace (here’s hoping). But neither will happen just because, they will only occur if men do more housework.

It’s disappointing.

But what’s really concerning going forward is the widespread disappointment that accompanies lockdown.

My kids were looking forward to the holiday of a lifetime at Easter. Cancelled.

My son was looking forward to getting back to school and seeing his friends next month. Cancelled.

Kids expect their parents in general to have answers and agency. We have neither in the face of coronavirus.

Compound disappointment.

Nadir of hopelessness

And I wonder what impact that’ll have on this generation going forward. Will they be less likely to make plans for fear they’ll be undone by circumstances? Will they bring a new nadir of hopelessness to the public realm when they are older? Why protest, why dream, why have ambitions if your memory is filled with disappointments? Will Covid beget a generation that always bets on black?

(I’m reminded of a long car journey with my daughter when she was very small, but old enough to play I-spy. “I spy with my little eye something black,” she uttered from the back seat. “Is it…the future?” I wearily responded.)

We can leave theses questions hanging. Or we can do something about it. There are people starting conversations about how to convert good intentions into concrete actions. How to harness the energy of the Black Lives Matters protests, or to help men embed the changes they’ve embraced in quarantine, or put mental health on the agenda alongside the economy. If we engage now, we can hopefully seize the initiative, and show our kids that disappointment is not inevitable.

From disappointment can come creativity and beauty. Let’s be like XTC:

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