White, Fifteen, and Appearing Age Twelve

Our privilege is often invisible to us until it is taken away. Emma Dawson's short, sharp piece contemplates this.

I first realised that even I, white, fifteen, and appearing age twelve, was not above being accused of being a teenage mother when I took the neighbour’s baby for a walk.

Flo Jammet was assumed to be mine by every passerby, and they gaped, flabbergasted to see such a person in our tidy village. The mothers were the most appalled. I smiled at them in some sort of gesture of communion – we both were taking our babies for a charming, wee walk, after all, but they swerved their buggies around me and my child, as if theirs might catch some degenerate germ by coming too near the air space surrounding us. Naturally, they seemed to assume that Flo was willingly conceived through my own sexual immorality. I nearly howled each time they failed to gain the more logical conclusion that the baby’s sister was doing some charitable work for the family, voluntarily, under duress, or otherwise.

 

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I felt just the same when I was twenty-two, appearing age sixteen, and the woman in Cancer Research thought I’d stolen a top. I was unused to people looking at me like that. I did not realise until afterwards that it was a hanger that had been left in the changing room that made her see me as a thief. She asked me how many items I had tried on, apparently hoping that I was fool enough to give myself away. When I did not, she still looked shocked that the scum who would steal from a charity shop was brazen enough to lie, too. Realising what she was getting at, I asked her if everything was okay? Would she like to look in my bag? She waved me away, sneeringly.

Later, I figured that being small, white, and innocent-looking had probably prevented her from rifling around in my bag. Of course, it could have been concealed about my person all that time, and perhaps she thought of that as she sneered, knowing full well that a full body search was inappropriate under the circumstances.


Emma Dawson | @EmmaRuthDawson

Emma Dawson has had her short stories published in several student magazines, and she has written two picture books for the Akenkan Project, a charity which aims to improve children’s literacy in the Akuapem Hills, Ghana.  More importantly, she has dispensed ‘advice’ in the persona of a snooty and unhelpful Durham graduate in her mock agony aunt column, which appeared in Palatinate. She lives in Thames Ditton, and can think of many other places that she’d rather be.