Living Through Lockdown, Families Rewrote Their Shared History

You’re reading My Black History, a series of personal reflections from Black women in the UK on the meeting point of history and life lessons.

“Have you maybe tried considering it from another perspective?”

Odds are you’ve at some point felt the scorch of this particular hot seat – be it in your therapist’s chair or over drinks with a friend.

Unsurprisingly, the stories we tell ourselves can have little flex; instead of being loose enough to bend and offer up different angles, they burrow deeper into a fixed position with each retelling. We’re not above being seduced by our own repetition – the more we privately pick at a tale, the more resolute we become that our take is the only one worth consideration.

And I’ll be the first to admit it: with stories concerning family – my family – I am predisposed to believing them to be in some way revelatory of everyone’s true character. I’m quick to imagine that our shared stories, or more precisely, my take on them, grants me unfettered access into the underbellies of their psyches, bearing home truths obscured even to my family themselves.

I once heard Lemn Sissay, a poet who grew up in the care system, say when talking about his book, My Name is Why, that “family is a group of disputed memories between a group of people over a lifetime.” The same experience can be remembered and retold in 10 different ways to the 10 who lived through it.

And whether we’re winding back the clock days or decades, the insight feels ageless: my sister’s ruthlessness, for example, never more apparent than in 1998 when she took my carefully curated party-bag at our cousin’s birthday as her own. If you’re reading this in an honest mood, you’re welcome to join me in confession.

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