In general I am the kind of person that when I'm first getting to know people, I keep myself quiet and speak when I'm spoken to, it gives me a chance to observe and analyse people. I found myself this week in the staff room of a Roman Catholic school, all the staff were Catholic, most either have been married for years or some were still waiting on God to deliver them their partner.
If we were to believe that all Christian's were loving, generous and non judgmental as the bible directs them to be, should you find yourself sat in a room full of Christian women having lunch, you would expect to have a pleasant time and be made to feel comfortable. On the first day that's exactly how I felt, there were the general conversations about classroom antics and children who didn't know their numbers from their letters and the odd mention of the somewhat excitable teacher who takes the children for hymn practice.
The next day however was a different feeling altogether. There had been a program on the night before about people on benefits and the conversation in the staff room had turned to a lynching of all those who have received benefits,
"These people have flat screen TV's and matching Next sofas but are saying they can't afford shoes for their children to wear to school."
"They know all the loopholes and there are people who help them find the loopholes, and who pays for these people to find the loopholes, we do."
"Oh and of course there are no fathers about."
I sat there at first thinking, I'm glad you don't know my story. I'm glad you don't know that I spent at least 4 years of my life on benefits, I'm glad you don't know that during that time I had matching sofas and a flat screen TV, I'm glad you don't know that I have two children by different fathers, one of whom is not in his child's life at all. I'm glad that you don't know that I am one of the very people that you look down your nose at as I am sat in this room with you, taking a break from teaching the children in your community. That my children, despite not having a father in their home are not hanging about the streets but are at school and nursery mixing with children who come from 'normal' families. However sitting there not saying anything, stopped me from doing the very thing I should have done, challenge their stereotypes.
All of those things are true of me, but those things do not define the type of person that I am. Those things do not mean that I spend my days watching Jeremy Kyle and recognising friends on there. In fact I just about watch television, and have the odd shows I do engage in, none of which involve Jeremy Kyle (not that there is anything wrong with him). I read and listen to the news and engage in conversation with my children about modern politics and society. I work hard to provide for my family and rarely spoil them with the latest gadgets or toys. I wasn't brought up in a single parent household, my parents were together until I was an adult, and despite having not been married myself, I still teach my children the value of marriage and encourage them to aim for the best in their lives.
I'm very annoyed with myself for not saying something then and there. I thought at the time, why bother, I will probably not encounter half of these people again, but the fact is I should have bothered. Yes there are people who know how to 'work' the benefits system but being on benefits doesn't automatically mean you are one of them.
One of the ladies I was sat with then went on to say she felt like punching one of the women at her church for sending her a "shouty email," I giggled to myself forgot about the previous conversation and reminded myself, they're only human.