'Reconciling this seasonal longing for togetherness with my experience of community’

A man dressed as Santa Claus outside Selfridges in London as the department store unveils its Christ

Shop windows are starting to look festive - Credit: PA

A year ago, during a much milder November, I took my daughter for a play at Priory Park in Crouch End. It turned out to be one of many marginalising moments I’ve had has a black woman living in London.

As a writer, I’ve had the opportunity to pen this and other closely related topics around race, discrimination, entitlement, and the "majority" disposition that persists in north London’s local communities.

Now, as storefronts alight with holiday decorations and the fog of sentimentality slowly infects everyone, I find myself unable to reconcile this seasonal longing for togetherness with the notion of "community" as I’ve experienced it. The word community relates to a connected sort of vulnerable bravery; a raw, exposed ambition to share and uplift for the betterment of all. A village.

A place to belong to. A people to belong with. And no, not just people who look like me.

NewYork/Crouch End writer Carlene Fraser-Harris. Picture: Carlene Fraser-Harris

Carlene Fraser Harris went to watch the Christmas tree being lit in Muswell Hill - Credit: Carlene Fraser-Harris

I’m often simultaneously impressed with the good works happening around north London and infuriated by the episodes of continued discrimination and disconnection that are all too common. A village, yes. But not for everyone.

It took a village to light the Christmas tree in central Muswell Hill this past weekend and what a joy it was! The glimmer of the tree lights momentarily fraying my hopelessness around unconscious bias as I stood there momentarily stunned that it was Christmas time again already. The buzzing crowd with its loud message of holiday commercialism seemed absolved of the year’s pitfalls around race and prejudice.

The merriment steered me away from the same community I had been largely acquainted with. The one that poured all of my identity into a one-dimensional, predesigned box to maintain its own comfortable incorrectness. The one that is too often surprised by what I – and so many others – am not: something it would rather I be to prop up its centuries of typecasts and tall tales. The one I have learned to navigate in a very different way to my white partner.

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A deeper sense of kinship and sincerity blanketed the mob, tugging at heart strings and bolstering endorphins. As the festivities continued, I stood amid the crowd reflecting on the moment of gladness I was having with a community I didn’t have. That didn’t have me. And I found myself hoping for more moments like those, instead of the ones I have grown accustomed to.

A holiday parallel, this village on Saturday. One I wish would stay.

Carlene Fraser Harris is a Crouch End-based writer.

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