Black Voices: Reflecting on Racism
Click on the boxes above to read each person’s reflection, or scroll down to read them all.
As a young mixed-race girl growing up in the UK, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis I believe that it is important that we recognise that the UK is not innocent, and racism is sadly still very prevalent in our society.
Personally, I have recognised this especially in a school setting: from people not caring about being able to pronounce my name, to being stared at during lessons on Black History Month and slavery – a rare time where the history of black and other minority groups is addressed in a predominately whitewashed curriculum.
Events like these show that the problems still exist, have always been deep within the system and affect people all around the world. It makes us recognise that we still have a long way to go, but also the people’s voice is louder than ever as shown in the protests with people of all races uniting to fight the system. I believe that the only way that we can move forward, and away from a past of prejudice and discrimination is for white privilege to be recognised by all those who bear it and for them to use this privilege to speak up and make a difference for those whose voices have been silenced.
George Floyd wasn’t the first person of colour to be a victim of police brutality.
If you do a quick search, many more black people will show up with similar stories; Floyd was the last straw to break the camel’s back, everyone was shocked that itcould happen in this day and age when we are told that we should be proud of our skin colour and not oppressed because of it.
In my opinion there are many types of racism, for example systemic racism which plays a big part in police brutality against minorities, but the one I experience most is the day-to-day racism. For example, I am mixed race but when people try and work out what my heritage is, they ask questions like “are you HALF-CASTE?” Even though I know they aren’t trying to offend, the word is outdated and at the time it was used in the same way as n***er – in a negative manner. Then there is the more casual racism like asking which parent is black or which is white and “do you like fried chicken?” Obviously, I like fried chicken, but it has nothing to do with my heritage and skin colour, it’s just delicious food! Kids in my first secondary school would touch my hair when I had an afro and call me ‘afro boy,’ whether I knew them or not, which was embarrassing and annoying. I wouldn’t touch their hair – it’s an invasion of personal space. It wasn’t as easy as to just say no because however many times I said it, they wouldn’t listen and would just do it more. This resulted in someone putting plasticine in my hair and now I refuse to have big long hair. It used to upset me, but now that I’m older, I’ve become more resilient. It still makes my mum sad, but I tell her to pick her battles because these things aren’t worth getting upset over.
There needs to be a change and a realisation that some races have it better than others. A way to help out is to educate children and people that not everything is a joke and to never to make assumptions about people, for example how rich or poor they are, or what their religious beliefs might be, based on the way they look.
I have predominantly been surrounded by white people my entire life. This is neither good nor bad, but it does allow me (even as a mixed heritage person) to live in a form of blissful ignorance. A teacher says your name wrong (again): so what? An employee followed you around a shop: coincidence. A friend asked if you were adopted: a misunderstanding.
Microaggressions like these used to frustrate me, but now I laugh along as my peers echo the mispronunciations, I make sure to stand back from all display cases and keep my hands out my pocket. From the outside, it must look like I’m in on the joke. That my identity being broken and disfigured as classmates shout out variations of my name is funny to me. It’s the show I put on to the outside world to keep those around me comfortable, despite me having to go back and pick up shards of what makes me, me. This does not mean, however, that I don’t remember making direct eye contact with my English teacher as he took a little too much joy in reading slurs aloud. It doesn’t mean that I don’t remember being on rotation with the other black girl in my year for who would be in the next promotional photo, and it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t remember all of my achievements being mislabelled and awarded to someone who wasn’t me because a teacher couldn’t be bothered to copy a name correctly from a register.
I want to say that the current power behind Black Lives Matter is nothing but encouraging, but to be candid some of the behaviour that it has exposed is terrifying. It shatters the safety bubble I have been patching together for 17 years to protect myself from offhand comments and weighted behaviour. Every so often I just think to myself, what if I’m next? The UK is certainly not innocent, and a multitude of cases show that you don’t have to be even at all suspicious to be the next victim.
The movement however is breath-taking and, despite all the upsetting side effects, does give me a glimmer of hope for genuine change. I’m sure George Floyd’s family is overwhelmingly proud and moved by the impact his story has had. Although, I’m sure they’d much rather just have him back.
When I first saw the pictures of a policeman kneeling on a black man’s neck, I shuddered. Nothing should ever end with this occurring, and the picture only told part of the story, as more than one policeman was pinning George Floyd to the floor.
The pain and sadness I feel for his family is immense, as is my anger and frustration at white America’s ignorance regarding the persecution of its black population, who all have experienced a knee at their throats, silencing them, blocking their development, progression and ability to function as equal human beings.
Then my anger turns to our country, as we watch developments abroad with open mouths, totally ignoring the issues we have on our own doorsteps: racial profiling of young black boys; social and economic issues that block progression of black communities; the lack of opportunities afforded to people based on skin colour or nationality. The same people who are responsible for these situations, will be shaking their heads at America, ignoring their own behaviour and refusing to acknowledge that they are just as responsible as white America is for the atrocities we are seeing. This is happening in our country as we speak!! Wake up!!
The situation of George Floyd is not a new situation, nor is police brutality. Neither are either solely Iocated in the US. Racism is rife everywhere, including here in the UK, and has been for ever.
I, as a mixed-race young woman, feel lost, angry and scared. I feel stuck in an institutional prison that others me for the colour of my skin.
I worry that this current enlightenment is a trend; I’m waiting for everyone to move on to the next outrage. And the only thing I can hope is that we as a nation continue to educate ourselves, learn, and sit with the discomfort of previously unknown privilege
I am sorry but I cannot even begin to find the words to express how I feel, I find it all far too upsetting.
I am not hiding from it, but it’s so pointless, heart-breaking and devastating. I can’t even fathom having to try and explain to my children that even though they have done nothing wrong, they need to comply without question to police demands, just because of the colour of their skin. The thought of it brings me to tears. If they don’t, they could lose their life. So completely senseless.
So, for the longest time, I did not know that the world was racist. I knew that there were a minority of people who weren’t very nice to me, or made comments about my skin colour, or my nose but I just thought it was a tiny percentage of the world who just did not like different, and I was different.
I grew up around different cultures; our family is diverse and our friends even more so; we experienced life among different cultures, people of different colours and sizes, a wonderful plethora of human beings to be around and I loved it.
Then I grew up.
It was only as I grew up that I noticed some of the negative and often subtle negative behaviour of others towards me and people that looked like me and I found myself becoming angry. I am still angry because nothing has changed to challenge the status quo. Our curriculum is biased, our education flawed in terms of educating the next generation of the truths and the part that the powers that be have played which have led us to where the world is today: angry.
The death of George Floyd and the many, many others killed before him because they were black must stop. However, for it to stop, there must be an admission of responsibility in the first instance followed by an unrelenting program of change from positions of power throughout the world. I hope that I am alive long enough to see the start of this journey.
What has been happening in the world recently has been a much-needed awakening! It is making me reflect and question things that I haven’t ever really thought about.
Looking around my workplace I am now thinking ‘did I get this job because I deserve it or because I bring some diversity to the team?’ Thinking about my own knowledge or lack of knowledge surrounding Black British History. Thinking about growing up with predominantly white friends and spending my teen years trying to make myself look like them, straightening my hair and not feeling accepted with my natural hair.
It’s surprising that I’ve never questioned it before. Maybe it was my parents protecting me, maybe it was the privilege of having a lighter skin tone, maybe it was both. All I know now is that this moment is the time to educate ourselves and do what we can to be better! This is the time for change. The time to make the future better for future generations.
I feel that George Floyd’s death has opened a portal that many white folk are able to peer through to get a real sense of what the black experience is and has been, and how impactful to life it is.
It has also given many black folk the platform to be honest about what we experience, have experienced and feel, and to stop trying to brush it away in tacit acceptance of the status quo.
I have known from a young age that my blackness was not liked by many people and that there was nothing I could do about it. My first experience of being treated differently for no other reason than the colour of my skin was at school where all girls in my class were picked to be angels for the whole school play, but not me. I am not sure I had been aware that I was the only black child in the class until that moment, but because I was made to be an onlooker, and they all looked as one, something in me knew that my teachers felt that white went better with angel wings than black. I find it absurd that I remember that so well even though I had no name for what I felt at the time.
That was life. I just needed to consider myself fortunate if it didn’t lead to actual verbal abuse, though part of me realises that this was at least the overt, honest side of racism. The insidious, institutional, systematic, hypocritical side; now that is where the toxic side to racism is, because it lies below the surface yet gives rise to the acceptance of such high levels of inequality.
I am glad that so many now appear for the first time to want to peer into this portal of the black experience, but the very passivity of peering and being appalled is no longer enough, and I include myself in the need to stand up for the non-negotiables that must be in place to start to bring about change. I heard Professor David Wilkins say, ‘it can no longer be OK to say that you are not a racist. You need to be able to say you are an anti-racist.’ That is so simple and so obvious, but too many stop short and that can no longer be acceptable. There should not be a single person in any school, local council, business, or government who cannot say that. And yet there is. That’s where we need to start if there are to be no more added to the George Floyd experience.
What do I feel now?
For me the saddest part of the death of George Floyd was that I was not surprised; I was shocked, I was horrified but I was not surprised. To be surprised it would have had to have been an incident that hadn’t occurred before or so rarely that it was a distant recall.
Unfortunately too many BLACK lives have been lost to the systemic racism rooted in every fibre of our existence on this planet. Raising children in a society where you know their lives will be harder because of the colour of their skin is not an easy burden to shoulder, I had hoped that I would not have had to write like this in 2020 but I do, I must.
What do I know now?
Being black has always been synonymous with being a target for abuse, subjugation, oppression, discrimination, prejudice, but it is also synonymous with pride in our heritage, resistance and revolt from oppression, solidarity in adverse times and being a conqueror over those who will try and keep us down. I choose to hold onto the positives of being black, and I know that if all young people from BAME backgrounds could be taught to hold onto the power of being like their forefathers i.e. vessels for change, for freedom, for respect, for dignity in times of adversity, we can and will overcome.
What do I want now ?
I want my fellow humans to walk with me, not against me on this journey to equality, because we have a long way to go. I am tired of doing the journey on my own, so I ask you, reading this, will someone walk with me? Resist with me? Fight for injustice with me? Help bear the burden of the struggle with me? I’m simply tired of doing it on my own.
On Blackout Tuesday we saw a stream of black circles and squares on social media; I wondered how many people, families, businesses and organisations, actually used the day to have conversations.
You see, it is simply not enough to post hashtags such as ‘BlackLivesMatter’ alongside a blackout for one day. We have to have conversations. They may be uncomfortable conversations, but they are necessary.
Black parents have to have age appropriate conversations with our children about what they should do if, or more likely, when the police stop them. The policing issues witnessed in the US are a systemic rampant disease here in the UK. Our children sadly need to be prepared for unwanted rites of passage – their almost overnight transition from being viewed as cute to a suspicious threat to be policed.
Those desiring to be anti-racist allies must also talk: about whether you uphold anti-racist values in your family or have anti-racist values within your workplace; or maybe you have unwittingly thought that seeing no colour is the best way to teach and extol non-racism.
Perhaps the hardest conversations for those positioning themselves as ‘Black Lives Matter’ allies will be their internal conversations.
If you saw the video of George Floyd being murdered, did you defend the police saying, “we don’t know what went on beforehand” or “there are always two sides to a story”? Did you quietly think George Floyd must have done something to warrant such police response? Then ask yourself, would you make the same defence if it was a beautiful white woman pinned to the ground?
My questions prompting conversations could go on, but you get the idea. To those learning to be an ally, I encourage you to sit with the discomfort of these questions and conversations. There has to be discomfort for change.
Black Lives Matter. No justice, no peace.