A few years ago, I had my first ever experience with overt racism. Now you may or may not have read my post The Boy is Mine. But, I talked about the girl who phones you to shout obscenities at you about the man you apparently share. During this particular round of obscenity shouting, this girl proceeded with saying “You, black bitch”. Now, I was shocked but besides the fact that, this woman has a child of colour and the man she was shouting at me about is black, it’s really my imprudent reaction that keeps me replaying the conversation in my head.
“Did her racism not apply to me?”
My reaction was evidence that I had an identity issue. “I’m not black, I’m mixed race you dickhead” came out my mouth with such confidence. I’m somewhat ashamed to even admit that this was once the mindset I had. But, I’m almost certain I’m not the only person coming from a dual-heritage family, that has had this problem. What did I even mean by “I’m mixed race”, because my skin is a few shades lighter than a darker-skinned black girl did her racism not apply to me? Five years later, I’m still finding myself angry about the conversation. I’m wishing I could back as the women, the black women I am now and stand up for black girl magic with the same confidence. The only problem is though, back then there was nothing magic about me.
If I look back further though, before the obscenity shouting. I had no reason to defend the colour of my skin, this was new to me. As a matter of fact, ethnicity was never really a topic of conversation in our household. Yes, I could see that my Nan was a different colour to me. But, it was never an issue. Even when I’d describe someone using their ethnicity, my Nan would be quick to shut me down. So, I learnt that skin colour just wasn’t important.
“People weren’t expecting a white woman to answer when I called.”
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t remember the funny looks my Nan would get while we were shopping in Asda. The swift head turns when I’d call my Nan and she would reply, were hard to ignore. I’d always think “What is their problem?” but at the time I never thought it was because of my skin colour. Now I know it’s because whenever I called my nan, people weren’t expecting a white woman to answer when I called. Very recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that I grew up colour blind and even now I still find myself thinking, what is their problem? Or I don’t understand why the lady at the checkout won’t make eye contact or speak to me as she serves me. But, the customer in front who wasn’t a POC got the warmest of welcomes and fair wells.
Even after the “Black, bitch” incident I didn’t really think about it too much, I mean I was mixed race so that was that. Honestly, I didn’t feel my blackness until I started college. When I started, I wasn’t really prepared for what the next year would hold. In the first week, I got comments about what a nice weave I had from almost every girl or shall I say women in the class, to see the utter disbelief on their faces when I replied, “it’s not a weave”. For them then to continue with “your hairs long for a black girl isn’t it”.
“I and all ethnic minorities were criminal.”
I really began to think what I am missing here. In college I did a social sciences course, which really opened up my eyes. We learnt about the early theories of crime, such as the ‘Born Criminal Theory’ which suggested biological traits such as full lips leaned forward, flat noses and dark skin were those of criminals. According to Cesare Lombroso I and all ethnic minorities were criminal.
At this point, the more I started to learn, the more I wanted to block out. I’d say to my sister “Look, I don’t want to know it’s just too negative” when she’d talk to me about police brutality toward black people. That was until I started University. Have you ever been somewhere and felt like you had green spots? Yes, that’s how I felt. I remember, getting some results back for an assessment I had done in my first year. I was pretty confident as I had done well on the previous one. So, I was more than happy when I received 90%. That was until I had my tutor meeting. So, I’m ready for his praise. When he asks about my progress I’m quick to say, “I got 90% for the report”.
“I was ready to leave”
I got a shock when he replied “really, that was you”. He continues, asking for my student number, to verify that was really me. I’m more then aware that marking is done anonymously, but I just wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction. I left the meeting questioning the way I felt. Did I take it funny? What is he suggesting? If the marking wasn’t anonymous would I have been marked down? And if so on what basis would I have been marked down? Listen, I was ready to leave, I was so annoyed. But, I stayed, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t dread going in but one year left and I’m out. If anything, though, I don’t think I could have chosen a better place to educate me on the working world I will join following graduation.
Earlier this year I started reading books about being Black, Asian and minority ethnic in Britain. The first one I read was The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla. I really found myself relating to the book so much. Through most of it I was thinking “Wow, that’s happened to me” or “I’ve felt how that person has felt”. To the point where I needed more. So, I searched for more and came across the book I’m reading now Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. It has shown me that there’s just so much I didn’t know and still don’t know.
“I’m just blown away.”
Every new bit of information I get I’m just blown away by. It’s really made me question myself though, like why don’t I know this stuff? Am I just not black enough? I mean, I will continue to carry those values and morals; to respect everyone unless they give me reason not to. However, I need to be aware of the system that is set up against me, the people I love and POC. I refuse to stay dumb to this. Do you know research has revealed that my son at the age of 11 will be systematically marked down in his SATs by the same person that has taught for a year¹? This isn’t something that sits well with me at all.
I’m starting to feel like being black enough has less to do with my complexion and more to do with, what I know about where I descended from, what life was like for black people long before my existence, how we came to reside in Britain and what I can do with this knowledge. When it’s comes to books like “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” though, the mass media hardly shed any light on it. No way would they promote a book that sheds light on Black British history and the system were in today. It’s amazing because while the books title may read quite hostile to some, everyone can take something away from the book.
A review written by Alice Evans on the LSE Review of Books pretty much sums up why everyone needs to give the book a read, please check it out here. I urge anyone to bear in mind the infamous quote “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover” because you could really learn something here.
Am I black enough? Is my blackness measurable by my lack or abundance of knowledge about Black British History and the system as it is today? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Artist: Nicholle Kobi, taken from Shades of Melanin.com
P.s you can shop the books I’ve mentioned using the links to below:
The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge¹