The Race Report, racism, and me
It’s not been an easy year and this might not be an easy read.
‘The Race Report‘ published earlier this week is a political act of violence against me and anyone who looks a bit like me. The spotlight on racial justice following the BLM protests has been heartening. It’s also been traumatic. This is a commonly reported phenomenon among people who look like me. Why trauma? Surely, I should be grateful it’s on the agenda. Racism has always been on the agenda, it’s just really easy not to see unless you have to live it.
The focus following the marches has largely centred on white privilege. There is nothing wrong with examining privilege, but it seems that there has been little examination of racism, structural inequality and sadly, little active focus on anti-racism.
This may be hard to hear but much of the post-BLM march rhetoric epitomises the very privilege (white) that is being examined. Racism is not something that I can dip in and out of. It doesn’t happen ‘out there’ or in a book. It is knowing what it feels and looks like but personally having the burden of proof for something that can rarely be proven. It is being asked for your view because it is authentic but your view being questioned and easily dismissed as a perception. It is personal, professional and political.
It’s really unlikely that as an educational psychologist I’ll go into a school and hear the n word from a teacher or go into my office and hear whispers. It is unlikely in my professional life that I will meet an openly proud racist, it is also unlikely that I will meet someone purposefully racist. It is not, however, unlikely that I will experience racism. In 2021 racism is complex, insidious, sometimes unconscious and undercover.
For me, racism is:
- Navigating a school system where you will be victimised, even if you’re too young to see it.
- Being a good enough student to win a national award for contributions to school life but not being good enough to be school prefect until your form tutor (thank you Miss) insists, and then being grateful.
- Any number of daily micro and macro aggressions including:
- Shock that my siblings and I have the same parents or that my mum is…wait for it…white.
- Being told that your hair is just so lovely and more professional when it is straightened.
- Feeling bad about straightening your hair in case little brown girls think that’s what brown professional women do.
- Your name never being important enough to say properly. Even if the spelling is phonetic. It’s feeling bad or petty about correcting someone, again, and so just letting it go.
- It’s being equally White British and Black Caribbean, raised in the UK, but having your Britishness erased when you tick that box to identify ‘where you are really from’.
- Strangers assuming your son is not yours and referring to you as his ‘adult’ just a few too many times.
- Being a professional woman in your mid 30s and still being followed around shops even though you have your receipts.
- It’s being forced into anger when you are not an angry person.
- It’s the advocacy for young black children in schools whilst knowing that the reason I advocate for them, is the reason that some won’t listen to me.
It’s the anxiety of writing something like this, but having to write it anyway for every young person who isn’t made prefect, for every young person that is more likely to be excluded than their white peers, for every young person who has to protest to overturn a ban on their natural hair. It is the overwhelming weight of those things combined.
It’s been a tricky week. I am frustrated and a bit heartbroken. I don’t write it for sympathy or saving. I am a proud White British and Black Caribbean woman and I require neither.
I suppose what I am saying is that what I need from allies is the commitment to understanding the complexities of racism. I need people to see that it is racist behaviour rather than the colour of my skin or culture that is the problem. I need people to see that my culture is not directed by the colour of my skin. I need people to actively challenge the ‘otherness’ of those who simply have more melanin in their skin. And I need people to realise that racism is real, constant, and exhausting.