Unless you’ve walked in my shoes and others like me, it’s hard to describe the way prejudice, rears its ugly head in the modern 21st century. It feels like we are all running a race, all starting at the same point but I have a backpack on, filled with heavy rocks and I have to run and work twice as hard to be in the game with a chance of winning.
I was at a pub discussing race with a white male colleague in his 30s when he declared, “racism is dead, it’s no longer an issue”. It shocked me and irritated me in equal measures. I could understand why he would make this statement. Slavery is over, the civil right movement in the US was won with the right for everyone to vote and be counted, I have equal opportunities in the workplace and to live my life in peace with the protection of the law. However, what it truly means to be a person of colour in the UK today is far more complicated than the simply black or white of the days of the KKK or BNP/ National Front.
Some people may say the rocks are the chip on my back but the reality is, a few times a day, I’m accosted with micro-aggressions I find tiring and toxic.
It could be me entering a posh shop and the screech of a walkie talkie will go off and a security guard will come running in to monitor me at the back of a shop when other white customers had been there happily shopping unguarded.
It’s about me and another mixed heritage journalist not being let into a private members’ club for a work function for wearing trainers when we saw many of our white colleagues let in wearing the same shoes.
It’s not being given a handful of skincare samples at a counter when I’ve seen someone else ahead of me received some because to give me some would be perceived as a waste. It’s rushing to the hospital as an over anxious new parent with my baby daughter and being asked aggressively who my social worker is? As a black woman, they assumed I must be in the system and not a well educated middle class mother with a PHD.
These things seem small but in one day, these type of micro-aggressions add up. These actions constantly tell you people think you are less than, you are not worthy and it’s hurtful to your soul and takes up valuable energy you can be employing elsewhere.
People see my melanin and make assumptions about my background (poor and struggling); I grew up in Mayfair and my dad was a diplomat. Your education (limited); I studied History at university and was awarded an honorary PHD. Your behaviour (angry, animalistic and out of control); I’m happy-go-lucky and try to be kind and it’s exhausting and boring. I just want to be judged for being me.
The battlegrounds of racism have shifted and changed. Rather than fighting segregation, it’s now about whether people see me and my short, natural hair as a powerful person who could be CEO of a Fortune 500 company or someone disempowered. The feelings of racism and toxicity have shifted from black and white social politics to a landscape of grey.