One day I woke up and a thought came to my head – am I obsessed with race. It seemed that since entering the real world, as in; real work, real bills, real problems, conversations of race seemed to be at the tip of my tongue. I couldn’t and still can’t seem to escape this topic -or correction – this topic can’t seem to escape me.
I remember being in primary junior school and always thinking of myself as someone who doesn’t see colour. I’d say to myself, the reason I only have black friends is more cultural than to do with race (I’m talking like year 6, 11 years old…yes I was critically thinking from early). The idea of covert racism was so far detached from my conscience. It was great! Just the thought is making me smile…
Then I was excepted into a Catholic convent school, and I believe this is where my mind began its slow transition. From finding out that Afro-puffs where forbidden to receiving harsher punishments than our white counterparts, I began to see the true structure of the world; and at the same time, I began to rebel. I would make indirect suggestions that teachers were racist, head teacher was racist, the schools system was racist, some of our classmates were racist….I was growing in anger against what I saw as blatant covert racist culture.
Then I had my first major lesson on micro aggression. Oh the beautiful art of micro aggression. The phenomena that allows individuals to get away with their ignorance. I began 6th form at my school (I couldn’t be arsed to start another college and learn the system again). These were the Years of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). For the benefit of the generation below me, this is where the government would pay around £30 a week to individuals as they believed a factor for many people from ‘low income families’ not continuing further education was due to the costs. So to continue, I had a lovely teacher (no sarcasm, she was great) who made the assumption that I must be receiving EMA. She actually said ‘ you must be qualified, it’s only your mum!’ Let me translate ‘ of course you need help from the government, your mum’s single and black so can’t possibly be earning over x amount to pass the threshold’. Now this is not to brag as I was desperate to earn my way through education with EMA, but I couldn’t help but feel a sting of annoyance, just a sting as that’s what micro aggression does to you, it stings.
Eventually, I would make the exciting step of applying for university and writing my personal statement. Here I learnt the joys of feeding into the saviour complex. Here I learnt one of the best ways to work your way up in the system as an African Carribean, other than working five times as hard – I just couldn’t, I just haven’t got the mental capacity to work that hard – was to subtly beg for a chance. Beg for a chance to be saved from the harsh realities of being Black. Humph. I learnt this when my form teacher read my personal statement and felt that I had not emphasised my single parent household, my not knowing my dad as he passed away when I was a baby, my being raised in Tottenham where unemployment and higher education was x amount (I actually included those stats) and of course she couldn’t forget my race – I included that my mum immigrated from Nigeria which of course gives the implication that I am brown skinned. I remember not understanding at the time why all this information was important. I mean, I was my form rep, captain of the basketball team and a decent academic. I wondered if my white counterparts had this ‘sob story’.
By the time I was 18, I thought I’d experienced what covert racism was all about, and I was already drained. In fact I’m drained writing it so far. But then I entered the big bad real world. Not only covert racism, but psychologically brain f*%#ing racism.
And this is were I started to review my outlook on race and life itself.
to be continued…