Everything or Nothing.
Disclosure: The following may be a stream of consciousness/brain dump, and potentially void of references or supporting links.*
Whatever I post usually always has some personal element included, though in general I do not use this space to purely pour out my personal opinion. This post, however, is likely to be different, as I find myself typing at Midnight, instead of just winding down to an old episode of Scandal. Compelled to expel some of my feelings, following two days when one would be hard pressed to escape commentary on the Harry & Meghan interview.
Being a Black woman, of Jamaican heritage, born in the UK, race is a reality that I am born into. There is much talk these days about how people identify, and people’s right to identify how they wish to, and be referred to as they wish to. The matter of how I identify, and want to identify has been a decision that in many ways was taken for me before I ever entered, much less came out of the womb. It’s part of the reason why I. like many of my generation, had the talk.
Like potentially many of my generation, we felt propelled towards certain educational and career paths. Due either to the low and/or limited opinion of school careers advisors or the fear fuelled fervour of our parents or guardians. As many of them they viewed our chances in this world through their ‘twice as hard’/’twice as good’ lenses, and the back drop of institutionalised racism. A justifiable fear, and better understood through adult lenses; yet the trajectory of life it launched some of us on still has echoes of a life less scripted. Echoes of shadow me, trying to be free.
This isn’t to abdicate responsibility for what one has gone on to do with one’s life. There is a point at which most of us gain agency for setting or resetting our trajectory. It is, however, a reflection of the fact that race (and it’s issues) was the unseen–and uninvited–guest of many advisories, behaviours, choices and decisions. The A-Ds which informed our frame of reference for how we understood and navigated the spaces we were in.
Even as a child, he says, he could see that Black students were pigeonholed. “The racial stereotypes were so clear,” he says. “It was so obvious, from day one, that Black kids don’t do well.” There was, he says, “a very clear path” based on what race the students were. “There’s me and one, maybe two, other Black kids in the top set – everybody else was in the bottom set. In my 11-year-old head, it was: ‘Well, I’m going to do well in school, so I’m going to go with the white kids.’ That was how it was set up.”Kehinde Andrews, ‘I’ve had to fight’: Kehinde Andrews on life as the first UK professor of Black studies , Feb 2021.
Although I never saw the signs that regarded my people as less than dogs, I am of an age to know people who saw those signs.
Although I have never overtly been denied entry to a place of worship, I grew up in a denomination that was born out of rejection. As the established traditional churches of the ‘Mother Country’, this Great Britain, told people of the Windrush Generation not to come back to church next Sunday. Reason? They were making people feel uncomfortable. Then wouldn’t you know it, years later I became a member of a church whose previous leaders had done the very same thing; a church in which I occasionally felt the need to resist being spotlighted as ‘the great Black hope’.
Although I wasn’t at the Brixton riots, I wasn’t far away, and know people who were wounded in the crossfire.
Although I was 13 before I ever got called a ‘nigger’, I’m sure the term had been in the hearts and minds of others. I also held within my bones an organic response to the sight of a shorn head and the union jack.
Although I cannot claim to have been denied a job, role, or opportunity because of my race, a couple years ago I found a poem I wrote as a teen, ‘Because I is Black‘. It depicts me being told a job position was gone and then watching as a white person entered the interview room straight after me. This indicates to me that although that wasn’t my personal lived experience at the time, the narrative and shared experience of inequality was woven into my consciousness. Interconnected to this, in my teens I catergorised some of my feelings of ‘otherness’ as the ‘est‘: Darkest; Shortest; Youngest: Fattest; oh, and I’m a woman. I also know–throughout my working life–what it is to regularly be the only ‘one‘ in the room.
Although I personally have never been stopped by the police, I remember exactly where we were when two white police officers stopped my Dad. I remember sitting in the back of the car and feeling the fear rising. I remember later sitting outside the courtroom furiously repeating “I wish to affirm. I wish to affirm…” as these officers had lied about what happened and I–at the age of about 15–was waiting to testify on my Dad’s behalf. I remember my relief when the case got thrown out before I had to ‘affirm’. The irony was not lost on me, however, that we went home without Dad’s driving license. It had been in the possession of his solicitor before the proceedings began; seemingly expecting that my Dad would be found guilty.
These Althoughs could go on and on… For every ‘although’ there are actual realities–seen and unseen–experienced firsthand and collectively as a people. Perpetuated against our identity, and our existence in this world. Albeit, here in Britain, usually behind a well polished veil and veneer.
When I took to the streets of Brixton one Saturday morning in April 1981, I already had been humiliated and dehumanised by what I perceived was an occupying force. I didn’t have a knee on my neck but I had once felt a policeman’s boot on my head as I was transported to Brixton police station by the notorious Special Police Group after they raided a party I was at, and bundled me into a police van. So by the time the uprising rolled around that weekend I – and thousands of other protesters, mostly young black men like me – believed we may as well confront the enemy and vent our fury because they would be coming for us one day anyway.Alex Wheatle, MBE – Let George Floyd’s death finally put an end to the black community’s agony, 3 June 2020
One final Although…
Although we are now in 2021, it is clear that the race struggle continues. An uncomfortable and unpalatable truth, which in 2020 was televised for the world to see. A truth, which in a different form, was televised for the world to see this week. On the same day when jury selection began in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who so cavalierly knelt on the neck of George Floyd. His killing leading to what’s been declared as a ‘nationwide reckoning on race’.
I heard the term ‘reckoning on race’ applied to what is happening in the UK now, brought on by the Harry & Meghan revelations. For me, the jury is still out on both these ‘reckonings’. I confess, I do not hold out much hope for any significant change.
So what’s race got to do with it? In my experience, everything.
*So you did get links, and here’s some optional extras:
- The Talk (Channel 4) : Tinie Tempah, Emeli Sandé and other well-known black Britons share their poignant, funny and emotional experiences of the conversations parents have to help their children face racism.
- Black people don’t need to be “twice as good”:..
- From Brixton 1981 to BLM 2020: reflections on Black uprisings – Museum of London
- What being a Black role model means to me
- Why do black male graduates earn £7,000 less per year than their white peers?
- Why is our lived experience never enough? – Shereen Daniels & Leanne Mair
- This is hard to hear, but if you are a white UK resident “shocked” by what happened to George Floyd you are part of the problem
- Windrush Stories