Living in South East London for the first 10 years of my life meant I never really thought about race or being black. It wasn’t until I moved to Peterborough, in July 2004 and started school in September, that it truly hit me. I wasn’t just the only black girl in my year… I was the only black girl in my SCHOOL. Over the years, I was able to get to grips with the constant onslaught of ridiculous questions, microaggressions and subtle racism. At the time, I didn’t even realise the severity of it all because it felt more like a pesky annoyance that I’d just have to deal with in life. As I’ve gotten older, I’m beginning to realise more and more that this isn’t the case and I will no longer tolerate nonsense. Essentially, I’ve learned to walk on eggshells without creating too many cracks.
I want to make it clear that living in Peterborough has been a blessing and to be honest, the good times have been way more than the bad times. The questions, microaggressions and subtle racism I’ve experienced has always been in passing and come from people I wouldn’t necessarily class as friends. But I guess that’s how it is for most people.
So, what do I mean by questions, microaggressions and subtle racism? These generally fall into hair related, food related, friendship related categories and more. When it comes to hair related questions/ unnecessary comments, there are a plethora of examples I can give. In school, whenever I had braids I got all sorts… how do you wash your hair? Do you take them out every night and redo them? Can I touch it? And on and on. Although I don’t take huge offence to the questions themselves (despite the ridiculousness of some of them) the main issue I had was the frequency of the questions. I’d understand if the questions only came the first time but every single new term when I changed my hair, the same questions would resurface. By the third or forth time, we can no longer blame it on ignorance.
For all of the categories I’ve laid out, I can give tons of examples, but I really want to delve into the friendship/ people related category. Naturally growing up in a very white area, if you see a fellow black person at school, work or in your general environment, you get excited and you both gravitate towards each other. You can often sense someone’s level of discomfort when more than one black person is around and even worse still when they’re in “cahoots” with each other. I find it funny that groups of black people, even within professional settings, are seen as troublesome, excluding co-workers, disruptive etc. the list is endless. These stigmas create an unease within me because the main reason I gravitate towards black people, especially in Peterborough, is because I can relate with them. The unease inside of me comes from the thought of me having to supress my “blackness” i.e. don’t speak too loud, don’t laugh too loud, smile frequently so you don’t look angry, all in the name of ensuring the people outside of my circle are comfortable.
For me enough is enough. For so many years now I’ve been very conscious of the fact that I need to be happy and friendly and smiley so that people can’t claim I’m that stereotypical black angry, argumentative, disagreeable female. I am naturally a happy, friendly and smiley person but there have definitely been moments when inappropriate things have been said to me and I’ve just let it slide because I don’t like confrontation or because it made me feel uncomfortable or because I don’t want to be seen as the angry black girl. But I think as black women, we need to stop supressing who we are in order to create comfort for people that don’t do the same for us. We shouldn’t have to dim ourselves down or supress certain feelings simply because we don’t want to come across in a certain way, especially when our counterparts aren’t doing the same.
I feel like I may need to do a ‘Walking on eggshells: Part Two’ because there’s so much more I want to say on this topic and this post has really only just scratched the surface. The main thing I want you to take a way from this post is that you DO NOT need to supress who you are in order to avoid stereotypes. We are human beings who have emotions. Obviously don’t act unprofessionally and read the situation appropriately. But the fact remains, whether you say it nicely or with anger, don’t supress yourself and make sure you always stand up for what you believe in. If something offends you or makes you uncomfortable, say it.