It is easy to look at what is going on in America and recognise the injustices; the police armed with guns and the violence and oppression is outright, it is screaming at you through our TVs and our social media feeds.
Over the years, but especially this week, I have heard a lot of ‘can you imagine if that happened in the UK?’ as if racism isn’t as rife. UK racism is not subtle to those who have to experience it. Closer to home, racism on the Isle of Man is not subtle to those who have to experience it. In order to make a difference to invoke real change across the world and how we view race, you must address the issues at home first. I’d like to talk about my personal experiences growing up on the Isle of Man and hope you find it easier to recognise the racism – at home.
Growing up as a mixed-race person was confusing to me. Particularly in a mostly white community. I can count on one hand the people of colour in my year group. I begged my mum to begin straightening my hair from around 10 years old so I could look like the other girls. I found that no one could relate to me or understand why I might have found something offensive. Why, when we were dressed as Disney princesses for the school disco was it funny to people that I came as Snow White and not Pocahontas or Jasmine? Why did I laugh along with them? Why, when we were delegating Spice Girls did I have to be Scary Spice? (When my timid, little, tomboy self, was clearly a Sporty Spice.) This may read as comical to you, and it was to people I expressed it to at the time but that personality that I had applied to me at such a young age is incredibly confusing. People looked at me and my brown skin and assigned attributes to me that didn’t fit. I knew it felt wrong but I wasn’t old enough or wise enough to articulate what I felt at the time.
When asked where I am from, I respond in my scouse accent: “Liverpool, but I’ve lived in the Isle of Man most of my life.” It is often, and to my great frustration followed up with “Yeah, but like, where are you from?” And there it is, not overtly spoken, but there nonetheless. The realisation that I am seen as different. I can’t be English with my skin colour, I am too dark. It doesn’t matter that my family haven’t lived in Cape Verde for four or five generations. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my roots and there’s no issue with asking what people’s heritage is, but don’t force race-driven clarification, making people say they’re from a place they haven’t even been to.
On the flip side of this, if I spoke about being Black I was dismissed with ‘you’re practically White’, ‘you barely have any colour’. I belonged to neither. Simultaneously included in ‘we’ and dismissed as ‘other’. It gave me a complex about my skin colour. If I was too Black, but not White enough, then who was I? What many deem throwaway comments had an impact on my sense of identity – of how I saw and spoke of myself.
My most hurtful experience with racism was in high school.
A girl who I deemed my best friend at the time was irritated that I got a work experience job she wanted over her. She responded by saying the N word. It was not the first time the word had been thrown at me but it was the first time that it was used against me so casually. She meant it as an everyday insult apparently. She didn’t understand how horrified I was, she didn’t understand why we never spoke again after that. I recently spoke to friends about this incident and was amazed to hear they didn’t remember it. It wasn’t ingrained in them like it was me.
On invasion day to high school, eleven-year-old me was excited to see her new school. On our school field, there were apple trees, all of the boys were pulling them off the trees and throwing them at each other, one went awry and hit me as I was walking by. The boy responded with “Ahh she’s Black! 50 points!” I responded by walking away, finding a quiet corner and then allowing myself to cry. I never told a teacher what happened, but thankfully another girl did. I came home, my mum had been called, she cried too.
When I was 17, an ex-colleague (a middle-aged man), asked about my heritage and upon finding out about my Black ancestry, replied that he could make a Golliwog joke, much to his great amusement. No one else in the room called him out for it. I felt uncomfortable and wasn’t fully sure what it was. I left the room, googled it and was met with the grotesque caricature that had been the butt of a joke at my expense.
There are layers and layers to the levels of racism that people of colour experience every day. This was something I had to educate myself on mid-shift at seventeen years of age on the Isle of Man in the 21st century. I was repulsed.
Sadly, I could go on.
I raise all of these experiences, microaggressions to outright racism, not to dissuade you from having conversations with your friends of colour, but to encourage you to.
When I was younger, I was scared to raise my issues because I didn’t want to be seen as ‘the angry Black girl’, a narrative that is so tired. I let them go because I didn’t want to start uncomfortable conversations. I am ashamed to say that often I still bite my tongue to avoid these conversations. This has to stop. Race should not be an uncomfortable subject if you are not racist.
The same goes for White people. A lot of my White friends have very frank conversations with me about race. They don’t become defensive but instead ask me to educate them on how they have misspoken. I urge any White person to do the same. Recognise that you will never understand what people of colour go through but you can:
Educate yourself on the correct way to approach subjects, if you don’t know, ask – there is no shame in this. Make a safe space for people of colour in your life to discuss issues that affect them. If you are uneducated on the issues then there’s no time like the present to start learning.
Be an ally. STAND UP for things that don’t affect you. I have heard the N word used casually around me, even in working environments, and I have looked around and realised I was the only outraged one because I was the only person in the room who wasn’t White. Defend Black people even when there isn’t a Black person around. This should offend you too.
With the Black Lives Matter movement so prevalent in our lives right now please consider donating if you can. Sharing information and resources is free, signing petitions is free. If you are silent throughout this, if you are passive, you are part of the problem. It is not enough to just not be racist, you should be actively anti-racist.
Be angry beyond the current climate, when the protests end and the shouting stops, recognise that racism is alive and well and affects people in ways you probably don’t even think of. Don’t stop and think the work is done when it’s not being shouted at you through your TV. Carry on speaking up and being an ally.
Recognise your white privilege. Recognise that it is not offensive to say you possess white privilege. It does not mean you don’t experience anything bad in your life. It simply means that you don’t experience additional issues because of the colour of your skin. You begin at an advantage by simply being White. Use this privilege, stand with Black people.
Have conversations with your family from every generation. If someone in your family or friendship group is being racist, even if you think they don’t ‘mean it’, or don’t understand what they’re saying or they’re ‘just joking’, call them out on it and educate them on why it’s wrong. Have conversations with your kids, teach them to be allies from a young age. Talk. Normalise these conversations.
The fight for equality has stretched across generations and will continue until we work together and stand together, please don’t think just because you’re White it’s not your fight. Malala Yousafzai said, “I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” Please, use your voice.