Race Should Not Be An Uncomfortable Topic If You Are Not Racist

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:

 

  1. 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.

  2. 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. 

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

17 thoughts on “Race Should Not Be An Uncomfortable Topic If You Are Not Racist”

  1. I’m horrified as the Gran of mixed race grandchildren. They are very young atm, I hope things have changed at school. I describe my son in law as Nigerian which is where he was brought up, not by his skin colour.

  2. ❤️❤️ you’re experiences have made you a very wise young women. But you shouldn’t have had to experience these things. X

  3. Yes, I can identify with everything you have said. I grew up in middle England in the 70’s born to an Irish mother and Jamaican father (don’t get me started on their treatment) and I too had pretty much the same experience with children/teenagers and some adults. I can also add wog and coconut into the mix as insults. Often tears would sting my eyes too…I’ve felt your pain! I faced challenges from young girls in the Caribbean community who didn’t accept me because I was too light skinned, and from others with comments like "you’re alright, not like that other lot"! I moved to the Isle of Man over 10 years ago and now have a daughter with my Manx born husband who is thankfully very well travelled and devoid of ignorance, much like his social circle. I do wonder whether she will experience difficulties because of the way I look, but we are raising a strong individual, so I’m sure she’ll have good skills. I have had people ask me where i’m from and yes have then said, yes but where are you really from!! I guess I can understand that not many people would find Birmingham that exotic. Not long after moving here I do recall walking towards a beach in the west with my husband and a car of young teenagers (I assume) raced past shouting "ni**er". I thought, welcome to the Isle of Man.

  4. Wow. You have literally just written out my whole life experience as a 20 year old mixed race girl living in a small town in England. (My wonderful mixed raced auntie actually lives in the IOM) This is crazy, I’m sorry you’ve gone through all you have and I’m so sorry there are people who are so ignorant and racist around you. It’s quite nice to see someone who gets it though, as a “lightie” my blackness is always invalidated but then white people don’t want to “claim” me either. Let’s keep having these important yet difficult conversations, let’s keep spreading awareness and let’s keep fighting racism. Sending you love and strength. Kaya x

  5. Sending all my love and strength to you my wonderful cousin. Let’s continue to fight for a future that is anti-racist!

  6. This really moved me. Thank you for speaking so openly. I am in my 70s now and feel so sad that people are still supposed to feel ashamed because of the colour of their skin or their ethnic background. My life has been enriched by so many people throughout the years and I am thankful to them all. If I allowed racial prejudice to influence my choice of friends then I would have missed out on so much joy and friendship. I thank my lovely mum for always showing her five children that everyone should be judged for the way they behave and NEVER for the colour of their skin or what God they worship.

  7. Dominique i have known your mum, aunties and grandad for most of my life. I consider myself quite educated and have fought injustice and any form of racism all my life. I have raised my kids to never see colour and after reading your post I’ve questioned have I done enough to educate them, not seeing colour and treating everyone the same isnt enough. Thank you , I’ve got the chance to instill values all over again in my grandsons and I have learnt from you post, every day we learn. Give my love to your mum xxx

  8. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I have Antiguan lineage. I grew up in North Hertfordshire which is not a diverse area. I can really relate to your anecdotes and shockingly have experienced similar situations myself.
    Sending love and support.

  9. Well done Dominique, this is a perfect description for so many black, Asian, and mixed race people growing up! As a kid, I played with your mum and sisters and my parents know your grandad and his family from years back!
    It saddens and angers me that you had to go through what I went through and probably your mum and aunties. I’m mixed race, Chinese, Malaysian, Philippine and English so as a kid it was as confusing for me, as much as it was for the racist kids who would call me chink, paki and nigger. I don’t ever remember reporting them to anyone, as often this was just a shout out from a random kid. It was upsetting, but I pent up a lot of anger, and I learnt quickly that my mum’s advice to hit them hard and they won’t say it again, actually worked! I could go on, telling you about so many incidents, but what I remember most was my white friends not sticking up for me – this is what hurt the most!
    As an adult I have experienced mostly indirect, ignorant discrimination. I have lost count of how many times someone has mistaken me for another Asian person, obviously because we all look the same! Even when pointed out continuously that the people they are referring to live around the corner, however just because we are both mixed Asian we are not related!! The best ones are ‘no offence’ or ‘obviously I didn’t mean you’ or ‘I don’t see colour’. I still hear these now, and as much as they make my blood boil, I feel this is just ignorance, and that can be corrected with a little education.
    Being mixed race, I too struggled to fit in to a certain category. Growing up during the 80s we were labelled half casts, and even though this label in itself is now seen as derogatory, it was a label I felt fitted me and I was proud to be!
    As a mum, it would break my heart if any of my kids had to go through what we went through, so I can totally relate to your mum’s anguish. I do believe however, it made us what we are today. You should be very proud of your colour, background, heritage, achievement, and more importantly the woman you have become! Well done! X
    During these current times, it melts my heart that my now white friends are standing up and stepping forward to support BLM. They will never know what it feels like but we can educate them and help them empathise.

  10. This is an incredible piece of writing and I am honored to have read this. You have managed to eloquently tell your story; and it is a heartbreaking story to read. Thank you for sharing your words and, I hope this affects everyone that reads this the same way it has affected me.

  11. Thank you for your strength and courage to so articulately tell your lived experience. I am listening, I am learning and I am taking action. I’m not saying this to be a ‘white saviour’, but to stand with you, supporting the voices of BIPOC.

  12. You what. I came to this island 11 years ago and loved. Reason being I never once felt no open conflict of colour like I did in England. My wife being some 18 years younger than me wanted kids. Understandably. So cool. Before this lock down she was exposed to racial comments. To be fair the school she attends well to be specific her teach on finding out what was said came out with her when I picked her up from school to apologize about the incident which isas very appreciative of. But for me my daughter being of mixed race I never educated her her that at some point it might become a issue, needless to say I was ashamed at my self and it took one of her white friends to point out it was wrong and reported it to the teacher. Trust me she’s 🐝 educated now. I’m just pointing out my appreciation of your article to keep me vigilant and that 2 kids will not escape the real world cause it’s everywhere. Just saying thanks

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