By Vuyisa Akuchie
Hear my voice!
“You’re what? I’m black and I’m proud!”
This method of ‘call and response’ would be a regular saying in my household, as a reminder that I should be proud of my black skin and my heritage.
“Your all a bunch of? WINNERS!”
It wasn’t enough to just be proud of your black skin, you also had to have a winners mindset. One of my very first experiences of racial microaggressions happened in primary school.
Now I must stress that my parents had sent me to a black private school from reception to year 3, so my experience of entering a predominantly white school was definitely a cultural shock for me.
My previous schooling followed a firmer approach to its methods of teaching and discipline and my new school felt like entering a whole new world with the obvious difference being race.
“Can I touch your hair?”,
“When you take out your plaits does your hair look like mine”,
“How do I say your name? Can I call you V?”,
“No I don’t want her in my group!”
“Haha look at her hair”
“No he doesn’t like black girls!”
I know what some of you are thinking, that they’re only children exploring and learning, but it’s not fun at the expense of someone else’s isolation, fear and exclusion.
“He’s not that color!”
I remember missing my break-time and sitting alone in the classroom with several different pictures of Jesus in different shades of black. “I told you Jesus is not that color, color him the correct color!”, I looked at my brown blunt coloring pencil, and looked at her, “Jesus was not white he was brown!”. That day I had a beautiful collage of around five different pictures of Jesus in different shades of black. This was not the last time I missed my break-time and was told that my color had no place in religion and definitely not as a powerful figure nor God.
Some of you may understand the difficulties of what it’s like being the new child in a school, making new friends, telling teachers how to pronounce your name correctly, then being reprimanded for correcting them.
Being excluded from class activities, having teachers hit you underneath the table, teachers not choosing you because of the lack of effort of having to pronounce your name, being labeled a trouble maker for just being black.
Just to give you a brief history of my primary school, there were only five black children from year’s 3-6. So we were definitely the minority and always made to feel like one.
Most black people understand what this means if you ever say to them, “Have you had to have the talk yet with your child or a student?”.
As a black person, you must work twice as hard as your white counterparts, in order to achieve and be successful in life.
As a black person you must suppress your feelings and emotions to not upset or create an uncomfortable environment for your white counterparts.
As a black person you must not touch anything your not going to buy for the fear of being accused of stealing (you will most likely be followed around shops, but as long as your not stealing its OK).
As a black person you can’t react like that!
As a black man you shouldn’t be hanging out with your friends in certain places for too long, because the police will harass you.
These are only some of ‘The Talk’ rules that have been reiterated and passed down from generation to generation.
“You will never…”
Being explicitly and subliminally told what you can and cannot achieve in life from a young age, is the unfortunate reality of so many black children in the educational system.
The reality is that most black children will have their first experience of microaggression in the hands of the education system.
As an educator who has had the opportunity to work in a multitude of schools around London, I have been faced with the RM monster on so many experiences.
It hurts me to think what I’ve had to witness in schools, our pain and suffering constantly being exploited for the gratification of a racist teacher abusing power.
“I never touched her Miss, that teacher is always lying on the black kids, he’s been like that since year 7, I’m now in Yr 10.”
“It’s always the black boys who have to stay behind for a detention in Miss ….class.”
“Miss Mr… always tells the black kids off but never tell’s the white kids off when they shout.”
“The school never does anything, when I told my HOY about the racist thing that said, my HOY just ignored me.”
“Miss, why does the exclusion room always have black kids in it, when … does the same thing they’re given quiet time?”
“Miss, I hate when they use the N Word when reading Mice of Men, I keep telling the teacher that it offends me and they keep using it.”
“I’m not going to that class because that teacher always picks on me and the other black kids.”
“I never raised my hands nor my voice, my parents always told me to keep my hands to my side when talking to a teacher and not to raise my voice, Miss is lying, check the camera!”
“There’s no point talking up, they don’t do anything!”
As a teenager it’s difficult enough having to channel your way through adolescence, but let’s stop it, and imagine having to explore the layers of being a black girl.
conscious, funny, outspoken, group of young ladies during my secondary school years.
My friendship with these ladies, taught me so much about the joys of being African and I learnt that the cultural expectancy of ensuring that you achieve in all that you do. I learnt that It wasn’t only now that working twice as hard at school not only meant that you had the opportunity of an even playing field with your white counterparts, but it meant working hard for yourself and the pride and joy it would bring to your culture.
After constantly being told by teachers in school that I’m ‘loud’ and ‘aggressive’, I learnt to suppress feelings of injustice I had as a young child, be silent and made to feel undervalued as I grew into my adult years.
When I think about what I learnt during my secondary school days, I remember white students in my school swearing, arguing, having tantrums, showing aggression and always being told that they were allowed to express themselves, because ‘they were going through things’, they would constantly be rewarded with therapy by professionals in the school who would help them to explore their feelings and emotions, whilst the black experience was once again marginalized and excluded!
Through my adult years the microaggressions monster continued to stalk me, even into the field of work, but this time it had more of a feminine touch.
I’m constantly being forced to witness the performance of the feminine microaggressions monster, weaponizing their tears against me to silence me.
“I just don’t understand..”
“I didn’t mean to say it like that”
“I’m always crying, don’t worry”
“I just thought you were being…”
“I don’t have to listen to this…”
These are the reactions to a black woman who was calmly and passionately trying to use her voice. Once the tears start rolling… the conversation is done… then I await that email, the one that bonds their tears and injustices, to my wrongs and transgressions.
But I finally found my voice…my tears rolled down my face…I began to speak my truth…I began to expose my injustice…
I will no longer be called the, ‘aggressor’, ‘the angry one’, or ‘intimidating’, I will no longer be silenced!
“It’s so colourful…”
I will often wear bright colorful headscarves to celebrate my Blackness and self worth.
One might say this is my cape of empowering strength!
Although its a celebration of my culture, for others it can be intimidating.
I remember sharing an office with a white colleague, who had seen me in extensions the day before and the following day wearing my headscarf.
The office fell silent upon my arrival.
She looked at me, then looked at her screen.
I said, ‘good morning’.
She said, ‘morning’.
The office fell silent…
I sat there wondering what she thought of my beautiful peacock display.
Did she know my Ankara headscarf chose me? I had vowed to wear it with honor.
Brightly and boldly I walked the school corridors with my head held high and shoulders back.
“Its’s so beautiful, where’s it from?”
My crown had been noticed, I had been seen…
I signified a women celebrating her new found self.
To every person reading this, this is only a snippet of the Black experience in Britain.
The Black voice will be heard and not silenced.
The Black experience is valued.
The Black voice holds weight in society.
“Tell me what we need to do to stop racism?”
- The first thing I urge you to do is to listen… just listen.
- Ask about our experiences as black people in Britain, we all come from different backgrounds but have race in common.
- Read…learn about different cultures and fully embrace their heritage.
- Speak up when you see and hear injustice, being silent speaks volume.
Its’s not the Black persons job to educate you on how to eradicate racism!
I need White People to have this conversation with White People, for we are not the cause nor the reason!