I asked the universe for a sign of what I should put in the spotlight next for my year of vulnerability and over the course of the week I had numerous ideas skip by me.
There was the invitation that made it’s way to my inbox with an offer to do a couple of Brene Brown’s online courses. Well as she is one of the reasons I’ve decided to focus on vulnerability – that was a clear message. I was going to sign up and write about it, until…….
An old school friend got in touch to remind me that “It’s been 10yrs since our school reunion and 20yrs since we’d actually left school and did I want to arrange another?” 20yrs and my brain still calculates in school years!! Does this ever stop?
My blogging clogs we’re going crazy as I was going to write about; having achieved nothing compared to others since leaving school, no children, no husband, no driving licence, no mortgage, no savings in the bank! Ooh this is it – I thought. Time to get vulnerable about life and the uncomfortable feelings that the school reunion has stirred up.
That was until yesterday when I picked up the book ‘Stupid White Men’. I had come across the book last year in a charity shop and started to read it immediately. A chapter in and for some reason I stopped – even though I was enjoying it. Yesterday, thinking about the next General Election, I was inclined to start reading it again. So I have Theresa May to honestly thank for that.
Devouring chapters on the train, I was taken aback when my heart joined my mind collaborating to take in the message. And there I was. Sat on a Virgin train from Birmingham to London – and I’m crying. To a Michael Moore book that is almost 16years old! I’m shedding tears on the train and I’m asking for forgiveness. This message is too strong to run from now and I am asking for forgiveness that I haven’t faced the fact that – I am black!
I’m not coloured blind. I know my skin colour but I’ve never embraced it. Preferring to focus on my personality, my soul and everything else but! Not wanting to be judged by my colour and not wanting to add more ammunition to my ‘token black’ crown – it being a more unspeakable topic than saying the word cunt.
But this book sang out and I got the message that I am hiding my race so much that it’s time the vulnerability spotlight shone on me. Shone on my dark skin – my black features and for once staying at surface level – shining a light on my black casing.
I was brought up with a white family in the 80’s and we never discussed my colour. I was a part of the family – and that was that. I always laugh when my friend tells me about when she came round to mine for the first time and my dad answered the door. My old white dad. This gave her a surprise as I’d never mentioned it – I didn’t even think to. Yes, I’d experienced small boughts of racism and received ample confused stares but apart from that my life was solid. So I grew up on the privilege tightrope – basically my head was buried in the sand.
As I’m here to be honest, I’m going to admit that when I was younger I gave most black people a wide berth as the media portrayed
them us as dangerous, poor, helpless, trouble causers, thieves……(insert stereotypical comment here). I was confused as that didn’t relate to me but I did see it in others.
I got bullied for my dark skin at school………by a black boy, rejected and put down in front of a group of kids by another. The 2 fights I’ve had in my life were at the wrath of black girls, I hated getting my hair done as all the hairdressers I went to when I was younger were rude. I just couldn’t see myself as ‘one of them’. So I built my bubble and tried to disassociate myself!
I actually didn’t realise I was doing this at the time and thankfully I grew out of that but as the memories come marching in – it hurts.
The dots have connected behind me and I’m in pain
and I’m embarrassed
and I’m crying
and I’m asking for forgiveness.
The many actions that I’ve undertaken to protect myself come flooding back to me:
- Speaking out loud when I felt uncomfortable in a situation where I’m the only black person so people could hear my accent. My strong, born and bred, Yorkshire tones.
- In a quest to fit in (outside of my family and close knit friendships) I secretly bought some whitening soap that would lighten my skin. If I was going to be black, I could be a few shades lighter! Thank god that didn’t last unfortunately some women are still scrubbing and bleaching themselves to this day.
- Holding in my anger so not to be judged as ‘an angry aggressive black woman’ or ‘diva’.
- Being upbeat and smiley in public even if I didn’t feel like it – because it hurt to be labelled ‘a black girl with attitude’ for having a down day.
I did know I was black though – there were many episodes to remind me of that. Like the time that I met a guy at my local bar and went back to his for a night cap. No sooner had the drink been poured than his mother appeared at the living room door. Taking one look at the situation (boy on sofa – space – girl on sofa) and she left the room – hurtling up the stairs to shout “There’s a black girl in the living room!” This was not in the deep American South in the 50’s – this was 90’s North Leeds! I cursed the twat of a guy that dared to take me into such a toxic place and before slamming the door thanked his cock blocking mum for making me understand the world that little bit better.
But then I had my white family, my white and asian friends and so many good people surrounding me that the horrific experience became a story and another layer of numb that I didn’t know I was wearing.
Yesterday’s train journey thawed me out. And I cried as Michael Moore talked about the hidden racism that African-American’s are faced with on a daily basis in America. As statistics jumped off the page into my eyes, I realised that now was the time for me to stand up and fully embrace who I am. Yes I would rather people see me as Emma first and I have been fortunate enough for that to happen on most occasions. But this isn’t about just me. It’s about others that deserve fairness, justice, a chance and better opportunities – and I need to lend my voice to theirs. Not to flash the race card but to actually highlight the hidden racism that snakes through the world and seeps itself unconsciously in to people’s minds. Like it seeped into mine.
Before reading ‘Stupid White Men’ I read ‘Blink‘ by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book Malcolm states that many people of all races are unconsciously biased to black people and they don’t even realise it. He mentions a test called the IAT (Implicit Association Test) where the majority of people who complete it have an automatic preference to white people – black people included. Malcolm Gladwell himself completed the test on numerous occasions and kept leaning to the white. Despite being born to a black mother and white father. I’m going to do the test myself so will feedback on that. I read page after page of how the unconscious mind even if just for a split second will judge on the appearance and parts of me ached.
I ached because I know deep down I’ve missed out on jobs because of the way that I looked. I ached because I know that certain guys won’t even take a second look at me because my colour is alien to them – fuck my personality! I ached because I know that every single year without fail someone will call me either Serena or Venus when Wimbledon is on. If I actually looked like one of them I would get called it all year round – like I do with Whoopie Goldberg (which I’ve finally made my peace with)! Whilst I know that these throwaway thoughts, comments and unconscious actions aren’t done with malice or said with racist undertones, they can’t help but create invisible barriers and fractured mindsets.
For example, when I visit new places (countries – cities) before I can fully relax I scan the streets looking for a black face so that I can let my guard down knowing I’m not the only one. When watching TV shows or films, I am wound up tightly when a black person is on the screen – worrying how they’re going to be portrayed. In the back of my mind I knew I did this but didn’t realise the significance until now. I put it down to me being sensitive or too politically correct. When in all honesty this shit needs to stop and I’m saying now – this is NOT okay.
Tears stream down my face as I realise what I have to do. I have to finally break free from my protective bubble and play my part in re-painting the stereotype. Unmute myself from the injustices that are happening in the world and confidently stand up tall.
But before I even get to that, the first stage is to actually love the black lass I see in the mirror. All of her. Not just what’s on the inside but the beautiful ebony skin that I live in!
Love Emma x