By Jessica Samuel
Growing up Black or mixed race in the UK can be tough, I think a lot of people don’t realise that racism isn’t always as it seems.
Before the Black lives matter movement, I didn’t even realise half of the things that constituted as racism. Then throughout the whole period of the protests and George Floyd’s death it got to me on an emotional level, it brought home to me with an enormous force that racism still thrives, that maybe I am looked at differently.
I was born and lived in North London but moved just outside of London to Hemel Hempstead. Even though I have a white mum and black dad, racism comes from both sides for a mixed-race person. I’ve been told I’m not black by people and I talk to posh for someone of colour. Basically, that my face doesn’t match my voice. But, why should it have to? What makes me any less ‘British’ than the person I am sat next to?
My mum was born in Northern Ireland and my dad in London, both of his parents being from Nigeria. But if I refer to myself as British, I get asked where I’m ‘really really’ from?
In no way am I ashamed to say that I am half Nigerian and I respect my culture now, a lot more than I did when I was younger. I still don’t understand, why can I not say that I’m British? But also, why do I get told I’m not black?
Up until the end of secondary school, I thought that be referred to as ‘half-casts’ was socially acceptable. Not realising, that it meant living in a predominantly white area with white friends and growing up without my dad around. I wasn’t told any different and never thought to mention it to my mum.
At secondary school, I found it hard to accept who I was using chemicals and relaxers to make my hair straight like all the other girls at school. Which ended up with my hair becoming so brittle and short. This then meant, I switched to braids which most people don’t know are used as a protective style of afro hair. However, this caused me to be sent to the headmistress by one of the teachers accusing my hair to not be socially acceptable and against the school rules. I was lucky that the headmistress made an exception for me and did not have to take them out. This is something that surprisingly BAME groups are still facing in school, that even their natural hair is inappropriate for school.
One of my most vivid memories is getting off the school bus to walk the rest of the way home and having racial slurs shouted at me from passing cars. I went home to my mum breaking down crying not understanding why I was treated so differently to others.
I did struggle with fitting in with particular groups as I got older. I don’t know whether that was predominantly because I was black though. As a person generally, I was quite isolated in that sense as well for many personal reasons I moved friendship groups a lot, didn’t really enjoy school, and was in and out of the hospital.
Looking back at my younger self, I kind of wish I was stronger as a person and strong enough to stand my ground. I think because I was so scared about not being accepted and not having any friends, I just allowed it.
This is why it was so upsetting to see people going from black lives matters, to blacks cause violence and just for protesting our constitutional rights. Standing up to the indifference we have faced our entire lives, for a lot of us without even realising because it comes in so many forms of Micro-aggressions. This is how the system works against us, without the death of George Floyd we wouldn’t be seeing half of the change we have seen now but there is still clearly more that needs to be done.
Personally, my experience of racism increased slightly in my first year of university at NTU. The BLM movement has been in societies across the world, across the UK, and inevitably, therefore, across institutions like NTU. At university racism comes across in different ways, for example, I was the only black girl in my flat of 20, some flat members making remarks eating and cooking my culture’s food just because it looked different.
I never thought about Journalism being a predominantly white field when picking my course, however, I found it quite daunting being a mixed-race woman. Going into a newsroom for work experience and being the only black person on the whole floor, trying to prove that your willing to work is not the easiest thing in the world. It does worry me that when it comes to getting a job it will be harder for me, even the way I do my hair in braids is still seen as inappropriate for some jobs.
It’s hard to think that I didn’t notice the people crossing over to the other side of the road when I walk past them, even more so when I am with my dad, stepping aside to let someone pass and not getting a thank you for being expected to stop to let someone pass. People looking at me in public when I’m holding hands with my white boyfriend of 5 years.
For me, not only is it a time to not be silent, but it is a time that we should know to never be silent again. It’s hard to see that a lot of people treated the protests as a trend and have long since forgotten about it or put it to the back of their minds.
It’s hard to think that throughout my whole life I will have to work just that bit harder than other people just because of the colour of my skin. But, I’m thankful to have beautiful a loving family, friends, and boyfriend. I hope that one day people will be more understanding.
By Jessica Samuel