Let’s talk about racism – Episode 3: The UK is far from innocent

Let’s talk about racism – Episode 3: The UK is far from innocent

By Angel Lulu-Briggs – 17yrs

The UK is far from innocent; here’s why…

In my many years of living in the UK I had been sheltered. Whilst scrutinising America and South Africa with a magnifying glass, I had come to the understanding in my head that the UK was aware of its issues and that is why there were less problems regarding racial profiling and police brutality. Little did I know that I just wasn’t being taught about it.

My first experience of overt racism (at least the first one I can remember) didn’t open my eyes to the subtle nuances of casual racism. As at 7 when you are told by your teacher that to be taken seriously – ‘you must act less black’ and ‘you must talk properly’ – you simply listen and change how you speak.

My second experience with overt racism though much worse than my first still didn’t open my eyes to any problems. As at 8 when you are told you aren’t allowed to join in a game of tag ‘because your skin looks like poo’ you simply internalise that hatred. Not only do you begin to hate yourself and the colour of your skin, you also blame yourself for not being lighter etc. And that is how it starts… but that is only the start though.

Now that you hate yourself what comes next? In schools they feed you propaganda. Some may say that is an exaggeration but in my opinion that is the best way I can think to put it. They tell you about the strength of the British Empire and how it improved the economies of many nations. They feed you false information and half-truths about different political leaders, like about how Churchill singlehandedly defeated fascism and how he was a man of all people. What they fail to tell you is that he was a man of certain people; the people that looked like him.

They don’t teach you that he openly called colonised nations ‘beastly’. They don’t teach you that his policies directly contributed to the Bengal famine which was responsible for killing up to 3 million people. They don’t teach you that he openly bragged about killing three ‘savages’ during his early career in Sudan. They don’t teach you any of that so that you don’t know that side of history. That way, you begin to idolise the British without an understanding of their unparalleled brutality in a number of countries, in that list, your own included. We have been failed by our curriculum – never learning about race politics or colonialism unless you choose to study history GCSE. Even what is taught then is not be enough. You look across the sea towards America and you say thank God the UK is not like that, not realising that the atmosphere in the USA is a direct result of European colonisation. 

My third experience with overt racism opened my eyes. I was 13 and walking back home from the train station, when a middle-aged white man began to yell derogatory profanities at me. Amongst those profanities is the phrase that shocked me into the reality that is racism –‘Go back to your own country!’ I was confused because as much as I had identified as Nigerian, I was taught in school how great the UK was, and how the UK felt it was their burden to educate the ‘beasts’ in Africa. So, why should I want to go back when my being here was fulfilling ‘the white man’s burden’? A quick google search that night taught me everything that my teachers weren’t willing to teach me. It took years though of defamiliarization for me to learn how to love myself again.

Then there is the unconscious/conscious stereotyping. As someone often portrayed as “the angry black girl” when I speak my mind, I can say that I personally find it belittling. This not only makes me feel that I can’t speak up but also further perpetuates a stereotype which is damaging to the black community. I have learnt that in most school environments I can either be one of the two – too black or not black enough. When you are labelled as “too black” you are pigeonholed as someone that listens to rap music and loudly speaks their mind when it comes to politics. This all ‘comes across as aggressive’ and in the minds of some you are no better than a thug. Yet, if you don’t do these things you “aren’t black enough” – You’re ‘too well-spoken’, or ‘too meek’ or ‘not like most black people’. You are unkindly labelled as an Oreo or a Malteser. This happens often and it’s hurtful. I know that I have chosen the former because I feel that I can’t be anything else as there is no middle ground in the minds of some.

The UK isn’t innocent, it may be ignorant but not innocent and I’m glad I know that now. However, you can teach the ignorant. It is hard, taxing and more often than not they are unwilling to listen. This makes it much harder and that is when it becomes dangerous. It is when they refuse to listen or be taught that they become racist.

But you have to keep teaching ignorant people. Learning more about these issues could help some further understand systemic racism, their own privilege and how they can use it for good. In the long run it’s hopefully what will make things better for all the black children my generation will have and their children’s generation and so on. Teach the ignorant people of today so they won’t become the racists of tomorrow.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Ciku

    I just want to ((((((HUG)))))) you and erase all your negative experiences from those that call us beasts, yet act even more beastly than an animal ever could.
    My take home: there’s no middle ground. The reason they say someone caused a “racket to wake the dead” is because silence couldn’t bring them back or right all those wrongs done.

  2. Dawn

    You are braver than you know Angel. Your impact will be felt for sure! Keep using your voice.

    1. TnL

      Absolutely! ??

  3. Fiona

    Angel, too much respect painful as it that at 13 you learnt you are never on the same pedestal as other kids at that age. I hear you on the points you raise and I want to amplify your voice. Speak up, learn to use their systems, create a community around you that discusses race issues and never be afraid to use their systems to grow.

    Much love and respect


    Beautiful write up Angel, i remember an incident when i was a student in Sofia Bulgaria,.Running to catch a late train , i was blocked by a man who started cursing my mother , in his words i am light skinned beciase my stupid mother slept with a black man, i laughed him off and realised how ignorant and racist a lot 0f Europeans are about africa. It was bad then because in the 80s then most of them had not seen an African face to face and when they derogatorily ask us if we have houses ,we told them no,we live on trees and since we dont have houses and they have embassy in Africa,their ambassadors also live on the trees with us.
    What causes this ignorance is lack of exposire,lack of education, lack of empathy as.the people who ought to teach the others refuse to do so., you will he surprised when they have news about Africa, what the reporters will show of us are thatched houses and dirty looking children playing in the sand and looking dirty
    Hoping like you said Angel that this generation will be taught about the human race so the next will know that we are the same and we didnt choose our race.. Thanks Angel for highlighting this.

  5. Ana

    Angel, this is a lovely write up. I agree with you on history lessons teaching half truths. Even here in Africa we are taught the same syllabus that doesn’t teach everything. Keep sharing and educating others it’s the only way we rediscover ourselves and teach our children better.

  6. Priye Okoye

    Well said my Angel! I believe if young African people like yourself rise above the systemic putting down of the “black” people, read up and educate themselves about who they are, as you have done, the only way will be up. I believe for one set of people to demonise another, there must be a latent fear of the superiority of those they demonise. Read West African history and learn about the empires and systems of government we had in place, our art and craft (that were stolen and they still use to raise money, in their museums), our kings and queens, while they were still living in caves and having sewage running through their homes. I will credit them with cunning and strategy, that is why we are where we are with respect to the way they see us; they kept even their own people ignorant of their evil cunning. Upward and onward my darling African Queen, you are opening a chapter of freedom and self knowledge for a new generation. I’m proud of you.

    1. TnL

      Your bravery… Your courage… Your intelligence… All second to known. Truth be told… Anyone who speaks or looks down at ANY human being, thinks to know, but in truth, is far from basic knowledge. Proud of you, my darling Angel. Keep doing you!

Comments are closed.