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.

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