This is going to be my first piece on labels.
As well as my epilepsy journey, I’ve also begun a journey of discovery of my colour, which is why I’m going to begin my series on blackness.
I am black.
I’ve finally come to accept that.
People reading that, may find that statement strange: a black girl stating the obvious.
However, as a black girl who was born in South-West England, and grew up knowing absolutely nothing about her heritage, and denied her skin colour, now you can understand why I’m stating the obvious.
I grew up ashamed to be black, so much so, that I soon became unaware of my own skin colour and believed that I was part of the culture I grew up in. My friends and I would joke that I was “more white” than them, as I jokingly coated my skin in vanilla ice-cream to get a rise of laughter from the table, and any black people who met me would call me “Bounty”, “Coconut” and “Michael Jackson”.
I never understood why the older generation amongst the black community felt so aggrieved by what I believed to be sins of the past; I didn’t understand why current generations should have to pay reparations for the past. Being around ‘angry black people’ made me feel uncomfortable, therefore I surrounded myself around the culture I knew.
Cultural appropriator? Brothers and sisters, I was a cultural assassinator.
When I was ten, my family and I moved to London, and I remember my uncles jesting on my South-West posh accent; I didn’t talk like my cousins at all. Growing up, I listened to grunge metal and indie music, and then as soon as I turned eighteen I went to gigs, pubs and festivals.
Throughout this time, we all continued to joke about how “un-black” I was, because to us it was funny; it made me feel superior to other black people: If I’d managed to integrate, why couldn’t you?
However, the older I got, the more uncomfortable I became. The jokes soon took a sinister turn: I can still vividly recall a moment between myself, a friend, and her fiancé where we were talking about Pakistani people, and then he paused. I was puzzled; my friend turned to him and said: “oh don’t worry, you can say what you want to say because she’s racist too.” Then he breathed a sigh of relief, and said what he wanted to say, which was a racist comment about Pakistani people.
I am black.
However, it now dawned on me that I had been trying so hard to fit into a culture I no longer wanted to be a part of, and a culture that never really wanted ME.
I’ve had my name changed: I’m currently reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and the white woman she once worked for, refused to call her by her name because it was “too long”. A name is SO important – there is power in a name, I grew up believing that there was power in the name of Jesus; when the Slaveowners took the Slaves, the first thing they did was take away their names; I changed my surname from my father’s to my mother’s because I wholeheartedly believed that it would change my identity, and it did. Therefore, when people refuse to call you by your name, they are taking that power away from you. In KS4, I had a Physics teacher who insisted on calling me Christian, instead of my correct name, because she insisted it was right, even though me (the owner), my friends, and the school records, insisted otherwise. A friend, insisted on calling me “Fifi”, because my real name was too long, and because “Fifi” was loud, fun, all of the things she wanted me to be, and regardless of my protestations, the nickname stuck.
I felt powerless and insulted.
At work, a colleague told me that it was pointless teaching poetry on racism because it was “irrelevant”. However, in this same place I suffer and witness racism every single day.
I’ve spent hundreds of pounds, changing my appearance in a feeble attempt fit in, and this has made no difference, because of course I will never fit in.
I am black.
Now I’m taking this opportunity to apologise to all my brothers and sisters of colour, because for thirty years I have been a fool, and I feel like a complete and utter idiot. I’m so, so sorry. I wasted so much time on segregating myself from you, when I should’ve been building you up. Now that I know that I’m black, I feel empowered because I’ve found a family that were waiting for me my whole damn life! Friends whose hearts have been broken earlier, have welcomed me and are now educating me as I walk on my own path of discovering my blackness.
I am black, and I am proud.