Posted in Blog

Speaking Out & Fighting Black

I always feel like I’m constantly crying because I’m constantly disappointed by life.

My girlfriend doesn’t do her share of the housework, so I cry as I obsessively glare at the dirty dishes piling up.

My mother proves once again that she cannot be the mother I deserve, so I cry.

I wake up to a new day and before I’ve even opened my eyes properly I have a seizure, so I cry.

I think about the possibility of returning to work but the thought of doing so fills me with immense fear. So I cry.

When I do work up the courage to apply for jobs, I hit a wall when it comes to the reference requests because my previous employer always find a way to refuse doing it even though they signed an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) promising to give me a reference for any future employment. So when they don’t I cry.

I’ve kept my end of the agreement for almost a year now. Even though I was forced to sign this document when I was mentally unstable.

One of the terms of the agreement was to also keep quiet about the name of that Employer, so even though they are so intent on not only ruining my past career, but any future job prospects, I still have to keep schtum..

The employer was an all white comprehensive secondary school in Finchley. For legal reasons, let’s call them “Jule’s House of Pain”.

And they fired me because I am Black and disabled.

When I called my mum weeks ago to tell her what “Jule’s House of Pain” were doing, she advised me to send an email to the new Head Teacher pleading for her to reconsider. When I asked my mum why I should have to grovel to these people, her response was:

That’s what Black people have to do in this country.

I hated the idea but I did it anyway. The Head Teacher ignored me. So when I got an email from the employment agency I was trying to register with to say that they had to reject my application, because”Jule’s House of Pain” were refusing to give me a reference and thus confirm that there were no Child Protection issues while I was an employee at the school, I decided to fight. I emailed the Head Teacher again, pointing out that she was breaking the terms of the NDA and I would be forced to take legal action against the school.

She emailed me back within a day to say that she had provided the reference to the agency.

My previous email may have helped my case because clearly this new Head Teacher, who wasn’t working at the school while I was there, had inherited the prejudice from her predecessor who had tortured me. This was clear from the way she spoke to me on the phone when I courageously called to speak to her personally. She spoke to me like I was a piece of dirt. Therefore a polite, grovelling email contradicts the Black, aggressive troublemaker she’s evidently heard about. Perhaps she saw my final email as a “last resort” and out of character if she compared me to the same person who had emailed so politely prior. But, as Black people in Britain it is not our legacy to plead with white people to get what we are entitled to. We are human beings and citizens.

But, as Black people in Britain it is not our legacy to plead with white people to get what we are entitled to. We are human beings and citizens.

So now, instead of crying I’m going to fight. I was forced to sign that NDA while I was mentally unstable, so I’m going to seek legal advice on my next steps. When I read it now in my right mind, I see it as worthless like the toilet paper I use to wipe my arse. It doesn’t protect me, it is just an oppressive weapon to shut me up.

My therapist also asked me why I expected them to be co-operative after what they did to me:

This is “Jule’s House of Pain” why would you expect them to give you what you want?

As if that should excuse the continued torture.

Again, this isn’t about getting what I want. It’s about getting what I am entitled to as a fucking human being and a citizen of this country. It’s about being part of a new generation of Black British citizens fighting a long oppressive legacy of colonialism where white people think they can take from us and not have to pay reparations. It’s about fighting against structural racism.

After consciously making the decision to fight instead of cry, last night I dreamt about being in a school but for the first time in over a year, it wasn’t a nightmare and I didn’t wake up shouting and crying.

This time, I was in full control.

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

The “Aggressive” Black Woman Label (Essay)

 

When we focus our discussions on sexism and racism, targets of sexism tend to focus on white women, and targets of racism tend to focus on Black men, while women of colour get forgotten about.

 

As a Black woman having grown up around white-centric environments, growing up, I was always described as shy, soft-spoken, reserved and quiet but then in my late twenties, when I began to embrace my Black culture, I was subjected to negative stereotyping in many different areas of my life.

It wasn’t until my negative Teacher Training experience last year, that I was ever described by anybody as “aggressive” for the first time. This was also the first time that I was seen as a Black woman. I was shocked. My Black friends were bewildered because I was the quietest in the group. However, as only one of two Black teachers in the very white comprehensive school, this was not just about the colour of my skin. This was also about my actions: speaking up for myself and for my Black pupils who were being unfairly targeted. However, my employers thought otherwise and quickly labelled me as “aggressive” for speaking “out of turn”.

 

The second time I was called “aggressive” was shortly afterwards, in a mental health Facebook group, when somebody referred to the Grenfell fire as “just a fire”. The initial complaint came from one white woman who was asking for sympathy, because the media coverage a month after the tragedy was still too overwhelming. In response another white woman said: “remember it was just a fire”. As a Black woman from London, I was shocked that people from outside London could refer to such a tragedy in my hometown so carelessly and flippantly. While a community was (and still is) grieving and my city was raging you’re asking for sympathy, because you’re incapable of basic empathy? I remember my words explicitly: “I implore of you, please don’t refer to it as ‘just a fire’”, before I was ganged up against by the entire group and labelled as “aggressive” for daring to so insensitively call out the person who had made the comment.

I have Epilepsy and would talk openly about the negative side-effects of anti-epileptic drugs, as well as what it’s like to live life as a Black woman with Epilepsy. However, the more I’ve been reading into Epilepsy research, the more it has become apparent just how racist empirical research is — in fact, most of the medical studies do not contain any people of colour whatsoever. And now that I am making this racism known as part of my campaigning, other campaigners are labelling me as “aggressive”.

 

Wendy Ashley explains the stereotype of the “angry Black woman” as a characterisation of “ignorant without provocation” (Ashley, 2014, DOI: 10.1080/19371918.2011.619449). However, in all of my examples you can be assured that I was never ignorant, and I was definitely provoked. One thing my Teacher Training experience opened my eyes to was to explore the question: why are Black women never permitted the freedom to display anger as a valid expression of emotion? We are constantly forced to police our emotions, for fear of not slipping into that “angry Black woman stereotype”. Even Serena Williams throughout her career, has been consistently labelled as aggressive, even though she is retaliating (with class I must add) to constant racial macrogressions and aggressive provocations.

 

If you’ve been hurt, and somebody has caused you pain, you have every right to be angry! Just like any other woman of any other colour, girl!

 

So where does this stereotype even come from?

 

In light of not so recent events where Serena Williams was also labelled as aggressive by the media, Black women are suffering this every day where they are subjected to negative stereotyping, while juxtaposed with invisibility – particularly in the workplace.

Unfortunately, as Black women we struggle to be heard and struggle to be visible, due to being “intersectionally disabled” (Purdie-Vaughns & Eibach, 2008, DOI/10.1177/1368430216663017). Research also describes “angry Black women” typically being “aggressive, unfeminine, undesirable, overbearing, attitudinal, bitter, mean, and hell raising” (Malveaux, 1989; Morgan & Bennett, 2006, DOI/10.1080/19371918.2011.619449). This is of course in direct comparison to our white cis female counterparts, who are perceived socially as fair, more feminine, less-aggressive and therefore more desirable.

 

Having a strong sense of self is equally perceived as aggressive and threatening: So many women struggle with their self-image and self-constructs, that Black women who are perceived to have a handle on theirs (even when we don’t!) may be misunderstood by their peers to be aggressive. However, the concept of the confident Black woman is a phenomenon that has become more widespread — particularly in UK, mostly thanks to social media, which millenial Black women are wholeheartedly embracing: the Slumflower instigated the #saggyboobsmatter movement and is also empowering women to embrace their gut feelings. Unfortunately, people still perceive these drives towards positive mindsets as aggressive.

 

I have just finished reading Americanah (2014) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In it, Aunty Uju says: “These [white] people make you aggressive just to hold your dignity”, which is always my response when provoked. I feel like I’m being put onto a stage against my will and the audience are hurling abusive insults at me, just waiting for my reaction.

This relates to Personality Theory: there, behavioral tendency refers to the way an individual prefers to act, heavily influenced by the individual’s preferred thought process, the current situation, the current available resources, and the authority the person currently has. Using this, we are constantly proven not to be aggressive in many situations we are forced into:

Black women reported that, like me, they were forced to encounter negative race-based stereotypes in the workplace on a regular basis (Catalyst, 2004, DOI 10.1177/0894845308325645). Another study was able to make correlations between experiences of negative race-based stereotypes for Black women in employment and historical misogynoir:

Thus, Black women are forced to contend with many negative racial stereotypes, which can obstruct their professional lives and connections with others in the workplace. Historical stereotypical images—such as the caretaker Mammy, the loud-talking Sapphire, and the seductive Jezebel—in addition to emerging images, such as the unstable Crazy Black Bitch (CBB) and the constant overachieving Superwoman, may affect Black women’s professional goals, work relationships, and overall organizational experiences” (Reynolds-Dobbs et al, 2008, p.130-131, DOI, 10.1177/0894845308325645).

 

So, sometimes it simply doesn’t matter how much of a “workface” we put on, how much overtime we put in—due to the overpowering negative history of the “angry Black woman” stereotype, for us the glass ceiling is still significantly lower.

 

Social theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw reminds us that the law does not recognise intersectionality and therefore, as Black women we cannot look to the law as our saviour.

 

Unfortunately as a Black woman, you just have to be your own.

 

Posted in Blog

Medication Review (Update)

So I’m staying on Levetiracetam (Keppra)!

Which I am EXTREMELY happy about! Not adding anymore drugs to my current cocktail is great news.

This also means that I can continue seeing how I get on with combining my AEDs with Vitamin D for seizure control.

The consultant, was again trying to take the piss with me. When I told him how great I was going since coming of Zonisamide, in terms of my speech and writing, his response was:

Well it was definitely a side effect of the Zonisamide. If you’d told us about it sooner, we could’ve had you come off it sooner. 

The man is looking for a slap.

And it also reminds of Americanah (2014) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In it, Aunty Uju says: “These [white] people make you aggressive just to hold your dignity”. I feel like as a Black woman, I’m constantly provoked by white people to perform to their pre-held judgements of the aggressive Black woman stereotype. 

When I was sitting across from him, everything within me wanted to scream and yell at him, because he KNEW he was wrong and therefore I felt that he was provoking me. However, instead I calmly replied:

Well I did. You just chose not to listen. 

In front of two medical students.

You’re welcome.

I’ll be seeing them again in three months’ time. Unfortunately I had a seizure this afternoon, but my last one before that was ten days ago (both partial complex seizures). The heat can be a trigger, so I just need to make sure that I’m drinking enough water (I’ve become addicted to Fanta this year LOL, so it’s conflicting with my water intake).

XOXO