Posted in Blog

I’m Not Your Cardboard Cutout

(I actually wrote this for a publication – who sought me out by the way – and it was never published. Maybe it was too black for them….)

In light of the conversations around racism that are happening in the context of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minnesota, Shukri Abdi’s murder by her white classmates in Bury, UK, the disproportionate amount of COVID-19 related deaths in the UK within the ‘BAME’ community and the government’s total lack of regard for this, the murder of Belly Mujinga by a corona-infected white man, the relentless racist bullying of Megan Markle by the British tabloids, the “Karens” calling the police on Black people for just having the audacity to exist in their kinesphere (I love that word, I learnt it in A-Level Performing Arts and have striven to find any excuse to use it in a sentence ever since)… I could go on, … but anyway, my point is that in light of current events, you might see this piece as very trendy and topical. 

But the phenomenon of my everyday life as a black woman is navigating racism. 

I spent my entire childhood and adolescence defending my right to be challenged academically because, unbeknownst to my teachers, I could actually read and write. 

I’ve spent most of my adult life laughing off racist jokes by my white friends rather than calling them out, for fear of being accused of making a scene. 

I was bullied out of my last full-time job mostly just for being black (and also for being disabled). 

And it’s these phenomena that I have taken into my training to become a psychotherapist. Having become sick of pandering to the needs and feelings of the white therapists I encountered as I tried to get myself back to a sane state of mind after everything fell apart for me three years ago, I decided to become the black therapist I had had to search for so long in my own time of need. At present, the only way someone like me can find a therapist of colour, who can hold me in my vulnerability safely and not need consoling by me, is privately through BAATN (the Black, African and Asian Therapy Network). 

However, having to defend myself from white fragility hasn’t stopped and I encounter it each time I have to interact with people outside of my well-filtered inner circle of white friends.

For example, when interacting with my coursemates I’ve therefore become this one-dimensional cardboard cut-out of a black person. The people in my class had no idea I was queer until a few weeks into the course because I had been pinned as the strong, outspoken black woman of the group, thanks to an encounter with a racist in the VERY FIRST WEEK of classes. It was noted by one member of the group that they forget that I have epilepsy and am dealing with seizures and side-effects of medication because we are ALWAYS talking about my blackness and how it affects them, never about any other aspect of me as a person

I brought up George Floyd, Shukri Abdi, COVID-19, Belly Mujinga, Megan Markle and the ‘Karens” who have made it into the headlines (there are still so so many who lurk beneath the surface of publicity), because discussions around these seem to heavily centre on how these ‘tragic events’ exist in relation to white fragility. In the UK, many refuse to even speak about racism because it’s too painful for the feelings of white people. Perhaps if my classmates had to finally acknowledge my queerness and disability, they would also have to acknowledge that I am a human being, and perhaps that frightens them. 

The otherness of our race overrides everything else about us, ignoring our intersecting identities. 

I wonder how many more black and people of colour need to die before white people in general finally see us as multifaceted human beings.