Photograph: Anselm Ebulue / The Guardian
24 • Northampton • Writer and race equality activist
I remember when Mark Duggan was killed by police. It was my generation’s Stephen Lawrence moment
An event that I had a first visceral connection to was the London riots of 2011, when Mark Duggan was killed by police. It was probably my generation’s Stephen Lawrence moment. Black people in this country are given the talk. I was eight years old when my parents gave me that talk; that one day, I might be stopped by the police. I might not have done anything wrong, I just happen to be black in this country and that’s a mandate for suspicion. I don’t know a black person who hasn’t been stopped by the police. The London riots had an impact because I sort of linked it to when my parents gave me the talk. Being stopped by the police can result in someone’s death. There are many that have lost their lives in police custody. I encountered racism day in and day out, and some of it was from my teachers. People called me savage, asked if my family lived in huts in Africa. Being black at private schools was very difficult, but if I can deal with racism there, I can deal with it anywhere. Middle-class and upper-class people talk in a certain way, where they could be saying the most horrible things about you but because they say it in such a way, with their accent and their pronunciation of words, how they were taught to speak the Queen’s English, that when they do stuff like that, it sort of pads it down a little bit. When Boris Johnson goes on about Muslim women being letterboxes or black people with watermelon smiles, because he says it in that vernacular that is tied to the English private school system, it comes across in such a way that is less threatening than Tommy Robinson. Nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime. When we protest in Northampton, we’re lucky to get 10 people to turn up and we had 1,000 people attend the first Black Lives Matter protest. Northampton is a famously white town. The protest was led by young people. If I didn’t go, I would feel guilty. I don’t think you can be black in this country and not support the protests. People say that British racism is very subtle and covert. But nothing about the Windrush scandal was covert; it was very open, very honest. Grenfell as well.
18 • Birmingham • Singer and student
If I have to fight every day for the rest of my life, I will
The UK is not innocent and never has been innocent. I remember walking in town with my friends when I was 12, and two white girls were fighting and the police started threatening and ragging up all the black kids that happened to be there, while the white girls continued to fight. We ran home because we knew we would get arrested, even though we weren’t part of it. I was flabbergasted. I thought, why just us? To be black in the UK is beautiful, especially now with so many black entertainers. I want to become a music mentor, but first I need to become a performer. I don’t really fit the look you see on TV. I’m thick-bodied, thick-lipped, I’ve got big nostrils and my hair is curly. I have friends who are musicians and they’re all slimmer, they have straighter hair, they even act a certain way. But I will always just be myself. I’m not sad that I’m black and I won’t pretend to be something I’m not. Casting agencies and judges tell me I don’t really “fit the criteria” or they don’t think I’d be able to do this part because of “the way you look”. They would never say anything about my talent and I’d think, why aren’t you judging me based on my talent? When I saw the hurt on my brother’s face over George Floyd, or, as he put it “the world”, I thought, I’m going to London [to protest]. This can’t carry on, we can’t not go: this is my fight. The next day, I went to one in Birmingham, then London the week after. We cannot stop – if I have to fight every day for the rest of my life, I will. The energy that day was fire; that day my mentality changed to: “No justice, no peace”. I realised I was fighting for me, for my brothers, for my parents, for my ancestors. I want to be able to tell my children: “I fought for you, I fought for your children. I went for us”.
21 • London • Student
Being black, especially a black woman, is a political statement in this country
School in the UK was really difficult. I’ve tried to suppress and put in the back of my mind the traumatic experiences that come down to racism. I was experiencing racism at the age of eight. I was aware that I was being treated differently to other people. It was the end of the day and I really needed to go to the toilet. There was about 10 or 15 minutes of me having my hand up and you could tell I was really distressed. I was crying like I really needed to get to the toilet and then I wet myself. It just makes me really upset that I had to go through such a traumatic experience at such a young age because a fully grown adult didn’t like the colour of my skin. I would never want anyone to feel one-tenth of what I felt when I was going to school. You have so much self-hate and you just don’t really know how to deal with it. Looking at myself now, I couldn’t have imagined when I was younger that I would have turned into this person. We went to France when I was in year 9. The teacher didn’t know I was in the lift, I was at the back, and she said: “Oh, my God, all these black people are so annoying”. Everybody in the lift turned around and looked at me and I just didn’t really know what I was supposed to do. No one defended me. No one said anything, and you know from a really early age that you’re on your own. My life has changed drastically within the last six weeks, since Aima and I first put that tweet out and organised the protest in London with All Black Lives. I didn’t expect it to change me in the way that it has. Now, I wake up every day and I have purpose and I have something to fight for, and something that I know I can put my full self into that’s changing people’s lives. Being black in this country, especially a black woman, is a political statement. You’ve seen just within the past six weeks, how much more confident black people have been, how much more outspoken – they realise their opinions are valid.
19 • Shetland Islands • Student
I remember hearing black people with Scottish accents for the first time and thinking I’m not the only one!
The very first political event I can remember was Obama being elected as the first black president. I was seven or eight at the time. We were in Cuba, so me and my Cuban family, who are all black, were sitting on the couch watching it happen. School was hard. I was bullied mercilessly in primary school and it took me years to realise that actually happened. Just young kids not knowing that people have different skin colours and that is an OK and normal thing. There was a lot of being picked on and being grouped together with other brown-skinned girls or boys when we weren’t even the same race. I think we have 1% of ethnic minorities here in Shetland. In primary school, I remember being the only black or mixed-race person and there were three Asian kids. Because I didn’t realise I was being bullied, I never thought to talk to my teachers about it. I never sought the support I needed. But when issues did come to light, for the most part I was supported by my teachers. The earliest experience I have, and the worst one probably, is being in the playground and me and a Pakistani boy from my class were pushed together. All the other kids were standing in a circle around us, pointing and laughing, and saying that we were boyfriend and girlfriend just because we had the same skin colour. I went to the protest because somebody has to be the voice for black people in Shetland. Because it’s so white-populated, it’s hard to find somebody who is going to have the strength and courage to stand up and be that voice. So I thought if I don’t do it, who is going to do it? It was really incredible seeing the amount of support. It’s the biggest turnout for protests that we’ve ever had. It was really amazing seeing just how many people came out to support the movement. It was heartening to see. Growing up as a black person in Shetland was hard but it’s definitely strengthened my character as a young woman today. I don’t really identify with the Scottish side of my family; I would consider myself British more than I would Scottish. And I definitely much more identify with the Cuban side of my family. So amalgamating my black and Scottish sides is something I’ve not quite done yet. But it’s definitely interesting. I can remember hearing black people with Scottish accents for the first time and thinking I’m not the only one!
21 • London • Student
In year 6, my teacher told me, ‘When you’re older, please don’t join a gang’
I would say the first event I was actually politically inclined and knowledgeable about would be over the death of Mark Duggan. It was the first one that hit home. The anger and frustration that was happening within the black community, and just how the media painted him out to be this barbaric guy, when really, he was a human being just like me, who looked like me and my friends. School in the UK was probably the worst experience I’ve had in my life. The school system didn’t understand me or cater to my needs. I got sent to boarding school in Uganda for a few years to study there instead because I felt so out of place in Britain. In year 6, my main teacher approached me and my friend, who was black, and said: “When you’re older, please don’t join a gang”. I replied: “We’re not going to join a gang”, but it wasn’t until I started growing up that I began thinking to myself, what did she actually mean by that remark? Why would she select two black males and differentiate them from their peers? The protests are about the injustices that we face here as the black community, especially with deaths in custody. Black people are twice as likely to die in police custody than any other race in this country. When it comes to disparities in the criminal justice system, it is one of the reasons why I felt I also had to take a stand and move with my brothers and sisters to forge a movement here. I remember the first time I got stopped and searched. It was a section 60 in the Stoke Newington area of London and I was 18. I was walking and a police car pulled up. An officer asked where I was going and I said: ‘I’m going to eat’. I put out my hand and he handcuffed me. It was very shocking and traumatising. It fragments people like me from society, it makes us feel like we’re not British. Being black in the UK is trying to fit in areas that you know aren’t really built in your favour. But when it comes to black culture, everyone wants to copy it and not call it black. I love my culture, I love my heritage, I love what my community has to bring to civil society.
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod / The Guardian
25 • Edinburgh • Student
Teachers refused to test me for dyslexia and instead told my parents to stop speaking other languages at home
I’m dyslexic and I’ve only just found out at the age of 25, while I was at university struggling. When I was in school, I had the same struggles that I’m going through now with my work, but the teachers refused to test me and told my parents to stop speaking other languages at home. My parents told them there was not a language barrier. My school was very problematic. I remember I got into a fight because this girl hacked into my social media. She made everything about slavery, claiming my family were slaves and put all the pictures as slaves in shackles. I didn’t even see it until I got to school, and I remember everyone being really weird to me. I got pulled aside by the headteacher and a police officer into this meeting room. They told me something’s happened on your social media and we talked about it. Then they took my phone off me. Afterwards, I had a PE lesson with the girl who did it. I’d never been so angry in my life. I remember blacking out and I went for her and we had a fight. We got sent home and a couple of days later we returned with our parents for a big meeting about it. I remember sitting there with my mum and dad, who said to the teachers: “What are you guys going to do? This can’t keep happening to our kids.” They were trying to exclude me for being violent. And my parents were like, ‘That’s not fair. She’s obviously at a point where she can’t take it anymore. Someone was racist to her.’ It was a bullshit conversation. They didn’t know what they were doing, but they were trying to do their best. And then halfway through the conversation the girl’s parents used the comparison of their daughter being bullied for being ginger as the equivalent to racism. My mum and dad got up and left. I was in a team of people that were organising the protest in Edinburgh. It was overwhelming. I’ve been in Edinburgh for almost 20 years now and I didn’t know there were this many black people here. As bad as the experiences black people have had, I feel like we have a uniqueness that we can laugh so much and we can always find happiness and peace within, despite the damage that goes on. There are things to celebrate in being black and being British, because there are not all bad things about British culture. I like a cup of tea and dipping my biscuits in it. Yes, we are more commonly first-generation migrants but be proud of us for adapting.
21 • Bristol • Student
Blackness means innovation. It means resistance. It means persistence
There were a lot of black and brown people at my school, which was great. I was able to find a group of black girls that I felt that I could find comfort in, friendship and solidarity. But that didn’t stop us from facing racism in school. I think one of the difficult things was seeing a lot of kids being put in isolation, being taken out of lessons, being harshly graded, and not being given the same patience as the white students. We do have systemic racism here, and the police are violent towards black bodies. We have a history here, especially in Bristol, of a deep involvement with the transatlantic slave trade. When people say the UK is not innocent, this is what we mean. It’s about being stopped and searched, it’s about how you feel like there’s going to be some kind of altercation every time you leave your house. If you see a police van, even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you risk the violence of being shot with a Taser stun gun and the violence of being hit with batons. I think it’s amazing that there’s such a strong black British culture. I love that there’s so much influence from the Caribbean community – from the music people listen to, to the slang people use. There’s such a heavy influence of blackness across the UK, which can be frustrating when we see that we’re not being respected. It gives me a sense of pride because I feel that black people, wherever we go, are so innovative. And especially here in Britain, I think blackness means innovation. It means resistance. It means persistence. I’m from South Sudan and everybody there is very dark-skinned. As a black person, being dark-skinned kind of comes with its own issues that’s specific to communities of colour, specifically the black community. I think it will be an obstacle moving forward, and that’s paired with being a woman as well. I think it sets up a lot of things against me. But at the same time, I really wouldn’t want to be anything else. I feel like being a black woman is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
17 • London • Student
I realised it’s not because you’re annoying, it’s not because you’re ugly, it’s because you don’t look like them
I just remember hating myself because I’ve always been in school with only white people. It gave me body dysmorphia. I remember feeling ugly as a child. I look back at pictures of myself as a child and I wonder why I felt that way. I had teachers who were racist and I was bullied. Teachers used to belittle me. I never found groups of friends, because they were all white, that I felt that I could slot into. I never felt like I could fit in. It was a traumatic experience and it just leaves you feeling quite socially homeless. I used to get left out and I would wonder to myself, why is this happening? When I was in lockdown, more and more the pieces started to fit together. I’m one of the only ones like this. I’m one of the only ones that are around these people. So then I realised, it’s not because you’re annoying, it’s not because you’re ugly, it’s not because of this or that, it’s because you don’t look like them. I think that racism in the UK is so dangerous, more dangerous than people realise. I think for America, if someone doesn’t like you because you’re black, they’ll say it to your face or they’ll do it in ways that make it easy to identify. But in the UK, it’s so subtle. And it’s still systemic. It was my first response to go to the protest to be part of the movement here. It was exhilarating. Seeing streets full of people that look like me and were there for the same reason as me, it made me feel so warm inside. When you go on the train and someone sees your sign and they do the fist, that was stuff I had never experienced before. It made me very emotional. Being black in the UK means you have a very close connection to the cultures that you come from. But it also means you have to go through struggles that people pretend not to see or understand and don’t want to fix.
20 • Buckinghamshire • Student
Somebody would cross the road because of coronavirus, but that’s an everyday thing for black people
I think my school was very micro-aggressive. People would be like, “Oh, can I touch your hair?” I got a detention once because somebody stuck a pencil in my hair. I had an afro and people thought it was interesting and wanted to run their hands through it, but I’m not an animal. I’m just normal, but because you’re unfamiliar with the texture of my hair, you think it’s interesting enough that you want to pet me. I look back and I think, wow, I actually tolerated that and allowed that to happen, but it’s because I didn’t understand what it was. People don’t know what Britain has done because we don’t get taught it. We’ve been taught about Henry VIII and his six wives. Who cares? I don’t want to know how he manipulated the Christian church so that he could get away with divorce. That’s got nothing to do with me. I want to know about what Britain’s been up to colonising the whole world; imperialism and the effects of it. I think it’s important that we protest. I think there are issues in the UK. It’s so important that we also take on America as well. It’s interesting that you have people like Boris Johnson, who will happily sit up and say, ‘What’s going on in America only concerns America’, but then what have we been doing in the Middle East for all these years? Coronavirus has given an insight into racism in the UK because when you’re walking down the street now, somebody will cross the road because they think you’ve got coronavirus. But if you’re black in the UK that’s an everyday thing. It’s me walking to school and a white lady walking towards me, clutching her bag, and crossing the road because she’s scared about what I’m going to do. I’m going to school! That happens two or three times a year. Being black in the UK gives you a sense of belonging. There’s a level of respect the black community gives each other. When you’re walking down the street, it’s like a nod or a smile. It’s so encouraging to see that from whatever generation, whether it’s old or young. We all kind of have that caring nature towards each other because we need to have it.
20 • London and Oxford • Student
At secondary school, the world is screaming very loudly that you’re not wanted
I think going to school in the UK is one of the hardest things. I was recently talking to my friends about it, because the George Floyd protests have made people begin to re-analyse experiences at school. I think every black woman has had an experience that’s jarring, of feeling like you’re not pretty. I used to get told, ‘You’re like so blick’, which is slang for being very dark. It has a profound impact. As you grow up, you go through a phase of forcefully trying to love yourself. But in secondary school, the world is definitely screaming very loudly that you are being rejected and that you’re not wanted. It was really hard. The UK constantly points the finger at America and there’s a complete misconception that the UK isn’t racist. At one protest I attended in Oxford, one American woman stood up and spoke about what was going on in America, but then she went on to say that her family were really happy that she moved to the UK because this isn’t a racist country. Everyone was outraged. I think our lived experience as black people is overlooked in the UK. As a result, it means the government doesn’t have to do anything. My mum migrated from Ghana to England and I’m the first generation of my family to be born here. If you ask people who have just migrated, they identify with the country they just moved from. I don’t think my mum identifies as being black British as much as I do. I love Ghana and my Ghanian heritage, but I think I feel more of a sense of belonging here. They came here at a time when Britain was still so racist, where pubs had the sign ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’, and that would make you want to hold on to your culture more. With our generations, being black British is a mix of your heritage and a mix of being British. We’ve created a whole new identity. Look at Stormzy, Burna Boy, and Kojo Funds. Artists like NSG have these beats that are like Ghana highlife, a type of music in Ghana, and grime energy mixed into one. Music is a perfect example of what being black British is like, regardless if you’re first generation or if you’re fourth generation. It’s a beautiful mix and fusion of different identities.
Photograph: Antonio Olmos / The Guardian
20 • Monmouth • Student
I could sense this was perhaps the biggest moment I’ve felt for black people during my 20 years of life
I remember the 2008 US presidential campaign for Barack Obama. It was good to see a man of a similar colour running for one of the biggest jobs in the world. Although I was comfortable going to school with people who were predominantly white, it was still reassuring when another black boy joined in year 6, and we’re still really good friends. Hair was a big thing for me. I didn’t understand certain people constantly wanting to touch my hair. It’s just one of those things I let happen for a while, but when this other black boy joined, he just wouldn’t have it. So I thought I should just be saying no. I then wouldn’t let people do it. I felt privileged as well as I got to go to a good private school here. I think when looking at the problems to do with race, we should also be looking at class as well, because a lot of the issues come hand in hand. I could sense this was perhaps the biggest moment I’ve felt for black people during my 20 years of life. I hadn’t been to a protest before so I asked my mum, who lived in Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia, what they could achieve. I thought it was quite important because I knew a lot of people in Monmouth. It’s quite a small community. I think it’s got a population of 10,000. I felt very privileged in the fact that I was lucky enough to speak and convey my message. I did get quite upset at one point. I thought If I were lucky enough to have grandchildren, I wouldn’t want to have to have the same conversations that my mum is having to have with me. So that’s one thing that I think would break my heart. My parents have always told me to be proud of who I am and where I come from and never to forget that. There’s a sense of togetherness in the community a lot of the time. I love going to Zimbabwean functions because you know you’re always guaranteed good food, lots of singing, lots of dancing. I remember when the Dave song Black came out. It just resonated with me. I think the song was for those who weren’t in the black community to see what it can be like to be black and British.
18 • Sunderland • Student
Being black is to be strong. But it’s not an option, you have to be
The north-east is typically not a very diverse place, so school was difficult for me. I’ve had racial abuse from peers and stuff like people touching my hair and calling me names. After school I went to college to do music and I just didn’t really fit in with anybody. It sounds ridiculous but it’s a bit intimidating walking into a room and no one looks like you or has the same history as you, and just automatically being different wherever you go. The history curriculum is kind of ridiculous. They just teach you, ‘Oh well there was slavery for a little bit and it was really bad but then the slaves got freed and that was that’. Martin Luther King did a speech and racism was over. A lot of it is very whitewashed. They try to make people like Winston Churchill a hero when he’s not. It’s only from reading material by black authors that opened my eyes and made me realise how much of my own history I was shielded from. I heard about the protest in Newcastle but it got cancelled and moved online after a backlash because of the pandemic. I was pretty outraged by that, so I started my own. It was kind of my first opportunity to speak about my struggles and the struggles of black people in the UK. It was like a moment of relief for me because I thought people were finally doing something about it. It’s hard to succeed when you don’t have confidence in who you are. How am I supposed to have confidence in who I am when there are people who literally hate me and want to see me down and think they’re more superior than me because of the colour of my skin? Being black in the UK means to be different. It means to be silenced. However, hopefully in future generations to come, being black in the UK will be something to be celebrated by everyone. In the meantime, I’m always going to celebrate where I come from. I think black people should be proud. As a race, they’ve come so far in life and had so much success, even though they’ve repeatedly been squashed and dragged down by oppressors. I think being black is to be strong. But it’s not an option, you have to be.
18 • London • Student
I just did not feel comfortable speaking about race in my school
I was absolutely disgusted, angry, but not shocked by George Floyd’s death. I’ve seen this happen so much ever since I was a little girl. I’ve been so desensitised to it that I’m not shocked when it happens anymore. It’s just like a normal daily thing. I was talking to my friend Natasha, who helped organise the London protest with me, and said: “We need to do something. We can’t just be silent”. This doesn’t only happen in America, but also happens here. We posted tweets about the London protests and it just skyrocketed everywhere. I was just in shock that so many people came out in support. I remember we were walking out of the US embassy and one of the police officers came up to us and said there were more than 9,000 people still there, and another 10,000 coming to join the march. The amount of systemic racism in the UK is disgusting; and how normalised racism is, in this country, is just terrible. The UK needs to take ownership for what it has done in the past. I never learned about colonisation in the UK. I remember so clearly in year 7, I was in history class, and we were learning about the second world war. I said they drag people from my country to fight on the frontlines without asking their permission, and my history teacher said that didn’t happen, they didn’t force them. I was like, what? At such a young age it made me realise there is a big problem in the UK because they are not teaching people about their history. School was terrible. I would get racial insults from people and my friends would say it’s a joke or don’t take it too harshly. They’d laugh and say I was overreacting. I didn’t feel like I had a safe space at all. But now I’m able to spread the joy and love of being a black person in the culture that I have, not only with other black people but with everyone. Being black is just so beautiful to me.
24 • Forest of Dean • Student
You almost unconsciously distance yourself from your black heritage and your black culture
You almost unconsciously distance yourself from your black heritage and your black culture because it seems to have no relevance to the area you’re in. And I think because there’s a lack of understanding about black and ethnic minority culture, especially in the Forest of Dean, you become accustomed to wanting to fit in and not wanting to draw attention to your cultural difference. You try to find a way to blend in and not stand out. It was challenging to hold a protest. Our local news outlet wrote an article about our planned demonstration, explaining why we wanted to do it and what our motivation was. They posted the article on a local noticeboard and from there it just went absolutely wild. There were about 1,000 comments on the thread – some positive and supportive, and some extremely negative. The day after, a petition was created by a member of the community, stressing her concerns about this event and calling for it to be cancelled or moved away from the space that we had been granted. She got about 800 signatures. Somebody else from the community started a petition in favour of the event, which overtook the opposition. The following day, we received a letter from the council cancelling the event. Everybody then contacted the council about the letter. The council then decided to hold another vote to decide if our event could go ahead. The result was in our favour and the event was approved. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of dialogue with people who think the issues surrounding George Floyd and the US BLM movement aren’t relevant in the UK. They don’t think black people in Britain experience the same racial prejudice or have the same issues with the police. They don’t think there’s a culture of black people being oppressed, killed, or discriminated against here for their skin colour.
23 • Bristol • Outreach officer
A teacher said I wasn’t going to get anywhere in life. It was quite difficult to hear
I think the first major political event I went to was a Palestine march when I was 18 or 17. I remember being there with my Palestinian flag and running through the streets, screaming: ‘Free Palestine’. I think that was my first experience of a protest and it was great. I remember one teacher would use the N word to describe a certain song. There were assumptions about how my parents would treat me because they come from a Somali background. Another teacher told me ‘Somalis are aggressive’ and that’s probably why I was an aggressive child. I wasn’t being aggressive, I was always just stating my point. Another teacher said I wasn’t going to get anywhere in life. That was difficult to hear. I didn’t understand the implications of it. I knew there was something wrong and I knew that there was something unsettling about my school and how they spoke to people of colour, but I didn’t understand what it was until I got to college and I started learning about sociology, the hidden curriculum, racism, the ideal white pupil and all these different terminologies. I did very well in college. I thought, so I wasn’t dumb, so I wasn’t stupid. I just needed teachers who believed in me. I wanted to be in solidarity with my city and my people and march alongside my friends and my family members. It’s about police brutality, it’s about racism, it’s about how black women are treated. It’s about how a lot of us are treated in institutions, such as universities, schools, and workplaces. It was very exhilarating and powerful. The most beautiful thing to see was how many young people were there. Sometimes you feel demotivated as an activist, or you feel like you’ve been doing the work for so long and wonder when change will happen. But being at the protests kind of reignited the fire inside me that I think I’ve been searching for for quite a while. I think sometimes people think black people have a homogenous experience. My experience is as a black, Muslim woman has shaped me.
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod / The Guardian
14 • Newcastle upon Tyne • Student
There were hundreds of white men shouting all lives matter at us
The first political event I remember is the referendum. I was definitely opposed to Brexit and my parents are too. I remember seeing that 52% majority and I was just astounded. It was my future and I didn’t get a say in it and my brother didn’t get a say in it. I’m one of the few people of colour in my school. All my friends in my new school are white. There’s a lot of controversy over what to say and people don’t really accept I’m mixed race as an answer. They say, ‘Are you black or are you white?’ It’s like two mediums. They ask, ‘Where are you from? What exact country are you from?’ Me and my friend got a haircut at the same time, shoulder length so it complied with the uniform policy, and I was told to tie it up and she wasn’t, because obviously my hair is curly. It was awful because I thought I’m going to have to go through my whole life straightening my hair or making myself appear “more professional”, in the sense that black and mixed hair is not seen as professional. It wasn’t my first racist experience. I wanted to be part of the movement, and be part of world history essentially, and be able to say that I contributed to this and to invoke real change as well. At the protest, there were the ‘defenders of Newcastle’, who obviously really didn’t like us. So I was relatively scared when I was there. But I think it was an eye-opening experience. I didn’t think there were people who opposed our movement, let alone people who would wake up and go outside on a rainy day just to protest against it. There were hundreds of these white men who were shouting ‘All lives matter’. There were war veterans standing next to people doing the Nazi salute. At the climate strike protest, I wasn’t fearful at all. But at the Black Lives Matter protests, people were throwing glass bottles at us, one girl was hospitalised and there were smoke bombs. It was scarier but I think it was a bit more impactful. It’s made me a bit more cautious when I’m carrying signs to town and walking through town. It has also made me scared for my future, because these people genuinely don’t want equality for us, and I think that’s truly shocking.
24 • Glasgow • Youth worker
I wasn’t just there for George Floyd, I was out there for Sheku Bayoh as well
You don’t realise how flawed the school system is until you’re an adult. A lot of young people of colour disconnect massively with their cultural roots because there isn’t any room for that to be a positive thing. So when you go into school, your options are either to be othered or to disconnect with your blackness. There’s not the same provision here in Scotland as there is, perhaps, in places like London. We’ve got this extra hurdle of figuring out who we are as black people. There were about five black people in my school at any one time. That hasn’t changed much because some of the younger people that we work with can be the only black child in their class or in their year. They were massively undermined by students and teachers. A mixed-race friend of mine in Inverness was called ‘Black Ben’. He was half-Indian and he was called Black Ben. That’s what Scotland’s like. I don’t really know what it was about protests, but I felt like we were doing something. There’s something about being surrounded with people who have a similar kind of goal that gives you a bit of energy. I wasn’t just there for George Floyd and I would hope the people of Glasgow weren’t there only because of him either. I hope we’re there for Sheku Bayoh. And I hope we’re there for the kids who want to get jobs when they’re growing up. We have to look at our cultural landscape and see what we can do here. There are so many barriers that people pretend don’t exist, but you’re constantly out here hearing them, and then everyone tells you they don’t exist and you’re worried whether the problem is you. There’s like a culture of silence that isn’t conducive to the mental health of people of colour. Being black in the UK is asking questions and having people shout you down instead. It’s almost worse to call someone a racist than it is for someone to be racist in the UK, and I don’t think that’s fine.
25 • Newmarket • Youth practitioner in a children’s home
It’s like playing Monopoly for 400 rounds and your turn was always skipped. How are you supposed to catch up?
The only thing I was taught about black people in school was that we were slaves. It wasn’t taught in a wholesome way, which when you’re 12 or 13 is very upsetting. There’s an issue there and we need a wide range of education showing that black people were very successful and very rich as well as what happened after colonisation. I went to school in Cambridge and we were one of the few black families at the time. Guys would call me the N word and I used to get into physical altercations. At the time, we were learning about slavery and I was angry. I didn’t understand why white people had done that to us. After a physical altercation at school when a girl called me the N word, my mum said I should go to Africa to learn about life and humility and cultural experience, so I went to Ghana for two years and lived with the pastors of my church. It felt nice to be in a country where people looked like me. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but I do feel I’m the odd one out. I do like living in Newmarket but you hardly see any other black people. I can’t get certain seasonings for my food, I can’t get yams or plantain or products for my hair. If I have my afro out I do feel like everyone’s staring at me – they’re just probably intrigued. When you hear people saying: “Go back to your country” I think: you brought us here; you forced us to be here. I’m not saying everything that’s happened is a direct result of slavery, but it has impacted us. And that’s why we need opportunities specifically for us, because everything that’s happened has set us back. It’s like playing Monopoly for 400 rounds and your turn was always skipped. How are you supposed to catch up? Sometimes when I see what’s going on in America or here, I think why don’t black people actually just go to Africa and build our own? Every musician, every engineer, every IT specialist, because sometimes it seems as if we’re not welcome, we’re not wanted. This country is thriving and we build our lives here, but we forget that the motherland is in Africa and that’s where help is needed.
18 • Manchester • Radio presenter
I was walking home from school in year eight and two older male students kept shouting N word at me
I was one of the few black girls in secondary school. It was difficult because I was also the only black girl in my school year in primary school. I always grew up with white girls, so I always wanted to straighten my hair and never wanted my hair curlier. I didn’t really feel supported by my teachers, but there was one who I did feel supported by. I think she understood. I remember one time these black girls, who didn’t like me and were a couple of years older than me, jumped me after school. I got excluded for it and they got excluded for it. But when I was talking to my white friends, they obviously had fights in school and they just had a meeting with their parents. People say the UK isn’t as bad as America. It’s not as bad here because it’s not as big a country as America. But racism does happen in the UK quite a lot and a lot of people just don’t understand that. I’ve experienced racism and that’s why I feel like it’s so important for me to go to the protest. I remember when I was in year 8 and I was walking home from school on my own. There were two white guys behind me in year 10 or 11. One shouting N word, N word, N word. I got upset and went home. The school got involved and sorted out the situation. Being black in the UK is wondering about whether it is because I’m black, for example, about not getting picked for a job, or because of something else. But I’m proud to be black in the UK. I love being black. My mum is white but she has brought me up to love the colour of my skin and my Jamaican heritage.
18 • London • Student
We are as English as much as my Caucasian friends
The first political event I remember is Barack Obama’s election. I was quite young, but I think the way it was presented by the media was that it was something different. It was a change in the world. When I was younger, I went to a private primary school, which was an interesting experience as I was one of the few people of colour. One of the earliest memories I have is that when we used to play, I used to be described as poo. I always felt very supported by my teachers, but I think in secondary school one of the biggest issues that annoyed me was this assumption that I would misbehave. It irritated me because I like to think of myself as a studious person who has always dedicated myself to the classroom. So to have teachers see me as a bad person, sometimes it hurts. I thought the protests were great, especially in these times and the circumstances, I thought it was amazing to see the resilience people are showing in the face of oppression. I was largely supporting it online. I’d have loved to go but I was worried about my dad. You see the coronavirus statistics that say BAME people are most at risk. I felt like, personally, I would rather stay at home and not risk it, but I was proud of my friends and everyone else who was able to go. If you’re black in the UK, it’s important to understand how you have contributed to the UK and that you are now part of it. I think a lot of times people like to say the UK is a country for white people, that it’s a country built by white people. But I think it’s important to understand that we have contributed to the country. We are as English as much as my Caucasian friends.
Photograph: Suki Dhanda / The Guardian
21 • Manchester • Student
The first protest I’ve ever been to was my own protest
I remember coming home from school when Barack Obama was elected president. My mum made sure that she got us home really quick and set up the food and we all as a family just watched his inauguration. I remember my mum was crying. It was just a momentous occasion for us. When I was in year 7, as soon as I got to school, I’d been so sick and tired of no one being able to pronounce my name, I just said:”You know what, you could just call me Ty”. But when I got to university, I decided to call myself Tyrek. If you can’t pronounce my name, that’s on you. If I had my hair in an afro, I’d have to face someone touching it. You’d have to face someone having their hands in your hair, messing it up. By the time I came home from school, my hair was a state. I had nicknames like Cadbury. In year 9, someone from school called me a dirty little slave on Facebook and I’ve had the N word thrown at me. I had this headteacher, when my hair was in braids, who said you look like a gangster and shouldn’t have braids. I’ve had to grow up fast. A lot of things that people don’t deal with or people deal with later on in their adult life, I had to deal with going through school. You always have that question while you’re in school or just in any general place where someone does something that’s stupid, ignorant, maybe racist or whatever, and you have to think are they actually a racist or do they not understand? I hated that whole teetering on the edge of “Is my friend a racist? Do I have to be friends with them?” After Natasha and Aima organised their protest in London, I messaged them and they suggested having a protest in every city and I decided to organise one for Manchester. The first protest I’ve ever been to was my own protest. It felt poetic in a sense. It was so beautiful to see how many people who have different skin, different economic backgrounds, different genders, sexualities, come together for the same cause. I felt very loved and held together by a community of people who care for black lives. It’s a gorgeous thing to be black in the UK. Everyone listens to black music, everyone loves black art and black foods. I love it. We’re calling on the government to commit to end racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, which means scrapping section 60 and the racialised war on gangs.
23 • Norwich • Freelance journalist
I’m proud of some aspects of being British but I’m ashamed of many others
I was one of the only non-white people in primary school and I just tried to fit in. I always wanted to be the same as everybody else: I always wanted straight hair, thin lips. Once in middle school my friends at the time pushed me behind this gate and started saying things like: “Monkey belongs in a cage, monkey can’t get out”. I never really thought about it at the time, it’s only recently that I’ve thought about it as problematic. Another thing I’ve only really thought about and deconstructed recently is, as a kid, I only liked to walk around town with my dad, who is white. I felt if people saw me with my mum then they would think that I was different, but if I was with my dad, they would think I was more like them. It wasn’t that I thought being black was bad, but as a child you don’t want to be different from other people. I definitely noticed my otherness. As somebody who is mixed race I thought, if I just sit and be still, racism will just continue, and the only way to stop it is if people act. So I got involved in the protest being organised in Norwich; I just felt like I needed to do something. It was a must. Going to the protest made me realise how many black people there are in Norwich and the surrounding areas – we were literally shocked at how big the community was. It was really powerful in that sense. I think being black in the UK is beautiful. One of the beautiful things about Britain is the amalgamation of cultures. It makes me feel proud. So much that is British-born would not be possible without black culture, from jungle music to drum’n’bass. I’m proud of some aspects of being British but I’m ashamed of many others. I want to see change.Right now, the black community is coming together and we’re all pushing for change, so it’s exciting to be part of this movement.
20 • Buckingham • Student
People tell me I’m the whitest black person they’ve ever met because I sound posh
It hurts when people say there’s no racism in the UK. We live in a really white town and we’ve experienced racism here – for example, in shops we don’t get the same treatment as white people. The reason I went to private schools was because my mum experienced so much racism growing up that she thought putting my brother and I in private education was the best idea. I’ve never ever had a lesson about black history in my life. In PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) at school, we learn about so many different things but never anything about racism. Now I know there’s so much to learn. Since then it’s been micro-aggressions, like people asking me where I’m from. I’d always say Buckingham and they would be like, where are you really from? I’ve had people tell me I’m the whitest black person they’ve ever met because I sound posh. I’ve had people say I’m pretty for a black girl, and I feel like I’ve been fetishised because I’m mixed race – people say that we’d have pretty mixed-race babies and they’d be “tanned” and “caramel”. People wear fake tan and say they’re nearly my colour – but what am I meant to say to that? I never used to speak up for myself, but since this movement I’ve learned how to use my voice. There have been quite a few incidents in the university cheer team. The coach told the black and mixed-race girls who have really curly hair to straighten it and curl it into “neat” curls. I’m not going to damage my natural hair just to fit into your beauty standards. None of us has ever won cheerleader of the week or been put at the front, or chosen to be on the hip-hop team. But I’m grateful a lot of people have since apologised to me and that makes me quite emotional. This whole movement has changed my life. My mum and I created a Black Lives Matter page for our local community to share experiences and resources in a friendly, progressive environment. We’ve also had Zoom meetings to help people on their anti-racism journey, including one that was just for people of colour to talk. It was nice to see other black and brown faces from my community. We have reached nearly 300 members now after only two weeks.
24 • Glasgow • Student engineer
I was actually shocked and surprised that a protest was happening in Glasgow
I was one of the first few black kids in my area. My experience was actually fine, I never really dealt with that much racism. And I wasn’t that token black guy. I didn’t see much support in school by my teachers. Even when leaving, it didn’t feel like they cared about what you were doing, college or university. I wasn’t given anything, I wasn’t given advice on what college to go to. We have to learn about Shakespeare, how many times? But they don’t tell us what we did to other countries, how can we prevent that from happening in the future. We need history lessons that say this is what happened in this country. I was like, I have to go to this protest in Glasgow. I was actually shocked and surprised that a protest was happening because I guess I was a bit naive about how people think in Glasgow. I had to do research to find out that the city actually protested for Nelson Mandela to the point that they even named a street after him. So I was shocked that a protest was happening, but I was also happy. I protested for Sheku Bayoh and also about the justice system. I know someone that’s currently in jail for something he didn’t do. So I just thought that was my obligation, to represent Sheku Bayoh as well as him. Black people in Scotland had to get our voices heard and this was the perfect opportunity to let that happen. It was great to hear black Scots speak. Every day, you always have to second guess people as a black person in the UK. For example, you have to second guess when someone is looking at you whether they are being racist.
20 • London and Oxford • Student
I would be the one deemed to be aggressive and the complainer when I was bullied
The first political event I remember is the Stephen Lawrence case. I wasn’t born when he was killed but I remember it being something that my mum would talk about a lot. Going to school in the UK was difficult. I was also one of the tallest in my class. I was just like a big black girl, and that meant I was picked on a lot, but teachers wouldn’t see it as bullying. I would be the one deemed to be aggressive and the complainer. I felt massively gaslighted about the kind of person I was, which did a lot to diminish my sense of self-worth and self-esteem. I am a rugby player now. I am of quite a big build. I also experienced a few transphobic attacks against me and was told that I look like a boy or a man. As my physical features weren’t the archetypal woman. Those types of comments wouldn’t come just from students, but also from authority figures from school. I was in the hospital so I couldn’t go to a protest. But I was able to get my college to donate money towards Black Lives Matter. I was upset about the way the protesters were deemed to be violent when most of the protests were peaceful and the police were quite antagonistic. We have got to a point where we see this happen way too often. We must be reminded that the UK is not innocent; there have been cases of police brutality in the UK. A lot of the placards carried by protesters have the names of people who have died at the hands of the police in the UK. I think being black in Britain means to be powerful; you have to have such strength to survive. I think you also have to have strength to succeed despite all the barriers against you, especially in a country that denies the existence of those barriers. It makes it even harder to really achieve what you want in life if you are born as a black person in the UK. You need to have resolve to keep going.
13 • London • Student
A year ago, when I was 12, I was stopped by the police and put in handcuffs
The first political event I can remember is Brexit. It was very racist. They were trying to get all immigrants out of the UK. I can’t wrap my head around Brexit. I don’t understand everything, but I do understand that what they were doing was very racist. It was wanting to keep England English. I enjoy going to school. Nothing really racial happens to me at school because my school has quite a lot of black students. My teachers are supportive. But some of them are a bit harsh on me. A year ago, when I was 12, I was stopped by the police when I was walking with my mum one night. I got stopped by the police in a very horrible way and I was put in handcuffs. And he said to me: “Have you ever been to a jail before?” And I said: “No.” And he said: “You might go to jail, you might get arrested today.” And I thought that was a bit frightening. I was doing history homework about George Floyd and I watched the video. I was very angry about what happened. I was distraught. I went to the under-16s protest because I was very strongly affected about what happened to him. It was my first protest. I enjoyed it. I felt pretty liberated to go out and support my people during the pandemic. Racism still exists in the UK but I don’t think it is as bad as it was in past years. There used to be these signs that said ‘no blacks, no Irish and no dogs’. That is extreme racism. I’d like to see everybody given an equal chance in life in the UK. If a white man is going for a job, and a black woman is going for a job, it’s harder for the black woman to get the job instead of the white man. I’d like stuff like that to change. I like everything about black culture: I love the music, food and dance.
17 • Brighton • Student
I want to learn about not just black trauma but also about black excellence in schools
The school I went to was predominantly white. I witnessed many racist slurs thrown around the classroom and teachers deciding to ignore it. I think it’s hard for people of colour to go to school if education is not promoting inclusivity and diversity in the classroom. I want to learn about not just black trauma but also black excellence, and that’s not taught at all. It feeds into the racism that’s experienced in the classroom. We are basically continuing the legacy of a 450-year battle. If you don’t take action, when will justice ever be served? In such an unsettling climate, where there are potential risks in place, people are still coming together and wanting to demand justice. It’s about using whatever privilege I have to demand justice. And for those who are at home and can’t join the protests, it’s about being a surrogate voice for them as well as walking alongside our ancestors who fought for the same thing. The protests are about all ages coming together. But this is different because it’s the first time in history that all 50 states in the US are coming together. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens in England. We can’t pretend the UK is a liberal place where everybody is safe and gets treated the same because that’s not the case at all. I think 2020 could potentially be the year we have a look at our history and acknowledge the things we have done. People would see being black British as a negative thing and think of black trauma, but there is so much excellence behind it and so much beauty in blackness. I love and adore my blackness. I’m striving to learn my roots and where I’ve come from. Even just walking down the street and smiling at somebody else who is going through a similar thing, it’s about solidarity and acceptance. I love my blackness and it’s really hard to put that into words.
21 • Colchester • Student
Everybody absolutely loves black culture, but it’s like they love your culture without loving you
I grew up in London until I was 16. I remember people would tell me I spoke like a white person or that I was like an Oreo, or that I listened to white people’s music because I liked the 1975 and Arctic Monkeys. It’s only through the Black Lives Matter protests, where I’ve had to speak about these things, that I’m actually processing them now. Then we moved to rural Essex, to Harwich by the seaside, and I did two years of school there. It was horrible. I was the only black girl. I would come home from school and cry. I remember walking out of the school gate one day and someone said the N word. Once, in sixth form, I had my natural hair out and the boys in my class were touching it without asking me and put pencils in it. Occasionally people would ask weird questions like: ‘Do you get bags under your eyes?” But it would be just brushed off as banter. At uni, I was told I was fit for a black girl. I just suppressed everything. When Grenfell happened, that’s when I realised, God, they don’t really care about us do they? And with George Floyd, I thought why does this always happen, why has another black person died? I feel proud to have been able to protest in Colchester, but then I’m just sad that I have to go out and tell people that black lives matter. After these protests, I feel more comfortable knowing so many people here are allies. I love being black and no one can take that away from me. But I have to always try to do better, or do more, just to feel I’m on the same level as my white friends. I feel if I want something I definitely have to work at least 10 times harder for it. I would love to apply for a job and not feel as if my skin colour is a factor. I feel being black in Britain also means having everyone absolutely love black culture – everyone loves Dave, they love Stormzy, they love the England football team. But so much of British culture wouldn’t exist without us. It’s like they love your culture without loving you. It’s like you love what we’re doing for you, but you low-key hate us.
26 • Milton Keynes • Radio presenter
I don’t think any white parents would be having the same conversation with their white children
I have three Windrush grandparents who were promised things they never got. I remember my mum talking about Stephen Lawrence and making us aware that if you get stopped by the police, be polite and do everything they say. Looking back now, I don’t think any white parents would be telling their white children that kind of thing. I was always quite angry at school. I always felt anxious and didn’t feel like I belonged. That’s not only to do with race but also my queerness as well. A lot of the teachers painted me as a bad child, even though I wasn’t actually a bad child. The teacher in food tech said I was a very intimidating child. I was seen as big and aggressive because of the colour of my skin. And then all the history we were taught wasn’t about my culture. What we’re taught doesn’t cater for black people, Asian people, queer people, working-class people. It’s a very white, middle-class game. We should know the history of Britain, which is probably one of the worst on the planet. All those experiences do make you a bit angry and anxious. And then I guess you do become a bad kid. I wasn’t horrible, more like a class clown. If I’m just upset and angry all the time, surely you should see this child has something going on and maybe should try and help them, instead of seeing me as a naughty child. I was told I wouldn’t get far in life with that attitude. As a kid hearing that kind of thing, it knocks your confidence and makes you think you’re not as good as your peers. I went to the Trans Black Lives Matter protest because I’m part of the queer community. Black people are vulnerable, and black trans people are certainly more vulnerable. I think more people need to be aware that all black lives matter and there are people who are more vulnerable than others. I’m happy and content now, in terms of where I am in life and who I am, but it’s taken a long time to get here.
20 • Manchester • Student
I’ve never grown up around black people so I’m still learning what it means to be black
I started getting more involved in politics when Jeremy Corbyn was coming up. He got a lot of young people interested in politics. I thought he was so inspiring, and he actually listened to young people’s voices, worries, and wants. But the Conservative government ignores us. Being from a small town, I was one of the few black children in my school. I would have my hair pulled and teased. I remember one time I went to report an incident of a boy calling me the N word, I was 12 at the time, and [the teacher] basically said: “Do you want me to do anything about it?” It should have been her initiative to take control and say it’s not OK. It felt like I was making an issue out of nothing and that I should deal with it in my own time and not make it a school issue. Especially being that young, you think to yourself, I’m not gonna say anything more. I reached out to the organisers of the London protests about helping out with setting up a protest in Manchester. It was just really fast-paced: getting volunteers together, setting up WhatsApp group chats and understanding what we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to show that we were in solidarity with what was going on in America. It is something I feel really passionate about. I’m an anti-racist person and always have been. And I think, especially now at my age, I have a chance to have my voice heard. I’ve never grown up around black people. I have a white mum, so I’m still learning what it means to be black. I definitely identify more with my black side than white side because I’ve been treated as black. I’ve been reading this book by Akala about him being a mixed-race man and just learning about how you actually begin to realise how you are different from your family. When the George Floyd killing happened, with my own mum, I had a bit of conflict and realised we are different and she doesn’t quite understand how I feel. It’s made me learn about white privilege and people being able to drop in and out of conversations without actually facing any kind of racial prejudice.
Photograph: Suki Dhanda / The Guardian
21 • London • Care worker
I was a passenger in the back seat of my white friend’s car when it got pulled over. I was dragged out of the car
I remember the Mark Duggan killing. It was the first incident that shaped the person I am today. I’d experienced racism before that but I just was turning a blind eye to it. But that situation made me realise how on the backfoot black people are in this country. How we always have to fight to get the equality and the chances that a white male or female would already have without doing anything. It made me realise the injustices that people of the same colour as me are facing in this country. I wasn’t the greatest student in school. I achieved the grades I wanted to get but it wasn’t an easy journey. It doesn’t help when you go to school and you don’t learn anything about your history, but you learn about somebody else’s history. You have certain teachers saying that because of the colour of your skin, you’re not going to ever amount to anything. I thought that that was the biggest hurdle. I first experienced racism when I was in year 5 in primary school and it continued. I’ve even had a police car follow me on my way home from school and it’s mind-boggling. I’ve been stopped and searched about 30 times in London. I felt like I needed to go to that march to show solidarity with my brothers and sisters in America. I needed to make the message clear to the UK, that the UK isn’t innocent. Every time I’m with my white friends and I get stopped, or with a black friend and a white friend, the police only come up to interrogate me and my black friend, or just me alone. They use the guise of ‘Oh, we think you may have drugs on you, or you may have a bladed article on you’. One time, I was in my friend’s car, it was a nice car, and it got pulled over. I was a passenger and in the back seat and I was dragged out of the car. You always feel scared and on the backfoot when you’re approached by a police officer. But I wouldn’t change being black for the world because I’m so proud to be black, to be breaking walls and ceilings that black people aren’t supposed to be breaking. You’re going to have to fight twice as hard to get to where you want to be.
19 • London • Works in a nursery
School put me through so much emotional trauma
White kids at school made racist jokes and micro-aggressions, like people saying I was calm and not rowdy like other black people, or coming up with “ratchet” names like “Shaniqua” and “Shanaynay”. I’d report it and teachers would say: “They were just having fun”. Once, a student touched my hair and asked me: “Do you think your hair is this fluffy because your ancestors spent so long in the cotton fields?” I spent most of my time in the referral room because everything I did I was kicked out of the classroom for, because my persona or the way I walked was “aggressive”. I was accused of, and sent to isolation for a week, for bullying after a girl, who was white, lied about having skin cancer and I told her I couldn’t be friends with a liar – I was told I was showing “thuggish behaviour”. I once brought in coloured pens into an exam because I’m dyslexic and the colours help me understand the words properly, and I was sent to the referral room because I didn’t have black pens, while all the other kids had coloured pens too. That school put me through so much emotional trauma. It’s kind of the reason why I didn’t get the grades I wanted. I wasn’t revising because it caused a lot of emotional stress. It triggered my depression, my anxiety, I was very suicidal. I thought, I’m not going to live past 16 so why pass my exams? It was the worst experience of my life. I left and went to college, but because of my internalised fear of how school treated me, I panicked every time I was in an exam room and didn’t get my grades there either. So now I’m doing a gap year then going back to college, so I can go to uni this time. I went to the protests because I’m tired of seeing my people killed. George Floyd wasn’t the first video I’d seen, but it was the video that sparked enough outrage to get black people in this country to unite. From there I was able to talk about stuff that I wanted to see changed and reformed in the UK. The support we got from white people and other ethnic minorities was just beautiful, I felt overwhelmed with love and sincerity. I went to every single protest after that. I’m never staying home again.
23 • Bristol • Cleaner
I heard someone say we don’t have racism in the UK and that was just the turning point for me
The first political event I remember is Gordon Brown losing power. I was about 13; I’d grown up with the Tories for much of my life and it’s been terrible. I had so much hope when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party. I’m feeling kind of defeated about everything right now. But what I’ve learned, and what’s been inspiring, is even when the situation is dire, and the situation has been dire for a long time, it’s amazing to see people doing something. I heard what happened to George Floyd on Twitter. At first, I think I was a bit desensitised because it had been happening quite a lot. And then as soon as I read more about it, I think that’s when the emotions came through. That’s when I started feeling really angry and upset about it. I’ve followed the rules throughout the pandemic. I haven’t been meeting up with people, and I did have to take a little bit of time to debate with myself whether I wanted to go to the protest. I had a conversation with my parents and we decided it was more important to attend. We all decided to go together. I heard someone say that we don’t have this kind of problem in the UK, and I think that was just the turning point for me. This wasn’t just about George Floyd and the US, people still aren’t aware of the issues that are happening in the UK as well. That was when I decided that I needed to go. For me, being black in the UK is knowing that you’re part of this community. When I’m with my dad’s side of the family, compared with my mum’s side, who are white, you can tell the connections with the family runs so much deeper. I think it’s maybe through that shared experience of being a minority in another country.
17 • London • Student
You can just tell it’s a turning point in history, and I thought it was important to be there
I went to the protest because I found it essential to be there and talk about something I wholeheartedly believe is a human right. I feel it’s my duty and responsibility as a person to be there. You can just tell it’s a turning point in history. It was overwhelming, being at the protest, but it was nice to be somewhere with so many like-minded people. I felt like there was a community, and you can see the outrage, which is hard to see when you’re alone at home. Racism is not just in America. People are so quick to say, ‘It’s over there, nothing’s happening here’, when there is so much happening here. Slavery is not just an American problem – we had been been shipping black people everywhere; buying, raping, selling all of these people for our benefits and treating them as subhuman. And that mentality is still in so many people here. They still think the empire is brilliant; they love it and act like it is not fundamentally built on slavery and racism. I don’t get stopped and searched and don’t have heavy experiences that other people have. But there’s definitely certain aspects of it where you kind of think, why am I being treated in this way when I feel just as British as these other people that are around me? You feel part of this wider thing until someone tells you that you’re not. It’s not like all of these black British people don’t feel British. It’s other British people that are saying you’re not what we are. But to be black in the UK is, on the surface of it, a privilege. There’s this black British identity that’s quite new in the way people are talking about it.
23 • Hinckley • Teaching assistant
I’m very proud to be black, but I’m not proud to be British yet
The first political event I remember was the election of Barack Obama. It was on the TV and I remember my mum was crying and I didn’t fully understand the importance of it. I’ve always been the only black girl in class and my whole year group. I was a shy, quiet girl at school. I’ve never been disruptive but I would get told off for silly things and shouted at when I’d not done anything. In middle school, I got told off for having braids. The teachers said it wasn’t appropriate for school. Most people can look back at school and think, ‘This teacher was amazing for me’. I didn’t have any teachers that went out of their way to help me with anything. My attendance in year 13 went down because I was going to ‘Spoons’ (Weatherspoons) all the time but no teacher came and asked me why are you not going to your form tutor and why are you missing your lessons? My results exceeded my predicted grades in most of my subjects, including maths, English and science. I reckon if I had more support, I probably could have done better. I just felt like I needed to go to the protest more because of how much everybody else was doing. I wanted to be part of it. I didn’t realise how positive it would feel when I was there. I’ve started reading Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. It contains so much British history that I didn’t know about. The UK police force, while they’re not as bad as America’s, they still are racists; they just don’t have guns. I’m very proud to be black, but I’m not proud to be British yet. They try to hide racism here. Many people are more offended by being accused of being racist instead of trying to fix the problem. When they finally accept it and do something about it, that’s when I can say I’m proud to be British.
Photograph: Antonio Olmos / The Guardian
20 • Falmouth • Student and athlete
For minority people, we’re ‘others’ until we prove ourselves
A big turning point for me was when I was 11. The 2012 Olympics were here and Mo Farah was one of the poster boys – everyone loved him. Just before the Olympics, he was always listed as British-Somali. I checked his Wikipedia page and other pages the day he won his gold medals and suddenly there was no mention of his Somali heritage, he was just British. I compete internationally in fencing and for me, a young black athlete nearing the point where I had to choose which country I wanted to represent, I was just shocked. I suddenly realised that, for minority people, a lot of our acceptance and respect is contingent on our success. We start out a leg behind and we’re just ‘others’ until we prove ourselves. That really didn’t sit well with me. Fencing is a very white, elitist sport and I decided to represent Ghana after the realisation about Mo Farah – that if I win medals, Britain would try to claim me. At boarding school in Canterbury, micro-aggressions occurred daily. It caused me to move schools quite a lot. In sixth form, I had a tutor who would relentlessly humiliate me – she’d say that I wouldn’t get into uni, I should drop all my A-levels – she even suggested I should join the army. Another time, in year 9, it was my first time wearing my school uniform and one staff member said, “Where do you think you’re going dressed like that? This isn’t the hood.” I thought that was just my experience, as the schools I went to were very white, but when I got to university, I was so disappointed. I’ve loved being in Cornwall, but my experience wasn’t as lovely and rose-tinted as my white flatmates’. Boys on my course placed bets on where they thought the black students were from; others would straight up tell you to go and pick cotton or go back to Africa. A lot of people were more vocally racist after George Floyd’s was killed and I didn’t feel comfortable walking late at night sometimes. I felt like I had to depend quite heavily on my white boyfriend to shield me, which isn’t something I’ve ever wanted to do. Once you find someone who truly believes in you and recognises you for who you are as a person, and not just the colour of your skin, there’s no stopping you.
22 • Bath • Works at PR agency
Being black in the UK is to chip away and claw your way up to be the same as everyone else
I can’t pick out one time when I was at school that I was really upset because someone said something offensive. I was lucky as I didn’t feel left out because of the colour of my skin. I would say it’s more as I’ve got older and I’ve looked back and thought “that thing” was so inappropriate, or that comment was really not on. Whereas at the time, they just chip away at you, so you end up having problems but you don’t know that that’s where they’ve come from. It’s an internal thing I was having with myself, where I straighten my hair every day because people would be like, ‘Oh, your hair is frizzy’ and I’d laugh it off at the time. But now I have worked out that’s why I hated my hair so much. It was because of all those comments. I helped organise the protest in Bath. It was a really hard few days to be honest, but it was successful and I’m glad I did it. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak. It was important to forget about the background noise and actually remember why we’re here. Black people are twice as likely to die in the UK due to police negligence or unnecessary restraint. I think being back in the UK should mean the same as being anything in the UK. But at the moment it doesn’t, because you are trying to chip away and claw your way up to be the same as everyone else. I’m sure for a lot of people being back in the UK probably feels draining. And for me, over the past couple of weeks and maybe months now, it has been emotionally tiring. But saying that, I wouldn’t change it. I’m so proud of my whole genetic makeup.
24 • London • Works in insurance
Things like the Windrush scandal wouldn’t have been so easy to do if people understood what the Windrush was
Being black in Britain is both exhausting and inspiring. Racism is so covert here that people don’t always realise or understand how black people are treated. As sad and depressed as I felt seeing people reposting the video of George Floyd – it’s traumatic to see black trauma so readily available – for a lot of people this was the first time they realised how bad the situation is for black people. I saw an awakening for people who hadn’t realised their privilege. I went to a really diverse school in London where everyone had a second identity, so it was more when I went to university in Nottingham that I came face-to-face with the lack of knowledge the average person had about other people’s cultures. During freshers’ week I met a lot of people at uni who had never interacted with a black person before, and boys would say things like: “I’ve never liked a black girl before”. It was really strange. What am I supposed to do with that information? And then it was suddenly cool to talk like the people in London and listen to London music and to dress like a roadman. There was a lot of cosplaying as black culture. They do not teach history properly at school, so you just get a lot of ignorance because you’re never taught the truth. All those people who complain about immigrants in the country, they don’t understand Britain’s relationship with its former colonies. I spent some time growing up in Malaysia – they learned about the British empire and understood they were British subjects. And when it comes to Churchill, people don’t know about the Bengal famine and all the bad things he did. We need a more nuanced understanding of people’s relationships with each other. It all goes back to education – things like the Windrush scandal wouldn’t have been so easy to do if people understood what the Windrush was. When will people see the humanity of a black person?
22 • London • Student
You have to hide parts of yourself to fit in and conform
The first major event I remember was Mark Duggan and the riots. I remember the police shot Mark Duggan and said he had a weapon. I remember feeling upset about it because it was unjustifiable. Primary school was horrible because I was one of three black girls. I remember wanting to look like my friends and have hair that swings and stuff like that. If my hair was out, they’d be so amazed by it, but in a patronising way. You get called “pretty for a black girl”, you’d get told “If I was black, I’d date you”. It was dehumanising. When I got to secondary school, I had more black friends, but we got grouped automatically as the ghetto girls, but none of us were ghetto at all. It was because we were black. Everyone wanted to be our friends but they literally called us ghetto for no reason As a black woman, I think it’s very important for me to go to these protests. I thought standing around wasn’t enough and silence is violence. When I do have children, they can be proud that I’m fighting for our rights. Being black in the UK means you have to hide parts of yourself to fit in and conform. I feel like I can’t be free to be myself. At the same time, people want to be black; everyone wants to be black and have black culture. But when things happen to black people, they turn a blind eye. With slavery, white people have had a 400-year headstart. But we are like climbing up that ladder and continuing to keep climbing.
19 • Nottingham • Student
I felt insecure about my blackness
When I was really young, the police had either announced two of the men in the Stephen Lawrence case were going to be charged or that the case was being reopened again, I can’t remember which. I didn’t really understand but that was when it clicked in my brain that someone was killed because they looked different. Growing up mixed race was so alienating. I never experienced overt racism but the main thing that made me understand I was different was my hair texture. My mum used to blow it out so it was a puffy mess and I used to wear it in a bun on top of my head, or I’d have it braided. And I used to feel so alienated by the comments other kids would make about my hair, making fun of it without knowing the history and beauty of braids and black hairstyles. Boys would put pencils and bits of paper in my hair and poke it, and I’d get really insensitive and ignorant questions like: “Do you not ever wash your hair?” It just made me feel insecure about my blackness. The limitations of just having a month for black history is really quite damaging. It’s not just about Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, it’s important for children of all races to learn about different ethnicities. Even if you’re white, it’s so important to know the oppression your black friends face and the privilege you have, because then people can understand each other better. I sometimes think I’d have been more accepting of my blackness if I’d grown up around more black friends, more connected to my black roots. It’s only in the past few months that I’ve been wearing my hair natural and curly, but that’s because I’ve engaged with people and media that celebrate blackness and black hair. Now that I’ve fully embraced it I just feel so powerful and myself, especially with this movement.
Photograph: Antonio Olmos / The Guardian
16 • Abergavenny • Student
My dad was pulled over by the police because he was driving a BMW and they thought he’d stolen it
When I was 10, I was walking through a park with my friend – who is white – and these men threw glass bottles at me. They called me a nigger and told me to go back to my country. I remember when I was younger, my dad was pulled over by the police because he was driving a BMW and they thought he’d stolen it. At school I’ve been called nigger, a black cunt, I’ve been told to put my chains back on my ankles. People kept touching my hair like I was an animal and saying how big it was. Being mixed race in a class full of white children and having big afro hair, everybody just made me feel like I wasn’t normal. When people came round my house, I felt ashamed to show people our culture simply because I didn’t know how they would react if they saw jerk chicken or heard dancehall. I felt embarrassed just because nobody else understood, and I just felt like the odd one out all the time. My parents always told me: ‘You can’t change the blackness in you, you’ve got to embrace it”. People who have melanin in them quite a lot of the time don’t fit in, but I just want people to know they are beautiful. Don’t let people make you feel like you have to change who you are. I’m so glad my parents never let me put chemicals on my hair to straighten it out just because I hated myself and hated my skin colour. I learned nothing about black history at school – we didn’t even have a Black History Month. I’m very fortunate that my parents told me about where I came from – we learned about Stephen Lawrence and Mark Duggan – so many black children don’t have that. I campaigned from year 7 to have a board about black history in my school to try to promote it and educate people. It took me three weeks to make it. Within a short period of time they had taken it down without consulting me. It upsets me knowing that I have a little brother, who is mixed race like me, who is going to grow up in this society to be a tall black man who could be arrested for just walking outside because he fits a stereotype. That’s the problem: he’s tall and black. Is that what’s going to cost him his life? People see him as intimidating but he’s the loveliest guy you’d ever meet, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.
18 • London • Student
Once you’re brown and labelled as a nuisance in school, you can’t claw yourself back from that
I see so many people my age just failed by the system completely. That could have easily been me, if I didn’t have pushy parents. In primary school you’re told as you’re aggressive or a bit feisty, and you don’t understand that because you’re just expressing yourself in the same way as your friends who are white. They are doing it but they are excelling and not being told that they need to change parts of their personality and characteristics. Everywhere I went I was called loud and told I was always talking. I could never shake that, which I thought was unfair. Once you’re brown and you’re labelled as naughty or a nuisance or disruptive in class, you can never seem to claw yourself back from that. People kicked out of school in year 7 have had no chance of excelling. Black girls in school were never ever considered sexy or beautiful or something to aspire to be or look like. You were never seen as being as pretty as the blonde white girl. I didn’t feel inadequate in myself, but I knew that I was being perceived as inadequate in other people’s eyes. I think it was important to go to the protest to show unity against the state and actively try to dismantle the racist system we live in. I went with my mum and she was chanting like she felt like she was actually being heard. She grew up in Bury St Edmunds in the 70s and she’s seen how little policing in the UK has changed since she was a child. I think I’m proud to be black and British, I wouldn’t change my background for anything. I think we’re being embraced more so now than when my mum was growing up, but there’s a long way to go. We just need to come together against the oppression black and brown people face via institutions, because I don’t think black people in Britain in 2020 feel equal.
23 • London • Student
At university a lot of black people face imposter syndrome because you’re in spaces that don’t look like you
I was always hardworking and ambitious at school, but I really struggled in terms of the lack of black representation in education and positive black male role models. You can’t be what you can’t see. In society and on TV, all the black men you see are either sportsmen or rappers. You find it hard to aspire to work in higher education or academia because there isn’t the black excellence, there aren’t role models for me to look up to and see where a career in education can take me. At university, a lot of black people face imposter syndrome because you’re in spaces where people don’t look like you, so you wonder if people will accept you. That feeling of: “Do I really deserve to be at university? Do I have what it takes? Am I hard working enough?” Especially when I went to Royal Holloway to do my Master’s, a lot of people had gone to private schools. It was really hard to engage in conversations with them, because you couldn’t relate yourself to them, as well as there being a lack of teachers acknowledging the black experience. Black students always feel like they have to be silent in classes so they can’t be seen as too outspoken. White students ask questions quite comfortably and are very outspoken with teachers, but with black voices they’re seen as being rude or overconfident or aggressive if they ask questions, when really they’re just as inquisitive and curious. So they stay quiet in classes because they don’t want anything taken out of proportion, when really I’m just bubbly and passionate. Being black in the UK, you’re always told you need to work twice as hard as your white counterparts. Especially as I wasn’t going to a Russell Group university, I had to work very hard to get all these different work experiences to distinguish myself. It means going into shops and security guards following you up and down – my Nike Air Force’s and jogging bottoms don’t mean I’m going to steal something. Black men are always portrayed as thieves, and always have to smile in white spaces so that people don’t perceive them as if they’re going to do something bad. But there’s power when black people come together. There’s solidarity and strength.
22 • Liverpool • Cafe worker
When I apply for stuff like big office jobs and nine-to-five work, I’ll have to tie up my hair because I have dreads
Coming from a conservative town, the view on immigrants and black people was portrayed as negative. And that was shown in school with the sort of things that people like me got questioned about. I wanted to join with thousands of other voices feeling anger and upset about what’s happening. There is strength in numbers, and if I wasn’t there then I’m one less number to add to that voice. I wanted to show solidarity, so those in power can hear more. It’s all one fight that we should be fighting. There is a lot of stuff that happens in the UK that isn’t filmed, that we are aware of but it’s just not talked about as much because it’s not as brutal. Even if it hasn’t been filmed, it still happens. I very much know that because of my skin colour that I have to work harder. I do think it will be an obstacle when I apply for stuff like big office jobs and nine-to-five work. I’ll have to tie up my hair because I have dreads. I know if I was applying for a big job right now, looking like this with my hair, it wouldn’t look good. But I can’t help it to an extent, because that’s how my hair is. Dreads are associated with dirty hair and stuff like that. In England, I think it’s a matter of proving stereotypical things wrong. If you go to London, you have stereotypes that if you’re black, you’re most likely going to be in a gang. I feel like to be black in England, it’s about trying to prove that wrong. Even though the economy is against us, it’s about trying to prove the world wrong, to prove Britain wrong.
25 • London • Accreditation coordinator
Being black in the UK means to continuously not be 100% yourself
For me, going out to protest wasn’t just piggybacking off Black Lives Matter in the US. George Floyd was the catalyst – but we have our own issues here that need to be highlighted. You have to get more qualifications to get the same jobs. You don’t have those family ties to get one up on another person of a different colour. You don’t have someone who looks like you in the senior management of a company. You have to be careful when you’re walking down the street – you think ‘How do I look to other people?’ Because you’re tall and don’t want people to feel intimidated. Being black in the UK means to continuously not be a 100% yourself. The 2011 riots opened my eyes to the issues we have in this country and, as I got older, to go through it myself. Mark Duggan was considered to be a bad person and a threat. When I was aged about 14 and in town with my friends, one of us bought a pair of trainers. Three white boys who were in the shop with us also bought trainers. Afterwards we walked past police officers who said they wanted to search our bags. I asked if they wanted to search the other group’s bags too and they said: “No, I’m sure they’re all right”. I went to a mixed school but even then, a white boy would get highlights in his hair and a black boy would dye some of his hair – the black person gets put in isolation. They’d say that’s the white person’s natural hair, but when you’ve twisted or canerowed your hair it’s not considered a natural hairstyle. When a group of black boys who are friends would congregate in the locker room they’d get told to disperse, whereas if it was a white group the teacher wouldn’t worry about them. There was always a connotation that groups of black boys, even if you’re just having a laugh and a joke, were being naughty. I did my Master’s degree because the older black community always told us you need to work doubly hard, so I thought I’d do one in order to get a step ahead. I feel a lot of ethnic children miss out because they have to go straight into work to support their family. They can’t just take time out to do a six-month unpaid internship or a gap year, they just need to have an income coming in.
Photograph: Antonio Olmos / The Guardian
19 • Cheltenham • Student
The UK hasn’t always felt like home. I haven’t always felt black and British because of how people have treated me
School was very tough. Cheltenham is predominantly white and I’ve always, throughout my entire life, been no more than one of five ethnic people in the entire school. I’ve only been alive for 19 years and my first racial encounter was in year 7. I was called a nigger, I was told to go back to my own country, I was told my skin looked like charcoal. I remember going home crying and telling my parents, and it got to a point where I didn’t want to go to school. Eventually, it resulted in me moving schools. However, I received the same comments here and there. Those comments really made me feel really insecure about myself, and I hated being black. There was a time I became so numb to it; I felt I deserved it because I was black. Throughout my whole life my parents have always said to me that being black you have to be careful, you have to work harder than your peers. I feel restricted sometimes, like if I wanted to apply for certain jobs I’d think: “I’m black, they might not want me. Why would they want to hire me? Am I a token? Do they want me?” It’s always at the back of my mind. I felt so helpless watching the video of George Floyd. I thought, God forbid, it could have been my dad, it could have been my brother. It was heartbreaking. I felt like change needed to happen and I was like: “What can I do? A 19-year-old female? How can I help to make a change?” Then I just decided to host a protest in Cheltenham. Words can’t describe how truly amazing it was. I was born in the UK but when I’ve been told to go back to where I came from, the UK hasn’t always felt like home. It’s sad to say but I haven’t always felt black and British in the 19 years I’ve been alive. It comes in waves. I find it awkward filling out forms – I am Kenyan, but because I was born in the UK, does that make me British? I haven’t always felt British because of how people have treated me. What makes me British? Is it the food I eat? Is it the music I listen to? Is it the culture? Is it because I was born here? At the moment, I really don’t have an answer.
20 • Glasgow • Unemployed
When Mark Duggan died, they cropped out the picture of his daughter’s grave to make him look like a thug
I went to school in London. I don’t like thinking about school sometimes because it was not a good time. Not everyone had the same care and not everyone had the same attention put on them. I don’t know if that was about bad staffing or bad schools. The teachers didn’t care about what was going on. I started to hang out with some girls that were from a bad crowd. We would miss lessons and nobody would care. They wouldn’t give us detention, even if we were truanting. It’s so sad. Even If you were doing really badly, they wouldn’t try to push you into coming in after school. It was like they didn’t really care; they had their good students and thought let’s just focus on them. My teachers knew my situation, that I didn’t have any real support at home. Your job as a teacher is to take that into consideration with each and every student. The kids that need the most help don’t get it. The students who are good, who have stable households, they are the ones who are encouraged by the teachers. I didn’t end up going to the protest because I was staying with my aunty and her two young kids and I didn’t want to catch anything and bring it back. I thought the UK protest was a good thing. But I don’t want the message to be misconstrued. A lot of people try to push the narrative that racism only happens in the US, but racism exists in the UK. When Mark Duggan died, they cropped out the picture of his daughter’s grave to make him look like a thug. And look at how they treated Meghan Markle when she became royalty. They push these negative stereotypes. Even if it’s a UK comedy, they’ll have an angry black woman.
23 • London and Cambridge • Student
Being well-spoken, articulate and confident aren’t qualities associated with being a black man
I remember I attended a Model UN conference in year 11 and I felt very isolated and alienated from the other students. I was told in implicit and explicit terms that state school students were inherently inferior. That wasn’t an explicit reference to my race, but a lot of state school students are either black or ethnic minorities, so there’s a conversation that needs to be had about how those two demographics intersect and the prospects for an individual’s success in a country that values and rewards elitism and proximity to privilege. When I said I wanted to go to Oxbridge or UCL, there were a few unbelieving teachers who told me I set too high expectations for myself. They would say things like: “Well, you’re not really a fit for these kinds of universities”. And it translated into how much time and attention they invested in me. Another student also told me I wasn’t going to Oxford or Cambridge and I should give up on that idea. Now I’m an incoming student at Cambridge University. Whenever I had the opportunity to do public speaking at school, I was met with a combination of praise and cynicism, like: “Who does he think he is, looking at him trying to be white?” It was because I was articulate. It was the idea that to be well-spoken, articulate, confident – those aren’t qualities that are to be associated with a black man. So even then it was clear to me that this is the kind of obstacle I’m going to have to overcome on a regular basis, where I’m having to defy perceptions and redefine what it means to be a young black man. Black history – and in particular black British history – is a neglected part of the curriculum. And I think it would have helped me find my identity and refine my voice sooner. Being black and British means to understand that what seems like hard work now will pay huge dividends in your future, and in the future of others that you aim to inspire and have a positive influence on.
21 • Nottingham • Student
There are people who think that because you’re black you somehow haven’t worked for your achievements, like black people can’t do good things
I was born in Zambia and came to the UK as a four-month-old baby. I identify as British but my name is not really British. So at a young age people make fun of you for little things that you can’t control. I’m not really bothered by it now, but back then it was a big deal to have someone make fun of your name or say you have big lips or a big nose, or ask why you live here and not in Africa. It was mostly from students but teachers didn’t address it, it’s almost like enablism because the kids feel like they can get away with saying things like this. Why is it just a month for black history? Especially when you’re the only black person in the class, you want to have a role model to look up to. I want to be a doctor or lawyer or an engineer, but you don’t see it. You don’t see any black people who became those things. All you learn about is the slave trade and black people were abused, but you don’t know how strong and intelligent black people can be. It makes you feel like you won’t really amount to anything. I thought people would be more cultured and educated at university but that hasn’t been my experience. Once, a guy in my seminar, who was white, didn’t agree with something I said and he blew up and said things like I was lucky to even be there, and threatened me in front of the whole class. It shouldn’t get to a point where you’re crying on the phone to your mum because someone has just threatened you in the middle of a seminar. I’m still finding my way to being proud that I’m black. There are lots of people who think that because you’re black you somehow haven’t worked for your achievements. I feel like I’m already being held back and I haven’t even started yet, because people want to act like black people can’t do good things. Yes, I was born in Africa and my parents worked hard to be in this country, and I’m going to work hard too. I want to leave things better than I found them.
21 • Norwich and Essex • Student
I’m proud to be a young black British man
After George Floyd’s death I felt enough was enough, but because of the pandemic I was cautious. In the UK, people need to have a conversation about the reality of racism, so while I physically didn’t go out to protest, I wrote about it on my blog in the hope that people could learn something new during lockdown and understand why this is happening. It shouldn’t be a case of another black man becoming a statistic, then we have a protest, then it dies down and the cycle repeats itself. I wanted to bring about positive change in a non-confrontational manner because, unfortunately, the media pushes a narrative about the protests, so I wanted to educate people to stop these things happening. I didn’t experience overt racism, but in secondary school I was the only black student in my year until sixth form and people did make microaggressive jokes. After I wrote a blogpost about Black Lives Matter, I had people reach out to me apologising for things they had said to me at school. But when I was younger I didn’t really think much of it when people assumed that because I was black I must be fast or that my favourite restaurant must be KFC. I really didn’t learn much about black history in school. It would be pretty simple to change the national curriculum to incorporate it in many subjects. In physics we always learned about Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton – why don’t we also learn about famous astrophysicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson and the three black female Nasa mathematicians in the space race? And in music, why isn’t black culture incorporated when black people have been pioneers in genres we all enjoy today from hip-hop to rock? I wrote to Norwich schools offering advice to help them do better. They eventually asked me to make an antiracism video for staff training purposes. We can all carry on protesting and think we’re getting somewhere, but what happens after that? What’s changed? My video is just an example of a way for people to become less ignorant and more educated. A lot more people need a way to have this conversation, and I’m feeling optimistic about things changing. I’m definitely proud to be British and also a young black British man.