The last few weeks have been very revealing. It's clearly shown me who is down to support the cause and who would rather sit on the sidelines and watch.
In all honesty, I've been surprised by both responses. There are some people I didn't expect to be so vocal on the Black Lives Matter movement, and others whose silence has been deafening. I've tried to process both as best as I can, and until now, words have failed me.
I grew up in an all-white area, so being the only black person in the room has always been very normal to me. It's therefore been normal to be different, just because of the way that I look. On the flip side, I think many white people over time have grown accustomed to seeing themselves as normal and everyone else as ethnic minorities, subordinate to their whiteness. This system of whiteness has worked so well, to the point that many will argue the existence of racism and white supremacy. But if you are not white, you know that it does, as we live and breathe this subjectified existence every single day. That has become our normal.
I use to get laughed at a lot a school for not having a straight pointy nose. Kids would often ask me "what happened to your nose" and "why do you look like a monkey ha-ha-ha". For some kids it was genuine curiosity, for others it was an opportunity to make the rest of the class laugh.
I remember one day so clearly, I was in year 3 and we did an activity learning about shadows. My teacher had us stand up against the wall, turn to the side and use a projector to create a shadow from our faces. The other kids would then draw the outline based off of the projected shadow.
I was just 7 at the time. But it changed my life forever. I remember looking at the drawings and finally seeing what everyone was saying to me. I was different. I didn't have a straight nose, I didn't have thin lips. From the side, I had no bridge. My nose was flat and my lips were thick. And as their words said... I looked like a monkey.
This image has scarred me for life. I'm 30 now, but I will never forget those images of me looking so different from everyone else in my class. Now I can't blame my white friends for how I look, but I can blame the lack of representation for making me feel abnormal. I can blame the lack of correction from my teacher for not affirming the fact that my difference is normal! I can blame the fact that my teacher didn't use this as a teachable moment for the rest of the class. And I can blame those who I called my friends for not sticking up for me. I now know that these are the roles of allies.
"Oh but Ami, how can you blame us for how you've been made to feel". Well friend, I can because I didn't create this system where my blackness is seen as secondary to your whiteness. And neither did you, BUT by you not acknowledging your place within the system, you are choosing to remain complicit on a matter that costs black people their lives every single day.
"But Ami that's simply not true, we don't treat you differently because of your race.. we are not racists" Ok just stop! If I share with you my experience and this is how you respond, you are implicitly saying that the outcry of black voices are either false or they don't matter. Now just because you haven't walked in my shoes doesn't mean what I have experienced isn't real. And if you try to convince me otherwise, I'm sorry but that's gaslighting! And the saddest part about all of this is that both of those responses continue to allow white supremacy to live and breathe.
It's different for me, not just because I'm black, but because I have a black daughter. And at just 4 years old, I'm already seeing history repeat itself. I remember one day I dropped her off at nursery and as I was talking to one of the staff members, I overheard one of the little girls repeatedly saying "Mayah has a pineapple head, Mayah has a pineapple head". She was referring to the hairstyle I sometimes do when her hair isn't in cornrows. It was in a high top bun, with her hair coming out at the top.
I was stunned by this. Another 4 year old singing a chant about my daughter's natural hair. Probably completely innocent, but just like my experience above, evidence of her difference - which when not addressed can either turn into an opportunity for bullying to take place, or an opportunity for my daughter to one day turn around and say "mummy I hate my hair, it doesn't look like the others, and my friends laugh at me".
I understand that as a mother it's my responsibility to instil confidence and pride in my daughter, which 100% I do, but it's also the role of the education system to use these small moments as an opportunity to teach the other kids about identity. (I'll talk more on what happened with this incident in my next video!)
So please don't tell me you don't see colour, or that you don't notice I'm black, because you do. Our children do, and we have to talk about it, celebrate it and not hide behind 'doing the right thing' because your perception of the right thing may be very far from what the right thing actually is. This is why I invite you in to have a conversation about race. (I have a youtube video where I expand on this more.)
Now I am very much aware that I will say all of this and some people will still miss the point. For those people, I genuinely feel sad for you, but equally I'm happy, as this is where our paths part. I'll never beg you to see me. I'll never waste my time in trying to convince you there is an issue here. I'm simply here for progressive conversations.
So if you're with me, stand with me. Stand with us, and be sure to keep listening to black voices and doing whatever you can to amplify the conversation.
It's easy to be complicit on something that doesn't directly affect you. But it's also dangerous, as your silence helps to perpetuate the issue. I would love to speak further, so if that's you, comment below or reach out to me directly - firstname.lastname@example.org