I was asked if I would mind sharing my own personal story, of a post that I had shared to my own social media account, on this platform. The post I had shared highlighted racism.
It was showing the vile words people used with regards to protecting a war memorial in the town close to where I grew up, trying to rally aggressors at an arranged peaceful protest. When I first read the post, it knocked me sick. The message of the BLM protesters was being lost on people.
Since this post, I have seen more posts about television programmes being taken off air with comments like “What’s next?” “Nothing is safe” and “Everything is now offensive.” The worst comment, in my opinion, being “Do we not portray ethnic minorities in comedies anymore…” – this being a serious comment, making it very clear that the female in question lacked the understanding that white people portraying different races in comedy is not portraying ethnic minorities, but mocking them. Those characters do not represent any person of colour I know, but this young woman had genuinely believed that the programme was ethnically diverse because a white man portrayed a black woman.
I am a white woman, from a predominantly white, affluent area. In my experience growing up racism here was non-existent, however, now, as an adult, I understand this wasn’t the case but was in fact the naivety of a child (a naivety I believe some people haven’t grown out of).
To me, it was non-existent because it wasn’t hitting me in the face daily. And why would it? I was a white girl in a white area. I knew it existed, it was on the news, it evoked upset in me when I saw it, but I could see the bigger picture. I did not understand how bad the problem was in the UK until my late teens. I am by no means saying I can see the full picture even to this day. I constantly fearful of saying the wrong thing and will trip over myself to make sure I don’t come across as offensive when in conversations that come from love and genuine interest.
This fear is the biggest setback I have because I have always been a very outspoken woman and vocal in my opinions - I will not stand for, or, tolerate any kind of racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry or any inequality - but the fear of speaking out and causing offence or my words fuelling further problems does scare me. The thought of this would leave me heartbroken and mortified.
However, I believe that by staying silent out of fear is no longer an option. I know that by speaking up and being corrected if I am wrong can only help me going forward is not only my own education but also for other people.
This is the recent experience I had shared in a post on my own Facebook profile. The post read as follows;
“Last week in my home town, not even 100 yards from my house a police van slowed down. It slowed down enough that I noticed it.... as I turn in to my driveway I looked back..... the policeman driving was crawling past looking towards my direction.... the policewoman next to him was also .... they were looking at the man I was with.... and for no reason at all but because he was black.
He saw it, he told me it happens a lot. It broke my heart. Outside my home, they slowed to a crawl to look at the man I was with because of the colour of his skin. Thursday 3 pm outside my own front door.
It’s very real.”
I was shocked. I was speechless. I had anger in me that was burning. I think I was in disbelief; I just could not believe my eyes. But I know this wasn’t the first occasion that this had happened to him. It wasn’t the second or even the third. Worse still, I know it will not be the last. It was, however, the first time it had happened while he was in my presence.
I felt shame; how could this happen in my hometown? A place that had always felt safe to me, was a place that possibly he, my Nat, would not feel safe in. (Although I can’t comment on his behalf – these were just my own thoughts and wonders regarding this experience). I had so many questions running through my mind; what were the police officers thinking while they drove towards us as we carried our shopping home? What did they see? Why did they think they had seen anything at all? What did they believe gave them the right to stare at him so shamelessly? He hadn’t been hiding his face, he wasn’t carrying a weapon, his behaviour wasn’t erratic or even attention-worthy… He should not have stuck out to them unless you consider a black man carrying two bags of Waitrose Finest Vegetable Selection and fresh parmesan cheese home as suspicious! My brain fails to comprehend it.
I have never had to worry that my brother, father, or male friends would ever be monitored, stopped and searched or questioned for just being a white man.
“What did you see in Nat?” is what I wanted to ask them! “What did you see? Why did you react like that? What was your fear? What provoked that reaction in you seeing a black man?”
That incident broke my heart, because what I see when I look at Nat - is a man that inspires me daily, who supports me, who really listens to me and advises me and who provides me with help when I most need it. He is successful in his profession, well-educated, and intelligent. He is passionate about his love of music. He is quick-witted, with a wicked sense of humour. He is loving. He is sensitive. He is generous. You can get lost in his eyes. He breaks the mold and he is unique. He is loved so much, not just by me, but everyone who knows him. He is impossible to not love! And, yes, he is a black man. That is just one description in the many I have just listed... And, yet, that’s the ONE description which makes people hold their bag closer, cross the road to avoid him or eye him suspiciously.
Racism is real, and it’s a big issue. I may be terrified that I will say the wrong thing, but I am more terrified of what will happen if I say nothing at all. I know that I will never, ever fully understand what it must feel like in comparison to being constantly subjected to racism directly. But, what I do know, is that I will always stand up, and I will always speak up, because I know I need to.
It isn’t black versus white.
It’s about all of us being united as one, against people being judged just because of the colour of their skin.