Shanice Burke

Tell us about yourself? What is your heritage/race?

I am Mixed Race and British, both of my parents were born in the UK. I have one set of grandparents are from Jamaica (Windrush generation) and the other set from Indian from South Africa.

What are you most proud of about your heritage?

I am proud of the amazing culture, food, and music that both sides of my family have been able to pass down to me and share with their local communities and friends in the UK.

Let’s talk a bit about your family. Have they been the ones to teach you about your histories? Are you comfortable talking about any hardships they have faced over the years?

They have always touched on their hardships but never revealed the true struggles they faced. They worked extremely hard to get to where they are and have suffered immensely over the years, however they do not tend to go into too much detail unless I ask!

Tell us a bit about your childhood.

What was your school/university experience like? How was it overall?

I moved out of London to Essex when I was 10 with my parents and younger sister to an area where we were the only black family. My sister and I were the only black children in one of the larger primary schools in the area. We made a really strong connection with the people in our church and have a great social circle of white friends. I never really noticed racism when I was younger, my first experience was being called a 'Paki' by a mixed-race girl in my Primary school back in London. However, as I matured I began to realise the subtle and subconscious racism that was prevalent in the white community I lived in. I went to great schools and 2 prestigious universities to receive the qualifications I needed to get into the industry I was interested in - Water & Utilities which is predominantly run by middle-class white males.

Do you feel like your race and culture was a topic covered in school?

My race and culture were never covered in school. The closest I got to learn about my culture was a few lessons on the slave trade where we were asked to write 'a day in the life of' diary of a slave - looking back that was a really insensitive assignment to set if I had been aware of the true reality of slavery and its bearing on how today's economic, social and political world was built I would have been mortified! I didn't truly understand how much the British Empire owed to foreign nations.

Have you ever encountered difficulties in your working career?

I have often been the only black woman in the majority of my workplaces. I work in Utilities so I am almost always the only blackface (and woman) in the team, at conferences, and in meetings. Race exclusively isn't really brought up at work, there is a BAME community, however, it seems to run separately from the rest of the business - it is often under the wider umbrella of diversity and inclusion and not called out or showcased without this buffer.

When it comes to relationships, do you find there any challenges that you face?

I grew up surrounded by white faces, this has contributed to always having groups of white friends and boyfriends. There were two other black students in my sixth form, and then at university, I had a few more black friends through work and extra-curricular activities - but overall my social circle has always ended up with me being the only black person.

Do you feel you have been denied any opportunities in your life?

I sometimes felt that I was not given the same opportunities as my peers in my younger years, there are moments I remember teachers ignoring that I was able to complete an in-class activity, choosing a white student over me.

I also remember a dinner lady saying to me I wouldn't like the food my friend was eating (curry) because I wouldn't be used to the flavour - I am half Indian so as a child found that hilarious! In reality this woman had judged me on the tone of my skin and made an assumption to what food I would like and dislike!

As I grew up and began to notice racial prejudice and had a better understanding of where it came from. I was able to stand up for myself and voice my opinion openly because I could always justify my point clearly. During my later secondary school years and throughout university I made sure I took every opportunity available to me with both hands.

In my working career I have never felt like I have been denied opportunities due to my race – I actually feel being a black woman has sometimes worked in my favor!!!

Have you ever experienced a time where you felt someone of a different race has stood up for you and actively shown solidarity?

Before the BLM movement, honestly no. But over the past few years, many of my peers have supported the movement and committed re-educated themselves, passing on these values to their children.

What do you think is the most difficult part about living in Britain for yourself?

People who are ignorant, do not take advantage of or appreciate the education/job/lifestyle opportunities we are so lucky to have. I also think a lot of racism is brushed under the carpet.

How do you think we can better educate ourselves in the UK about race and equality?

It all begins with education, we need to be brave enough to educate our peers, speak about our experiences and demand better. The school curriculum needs to include more about the diverse history that built the British Empire and how other countries have suffered, sacrificed, and died for us to live in the country we live in! Many businesses and organisations our country relies on were built on the back of slavery and oppression - the more people understand this the more people can appreciate why racism has no place in society.

Anything else that you want to address? This is all about you and your story. We want you to feel free and safe to tell us what you feel is necessary

No, I think I've said everything I wanted to. Thank you :)

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