Isn’t it funny how it takes a world pandemic to help you see just how tired you are of having to fight just to simply exist?
As most of you know, I date a white man called Sean. Me and Sean have been together on and off for nearly 4 years, (also the amount of time I have lived in Belfast) and in that time, we have forged a bubble we call our life, based on what we learned growing up and what we have learned since being together. We have evolved over the years based on our similarities and differences, culture being a huge part of where we are now.
Before I go off on a tangent, my point to this and where I am leading to is that introducing and educating people about another culture isn’t something I thought I needed to do for people outside my bubble, but when I look back at the amount of times I have allowed someone to make an ignorant comment in front of me, it makes me sad I haven’t always had the balls to educate people rather than walk away. I simply categorise people as family, acquaintances or nobody, with the ignorant person automatically becoming a nobody. It may sound a bit strange but that’s how I know how much energy I will invest into someone which has saved me a lot of time over the years.
The more I think about the fact I may one day have children of mixed heritage, the more I start to… panic (note sure if that’s the right word) and wonder about the type of things my kids will have to deal with that even I don’t fully understand, even with my mixed cultural upbringing.
Lets say me and Sean have kids, those kids will have a Zambian mother who grew up as a British national, before moving to Ireland/Northern Ireland (the NI/ROI bit being an issue on its own) and their father will be an Irish man, who grew up in Ireland. Not all of you will understand the enormity of this sentence, but that’s for another blog…
Have you ever been stared at and followed, simply for grocery shopping? Have you been given a nickname because someone outright refused to learn to say your name? Have you ever had to plan your day and prepare yourself to not only be the only person that looks like you in a room full of people but also have to ignore peoples reaction to you just being there? Have you grown up with people assuming they can touch your hair without permission? Have you been told you’re too quiet when everyone that really knows you knows you’re not? Honestly, this list goes on. Most of you reading this will answer no and not realise how lucky you are and some of you will know exactly what I mean which is rubbish but that doesn’t mean we just accept it.
My point is that I’ve suddenly found myself realising how much power my words have in educating people out of prejudices and any ignorance they may not realise they have. If I’m not honest about my own experiences, I can’t create a better world for my nieces and nephews or my future kids.
As a woman, you’re born already having to fight for what you want because you’re not seen as being equal. Throw in a bit of melanin and you literally go to the bottom of the list.
Being a black woman is exhausting.
I’m assertive and I’m called aggressive because someone doesn’t like the tone of my voice. I tell the world I’ll never have to choose between work and a family because I can and will have it all, and I’m seen as being smug and entitled. I work hard and achieve things most people never will in a lifetime, and my achievements are downplayed as if what I have done is easy. I say what’s on my mind how dare I be cheeky.
I have so much respect for my parents now I’m older. The things they have gone through to give myself and my brother a good life is commendable but above all of that, the lessons they have taught us, make me realise how lucky I was to grow up in an equal and open minded home.
Whilst I was told my nose didn’t make me beautiful or fetishized by men, simply for the colour of my skin, I was given physical tools and taught how to cook. Whilst my existence was hidden by people that apparently cared and I was told to change how I dressed, I was taught that anything a man could do, I could do better with my eyes closed. Whilst my parents were called dictators for not allowing me out or to do certain things, it was enforced into me that I could be completely honest with my parents and they’d always have my back, but if I couldn’t find the strength, my brother Mulenga would always be my voice of reason and the one person I could be completely transparent with.
I’ve had my mental health highs and lows over the years but can you imagine growing up in a society where you are already the lesser simply for how you look? A society where you’re told you’re not beautiful or you could never be the one simply because of the colour of your skin. How do you learn to love yourself when the world tells you that you’re not worthy?
I’m lucky that even with all the whispers, my parents instilled a strength in me that has gotten me to where I am now and I grew up with friends (family now really) who never once made me feel like I was any different. What about all the other girls that weren’t so lucky to have such a support system? There are so many girls that struggle with their identity simply because someone lies to them and makes them think bleaching or having western looking hair is how they will be beautiful but even when they do those things, they’re still made to feel less. What happens to the girl who makes a mistake and is degraded for something their white counterpart wouldn’t have even been noticed for? What happens to the girl who grows up never seeing a woman that looks like her in prominent roles?
Moving to Belfast has shown me an ignorance I was shielded from growing up because Sheffield was simply just a more multicultural place. The issues were there but I just didn’t feel them as much. Whether I like it or not, Northern Ireland isn’t as multicultural as Sheffield but it’s my home. There is an ignorance here from people who simply don’t know they’re being ignorant as well as those who clearly do. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Irish and this problem happens all around the world, but I can only speak about my life and experiences.
Quarantine life has allowed me to accept how tired I am mentally and physically of working at 200% just to be seen as equal. For all the bad mental health days I have had being at home, not seeing my loved ones, I have had the time to not feel “that” pressure. I sleep better and I’m creating content I’m happy with when I feel like it.
I actually feel free. How mad does that sound…