The last few months have been chaotic as we have faced two monumental pandemics, the Coronavirus, and the ever eroding pandemic of racism that continues to reach and affect many lives daily. Institutional racism and the Black Lives Matter movement has been at the forefront of many conversations. From protests against police brutality, to the explanation of the effects of microaggressions and the exposure of schools for their racist tendencies. The large issue of racism has been widely discussed by Black and non-black people alike across the globe.
So what are we, the younger generation, to do when we return to school, with the knowledge of how harsh and cruel the world truly is to someone because of the colour of one’s skin? When we realise that particular professions, meant to serve and protect us, were originally introduced to capture and keep us in a state of submission and maltreatment?
So what do I do when my school was one of the many called out on twitter for having profilled and mistreated numerous black students? What do I do when the field of work I want to pursue has been said to be one of the hardest industries for a black person to be accepted into? What do I do when I’ve been told I’m not smart enough, not good enough, all because of the colour of my skin? What do we do? As a young black person returning to school these are the hidden anxieties and questions I am faced with that many of my peers don’t consider nor do most of my teachers understand.
Many of us have known what racism is for our entire lives, and many of us also have dealt with it so much it somewhat became a norm we learnt to ignore. But with the widespread video of George Floyd’s murder circulating every corner of the internet, #SayTheirName constantly surfacing on social media and now the death of Walter Wallace and so many more, young black people already know the horrific realities of racism and prejudice — much of it being experienced on a day to day basis. For many black kids like myself, during these times the conversation of race and racism has reached places we’ve never witnessed before. I’ve seen some white peers stand in solidarity whilst others sit in silence because they ‘don’t see colour’ or are firm in their belief that ‘all lives matter’. Globally we’ve been crippled in anxiety and the fear of ‘what ifs’. What if that was me shot in the safety of my own home, in my own bed? Or what if that was my neck under that officer’s knee? What if I’m stopped by the police? What if I’m next? The conflict of deciding whether to stay up to date with what is going on or to turn off our phones and look away from the trauma porn this world has built off of our struggle has become immobilising as any time away from social media feels like a betrayal because it seems the keyboard warriors and internet trolls never sleep.
I’ve always firmly disagreed with the belief that ignorance is bliss, but when the bitter truth has hit you with such fast momentum (as it has for many of us) what are we to do? How do we return to school as normal and sit next to the student who snapped ‘All Lives Matter’, or listen to the teacher that told you to pick a different career because you’re not smart enough for law. How do you concentrate on studying when the field you wish to pursue hasn’t had a single black CEO in their entire history? How do you get up and go to your part time job when just last week someone was sent home for wearing a BLM mask? How do we as a people continue when all of the signs tell us that we are doomed before we even begin?
The injustices we face as black people have always been clear, but the power of social media today has made it and its effects more than evident on such a large scale that it is too hard to simply ignore it. For many of us who experience racism in our everyday lives, silence was our mechanism of defence. When faced with questions like am I smart enough, do I know my father, if someone can touch my hair and so many more questions, my chosen method was to turn the other cheek in order to maintain peace. As I’ve grown older I’ve become more confident and learned to speak up for myself, however this is often challenged by being told ‘not everything is about race’ or shot down by a white (and typically male) figure of authority who doesn’t see in any other light except for their prejudiced perception of black. During lockdown I had ample time to reflect and realise a lot of my negative experiences, particularly in education, were rooted in racism and my fear in returning was that I wouldn’t be able to cope with that knowledge and act ‘normal’ enough to just continue how things were before without it being an act of betrayal to black people everywhere, especially due to being in a predominantly white school.
But what I’ve learnt is that even in small acts of being vocal, a way will be made. I’ve opened the conversation about race, and although it wasn’t and isn’t easy, those who are uncomfortable with it are those who truly need it. Some people are truly unaware of how their actions negatively impact black people, and until that conversation is opened up (even in places like education) it won’t be overcome. The older generation has been a huge help in showing us that it is possible to achieve things, no matter how harsh the world may seem or how set against us they may be. Even with overt racism, Jim Crow, Apartheid, lynching and so many more once legal racist measures they still managed to rise from the ashes and succeed. Although during this time a lot of negative knowledge was realised, it is also key to recognise the heros and superstars in our history so we can take pride in our heritage and dictate our own story.
And so my advice to any other young black person feeling as I did about the return to education (or work) is to remember where we’ve come from and all the greats who managed to forge a name for themselves before us and change the system. Because their legacy lives in us, if they did it before we can do it now. Your smile in the face of adversity is more activism than you’ll ever realise, so everyday just try and take one step at a time and before you know it, you’ll be running in places they didn’t even want us walking in.
By Zandi — TBTP