I find it strange looking back to when I first realised racism existed. Nobody is born with an inherent understanding of racism, it is something that you learn as you grow up in this world and something that you, unfortunately, just come to accept as a way of life. As a child, my dark skin and my friends light skin did not seem remotely relevant; I went to a private primary school and was one of four black girls in my year, but I never remember noticing it as a fact, or having it be an issue. Black, White, Asian, Hispanic… It didn’t matter. We were all four-year-olds and we were all starting school, that was the only thing any of us saw when we looked at each other.
The first time I remember viewing my skin as something that made me “different” was when I was around eight years old. It was ballet examination day and a couple of my friends came out of their exam giggling because the examiner had told them “It was nice to see so many black girls in our dance class”. There were three of us. None of us saw it as a bad thing, in fact the two girls were giggling because they interpreted it as them being “special” and the examiner taking note of that. It wasn’t until I was in the car with my mum later, telling her what the examiner said, that I thought about it a little more. She explained, as tentatively as you can to an eight-year old, that ballet dancers are often seen to have a certain type of body, and that body is more commonly seen in white girls, so the examiner was probably a little bit surprised.
Up until this point I’d never seen my body as different, (at that stage in my life it wasn’t so different, I hadn’t gone through puberty yet), and the whole situation seemed so alien to me. My innocent brain could not fathom how the colour of my skin determined how my body would turn out; in fact, up until this point I had never really taken into account the fact that ballet dancers fit a “mould” in the first place. It wasn’t exactly dream crushing, as I never wanted to be a professional ballerina and dance was just a fun escape for me, but I recall this as the first time that I started to take note. Professional Ballets were noticeably disproportionate when it came to skin colour and body type, and once I noticed it in one career sector, it was easier to notice it in others. Was I different? Was life going to be more difficult for me just because of the colour of my skin?
I never really openly talk about racism. Not because I don’t have an opinion, but because it’s controversial subject matter can lead to massive backlash, due to something as simple as one misinterpreted sentence. It seems so easy nowadays for someone to make a passionate stand regarding racial mistreatment and be stereotyped; labelled as “another angry black girl”, or seen as being “one step away from a violent act” during a protest. I am not dispelling these tropes completely, because frankly all stereotypes come from a place of truth, but to take the acts of the few and assume that a whole community will act the same way is ridiculous and unjust. You get angry and violent people everywhere, regardless of their race, and yet we only associate certain stereotypes with certain “types” of people.
It is because of stereotyping such as this, that “Because I’m black” has become a trivialised statement as opposed to one of significant meaning. Nowadays it is viewed as just another person playing “the race card” to get ahead or cause a fuss, but there is so much more to it than that. If you are a person of colour, be that black or otherwise, and you lose out on an opportunity to someone white, it is likely that the racial difference may cross your mind. In actuality, we all know that this isn’t always the case, but people of colour have had this racial prejudice drummed into them from an early age. We see the news, and hear stories from family members, and study cases in history, and are taught throughout our childhood that the world is going to be harder for us because of the way that we look, and we just have to accept that. Yes, you never know the real reason why you lost out on an opportunity; it could very well be that the person before you was better suited for it. However, when you’ve been taught your whole life that you will be discriminated against because of your skin, you are conditioned to go to that place in your mind.
When you really strip back the concept of racial prejudice, it becomes clear how ludicrous a concept it really is. Treating people differently because of how much melanin they have in their skin is absurd. We are essentially taking something that someone was born with, something that they cannot help or decide, and using it to determine their character and capability in life. I was born in England, I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve had the same level of education as my white friends around me. However, I’ve been conditioned by society to understand that life could be harder for me than them because of the colour of my skin. There should be no “superior race” or pre-conceived notions of how a person will perform because of how they look. We are all human. We act how we act out of our own volition, not because of the shade of our skin, and that needs to be remembered.
But we’ve come so far, does racism still exist? In all honesty, if you had asked me a few months ago, my answer would have been that, although it still exists, racism isn’t as overtly present nowadays in Western countries. However, the acts in Charlottesville and the response that they were met with parallel the past in ways that I, a young black girl growing up in this world, find absolutely terrifying. There are always terrible incidents of discrimination and acts of hate, however I liked to believe that the world was making progress in the right direction. At the moment, it looks like we’re going backwards again, and it saddens me to think that this could be the case.
In terms of my own personal experience with racial prejudice, I find myself reminded of my “disadvantaged” skin tone in the smaller things. I don’t have as much choice as some of my friends when it comes to trying cheaper makeup brands, because a lot of their “dark” concealers and foundations are designed for those with “olive skin”. I get asked “Where are you from?” followed by “But where are you really from?” when I respond saying that I’m from England (which I am). Though you might see these as “trivial” things, they can have an impact on an impressionable child when she’s had to grow up with them her whole life.
Being reminded of your “otherness” through many little things only reinforces the fact that life will be different for you. I’ve spent a lot of my life insecure about the way I look and knowing that I can try as hard as I want but physically can’t conform to the “western” standard of beauty. It’s getting better, I know that it is, and I see drugstore makeup brands improving their ranges and people being more politically correct with what they say, and calling themselves out on mistakes, but it’s still not perfectly equal. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have been a personal victim of overtly “racist” acts, but I can’t honestly say that I have never been reminded of the fact that my skin is seen as a disadvantage.
The world has made progress. There is absolutely no disputing that, but there is still a long way to go.
Hope you guys liked this, I wrote this a while ago because I rarely comment on political topics but I do have a lot of thoughts. I’ve been scared to post it for a while but I finally bit the bullet and did it, would love to hear what you think in the comments as this post really meant a lot to me!
Lots of love,