Being a Woman of Colour from America in London

04 Mar

As a woman of colour, I believe to a certain extent people of colour from around the world can understand the struggle that accompanies not being in the so called majority. However, I think there are lines in the sand in terms of understanding what this means in context for an American. There are places in my own country to which I would not venture and although slavery has been over for 150 years there are still people who believe I am less than a human being.

I am not saying racism isn’t present in London, quite the contrary. It is alive and well despite what people think. It is just hidden behind this polite disgust and quite ignoring of others. In the USA there is no such courtesy. Racism is in your face. People will blatantly tell you where you don’t belong and ask you to leave. People will tell you they don’t accept your kind. The differences in the way racism is manifested makes conversations about race and the effects of racism difficult. As you know, any argument where one party does not understand the context of argument of the other party is difficult.

We are judged everyday based on the colour of our skin. Before a word is spoken, there is already a set of assumptions bounding about. In parts of the country civilian racial crimes are common place. Everywhere in the country we are dealt with more harshly by the criminal justice system than Caucasians. This is just based on the colour of our skin. No race or ethnicity is more degraded than ours. We are the only race/ethnicity that openly belittles ourselves and do not raise a potent enough alarm when we are belittled by others. We are the only community that does not provide for our own. The only ones who haven’t created a niche for ourselves so we are relatively self sustaining. We are the only ones who are openly reliant on those who have oppressed us to rescue us from their oppression. We have been systematically destroyed and invasively removed from the rich heritage that built our foundation. We are not united.

You would think a community of people of colour would be sensitive to each other and help each other to grow. But, that is not reality. You can have an entire community of people of colour and you wouldn’t have a melting pot, you would have a salad bowl – yes we are all in the same place but totally different. There is no common ground reached.

Having lived in London for over 6 years now, I am happy to call myself a woman of colour. I moved away from African American after about 5 years of the following scenario.

Random person of colour in London: What are you?
Me: I’m African American.
Random person of colour in London: Oh, where are your parents from?
Me: America.
Random person of colour in London: But, where’s your family from originally?
Me: The southern states of America
Random person of colour in London: No, I mean before they got to America.
Me: {awkward silence as I realise the context of slavery has not seeped in} I don’t know.

More awkward silence before the conversation is changed to something a lot more mundane.

A while back I came out to all my friends and family (on Facebook) openly stating that I will not tolerate the use of the “n” word in my presence. I just cannot tolerate it. I don’t like it in music. It makes me cringe when I hear kids using it to refer to each other. It makes me feel minimally homicidal when I hear Hispanic children not only using but justifying the use by changing the letters with a misguided view (fuelled by rap which is controlled and distributed by “the majority”) that this somehow makes it less offensive and reduces my urge to staple their lips shut. How many of them actually go around yelling “yo, what’s good spic”? Answer, none of them.

Now, having been in London for 6 years, which has also been infected by the genetic mutation that is todays rap, I am hearing young Asian children (Pakistani, Afghani, etc.) singing along to the lyrics in my face with no sense as to why they shouldn’t. Now, would these children walk around calling each other “rag heads” or “pakis”? Answer, absolutely not.

I am going to say this, not to offend but because it is the absolute truth. This past Halloween, someone thought it was a good idea to dress up as a young Black teenager who was unjustly murdered and his murderer. What’s next? Going as your sister’s aborted fetus? Because that is just as disgusting, distasteful and disrespectful. Where has our concept of morality and human sensitivity gone? Or is it that we are just so irrelevant the “majority junkies” feel nothing us?

I hate the impact that popular music has had on the younger generation because I hate the casually stated yet harmful messages it sends.

I don’t want to talk about race if you’re not going to make an effort to understand why things bother me. But then, could you even empathise if my experience doesn’t mirror your own? I don’t want you to tell me that I need to get over it. I don’t want to hear that it doesn’t matter when young Black men are dying and being brutalised at the hands of those whose job it is to “serve and protect”. I don’t want to talk to you if you have no concept of the experience of those referred to as “Black” in the USA. Please don’t speak to me. Why? Because it matters; it all matters. Slavery matters. The fact that my history is regulated to a month is offensive. The fact that I cannot be proud of who I am without being labelled an extremist or a racist is offensive. The fact that you think you should weigh in on an issue you don’t understand is offensive. The fact that I can’t talk to you and feel as though I am talking to someone who will at least make an attempt to empathise is disheartening.

“Black history” in American schools is consigned to a month of majority approved headliners to make us feel good for the shortest month of the year then drops us back into reality with our history in America shoved into two sessions about slavery. If not that then you spend the majority of your school years learning about how great these majority rulers are that built the country (which tells nothing of whose backs they were stepping on to reach so high) then go to college to find an abbreviated history taught by people who look nothing like you; unless, you’re lucky enough to have one of those professors who are not afraid to tell you the truth. But by then you’re like the rest of us, completely indoctrinated into believe the ideal is the American dream and the only way to get there is to be one of the unassuming ones because if you make too much noise they will find a way to discredit you. Or you get in, play the game, get to a place where they can’t touch you and start screaming. That works for me. I’ve done my time as one of the masses. I can make an independent living without needing, but thanks to, that foot in the door.

Being me in a land of people of colour with a solid connection to their ethnic roots is hard. Explaining why I am the way I am in this world is hard. Explaining who I am and how I got here is hard, but I am so much more comfortable with it because I have learned to love how loud I can be.


Posted by on March 4, 2014 in Race


Tags: , , , , ,

3 responses to “Being a Woman of Colour from America in London

  1. Liann noble

    March 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    excellent essay! say it loud and proud.


  2. therockstaranthropologist

    March 4, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    **Slow clap**… Powerful thought provoking essay. And thank you for your reflexivity regarding your experiences and how they have shaped your philosophy.


  3. Sharon

    March 5, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Your 3rd paragraph made me teary eyed. As a woman of color in America and also being “light skinned” (rejected by both sides) I felt it deeply. To add to that, I’m in an interracial relationship with a Caucasian man. Sometimes I struggle with what I feel is a lack of empathy and understanding from him when it comes to race issues. It’s not that he doesn’t wholeheartedly believe that racism is wrong…but there are times when I just wish he could truly feel how/why I’m so hurt by certain situations or reactions from people.



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