It’s May 2020, and black people approach every month holding their breath, waiting for the next hashtag; the most recent being George Floyd, a black man killed at the hands of a white cop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Maybe it’s quarantine, or divine intervention but many of us have realized enough is enough. We cannot and will not sit back and observe our white classmates watch another black man killed and be desensitised to it because of course “they’re not racist”, “they would never kill someone”. There is a righteous misbelief that this thing, “racism”, is an American problem because there are fewer headlines in the UK, Australia, France and many other Western countries announcing racially charged police brutality and murder. However, there is a difference between covert and overt racism. Unfortunately, both are as bad as each other. The white person who labels the black man as aggressive, or the Arab as a terrorist is equally as racist as the white man who kills the innocent black man. We will not let you absolve yourself of responsibility because you’ve climbed your moral high horse of not being a murderer.
What Is Racism?
Before I get into it, I will define racism — a term commonly misappropriated by white people. Racism is defined as prejudice based on the colour of your skin that is exacerbated by the history of slavery, colonialism and oppression that has left uneven power dynamics in this world. These power dynamics mean that your whiteness (not your British nationality) puts you in a more powerful and influential position than all other races in every situation. This definition is why a white person cannot be a victim of racism. Comments such as “white people are racist” or “white people can’t dance” are simply prejudices that only serve to hurt your feelings and in no way negatively affect your future. So, a black person (or other POC) saying this to you means nothing, because we lack the same power and influence to make these prejudices significant or universal.
This lack of power is exemplified by the multitude of CEO and leadership positions around the world possessed by white people — in the WHO, NGOs, UN and large multinational companies. I can already hear some of your mental assertions “oh, they worked hard and earned all that”. Assuming this is true, do you think everyone else didn’t work hard? Additionally, I must assert that the history of slavery and colonisation means that there is nowhere on the world where a white person is not KING. For example, in Nigeria, the opinion of the white man would be considered more highly than mine on any matter e.g. a school with a white headmistress is considered to be better than a school with a black head mistress. Why? Simply on the basis of colour and proximity to our white colonial British masters, who are seen of a ‘higher moral standing’.
The white person who labels the black man as aggressive, or the Arab as a terrorist is equally as racist as the white man who kills the innocent black man.
Another example is the ‘ideal beauty standard’ in Asian countries which leads people to get cosmetic surgery to inherit more Caucasian features (e.g. pointy noses and creating eyelid creases) because the white-washed media glorifies Caucasian features as the “right features”. How do you feel ‘innocent’ jokes such as “I have Asian eyes *pulls eyes wide*” or “your nose makes you look like a monkey” worsen these phenomena? Are they funny? Is this not the equivalent of body shaming which you so often preach about when championing mental health? Here, I have only skimmed the surface of issues that your white privilege, supremacy and learnt racism bring into this world.
Boarding School as a Microcosm of Racist Society
Now that I have set the scene, we shall dive into the places where it hurt. Boarding school (especially starting at age 11 or 13), is meant to be a safe haven, a place where we are protected by our guardians, allowed to develop and ‘make friends for life’. Instead, boarding school helped advance this institutional racism. I hated my experience there and would not go back (I refrain from naming my school because I am not sure this is legal). Yes, I know those of you who know me are shocked, I put on a confident bad bitch mask every day. These experiences hurt me, stunted my self-worth, and muddled my sense of identity which worsened my first-year experience at university. We do not need to cry crocodile tears to prove our pain. I have spoken to many students who currently attend or previously attended British private boarding schools in the UK about their experiences as well, many of ours overlap, so I assure you this is not a one off. Without your request, I will graciously share significant examples to put things into perspective.
Firstly, my private boarding school was branded by white teachers and white students as a “British school”. This meant they did not want too many “internationals” and were against students speaking other non-European languages because “this is England”, and if we did not want to be like them then we should “go back to our country”. Already, at face value this sounds wrong but let us dig deeper. What are white students and teachers defining “British” as to make such declarations? Upper class and white.
This is ironic, because most “foreign” students have British passports, are British nationals and can exercise the same legal rights as “real” British people. Ideologies such as this one are remnants of the pre-colonial ideals which are so commonly adopted by the British upper class. You seem to forget the slave ships that have connected POC to England for life, the resources stolen from the same POC worldwide that have not been returned, the POC soldiers that fought in British wars and POC that built England after the war (e.g. Caribbean people so easily disposed of during the Windrush scandal 2018). Upon the Queen’s crown still sits the Koh-i-Noor diamond looted from India during their colonisation. British does not and cannot mean white. Furthermore, your favourite question “Where are you from from?” is rude, racist and classist because like yourself, many Black people are born and bred in the UK.
Next, we must address the white-centric lens used to address everything such as teaching on the ‘ideal’ attitude and personality. This is how the lullaby goes: “You have to speak softer”, “Your presence is intimidating her”, “This is how it is in England”, “If you do not act like this, you won’t be successful here”. Am I allowed to breathe, or is that intimidating too? In conveniently forgetting that Britain is not solely filled with the rich and white, teachers literally force the idea that the behaviours and mannerisms of the rich and white is “right” to ourselves and our classmates — perpetuating racism. Do not misunderstand me; lessons such as “be nice” are good, but not when accompanied with “or you won’t be liked”, especially in an environment where uneven power dynamics already exist.
British does not and cannot mean white.
Your Teaching Does Not Reflect Your Student Body If White People Are The Standard.
An uncountable amount of issues were addressed through a white-centric lens, an example being mental health. Every school student and teacher loves their mental health activism, but much like everything else, institutional racism leaves POC out. We are taught about bullying; we are taught about sexuality. Nonetheless, these programs ignore how race affects one’s experience in sexuality and issues of bullying. Our schools send the clear message that “racism is not a problem”, and effectively erase the different plight and perspectives of POC when addressing problems. Think about it, surely being a minority should mean our teachers should pay special attention to other students’ treatment towards us?
Alas, we are instead left with no support and targeted in “she said” situations because we have no voices. How did I alone, an 11-year-old girl, “oppress” 98 other white girls? Because I’m big? Because I’m black? Because you view young Black girls as adults and not vulnerable children? Because when someone attacks me, I do not burst out in tears? Now, imagine how complaints about racism pan out. Teachers do not even listen and are so quick to chirp “Oh she didn’t mean it, I’m sure it’s just in your head”. When a white student reports me for “Glaring her to death”, no questions are asked — I am a bully. Smells like perpetuating racism to me. We are often gaslighted by our peers and teachers, and this unsurprisingly has detrimental effects on our mental health (which again goes unnoticed by our ‘guardians’).
We Band Together For Safety, Not Hostility.
Ah, now onto the classics. “Why are all the black girls sitting together”, “Why are all the Asians sitting together?” or “Why are all the [insert minority label]’s sitting together?”. For 7 years, I went to a majority white school (*gentle reminder than British does not equate whiteness). From the beginning, I was forced outside my comfort zone and made myself more palatable, which meant assimilation: learning your accent, learning your slang. Modifying my name to something you could pronounce easier, voiding it of its meaning and purpose. This is majorly a one-sided effort, because when you see me and my blackness or someone else and their “Asianness”, you are automatically uninterested and other us because you feel inclined to look for friends that look like you. Again, this phenomenon is a white privilege. POC are being taught “white and rich” is right, so of course initially many exert so much effort to be your friends. We aren’t afforded the same luxury of choice when there are max 6 people that look like us.
Understandably, overtime some POC decide to stop compromising themselves, own their culture and in effect sit together. Honestly, we are given double standards (as usual). An extremely small number of white British students are willing to exert the same “inclusive” energy that is expected from every POC. And when they do, the majority come equipped with racist ideologies and ‘funny jokes’ because our schools don’t want to safeguard racism the same way they scream ‘courage, compassion and courtesy’. “Do you speak English?” How would I be at a highly academic, selective school if I didn’t speak English?
“You’re not like all the other boring Asians”?
“You’re pretty for a black girl?”
“Can I call you my n*gger?”
Why would we want to sit with you when you belittle us every single day? We call you out but are gaslighted or provided an ingenuine apology in a flood of white woman tears and the cycle reboots the next day. Having friends of other races (note: many schools mask racism by labelling it a more “acceptable” xenophobia) is a lot of work, it includes showing interest and learning a culture different from yours. You are all so quick to play the victim and say “Oh but they’re talking about their Nigerian/Black stuff” and deem that enough a reason to demonize us. Well, you talk about your British/white stuff every day and I make the effort because I do not have the privilege of choosing whether or not to engage. White British students have racial biases and double standards which mean they are unable to politely engage with many PoC in the long term and become genuine friends. All that slight “discomfort” you feel when sitting with Nigerian-British or Asian students is what we feel every second or every day. You are not the victim.
We call you out but are gaslighted or provided an ingenuine apology in a flood of white woman tears and the cycle reboots the next day.
No Amount of Money Can Erase My Skin Colour.
Gotcha! You thought I wouldn’t address this? To my white classmates at the back discrediting me because you think “Oh, Ife you’re not oppressed, you’re rich”. Take a step back. While it is true I have financial privilege and more proximity to these white organisations that define “success”, you are all so quick to forget the racist stereotypes you hit me with when I started school. Have we forgotten the starving African children, the many “dangerous” black people in North London, the mud hut which I allegedly lived in? Or does my fortunate lack of poverty make all of that not a reality anymore? I am blessed; my parents are a lucky 1–2% of Nigerians who are able to live up to your “rich, white British” economic standards. 90 million Nigerians live in abject poverty as a result of a history that stripped people of their resources and left us with unprepared leaders. We have literally been a ‘democracy’ for about twenty years and had freedom from colonisation for sixty.
In trying to deny your white privilege, stop using my fortunate economic situation to deny my experience as a black person by conveniently forgetting your learnt prejudice. Not only are most black people ‘poor’ in African countries, but also in the West. How many Black British people (born and bred) do you see in your private schools? Indians? Pakistanis? What locations do you naturally associate them with? Places stereotyped as “dangerous and poor” neighbourhoods in London and other parts of England (which you later attempt to gentrify because you feel unsafe). I am an exception in terms of economic privilege, but no amount of money discounts for the colour of my skin and the racist stereotypes of “aggression” and being “ghetto” (to name a few) that come with it.
In trying to deny your white privilege, stop using my fortunate economic situation to deny my experience as a black person by conveniently forgetting your learnt prejudice.
Many other PoC and I who attend British private schools may have turned a blind eye to situations that were wrong and allowed your racist ideologies to spread. This is because we often do not see a way or a point of standing up for ourselves when we are surrounded by white people who are empowered to jump to the defensive at the whisper of *racism* and silence us because we are the minority. We will always be sorry and regret condoning this. However, now I have chosen to not prioritise white fragility and my acceptance in the majorly white environments which I exist in, because no PoC should ever feel their true voice is insignificant in the way we all did. I have to shout-out my only ally, Lara who was consistently anti-racist and used her privilege to speak up in racist boarding situations where I would be silenced. This is why being “not racist” is simply not enough and being “anti-racist” is what we need.
Anti-Racism Is The Only Step Forward.
I did not write this solely because I am black but because fighting for an equal world it is the right thing to do. Being “not-racist” is unrevolutionary. Most of you are racist because you have been experiencing this white privilege and as a result, learning racist ideology for a long time, whether it be covert or not. Obviously, taking ownership of your learnt racism and fighting for an equal world is your choice, but I want you to know that sitting back and not being actively anti-racist is morally wrong. It is a privilege to live in a world that is created for you and you should want to help the rest of us enjoy it fully too.
Being “not-racist” is unrevolutionary.
I hope that your response to posts on social media, news headlines and reading this article is not to ruminate in your discomfort & guilt, ponder the woes of racism, and shout sympathies such as “poor black people”. These emotions such as guilt should be quickly overcome as you begin to take action, unlearn your deeply ingrained racist thoughts, and positively influence those around you. Why? Because this problem is bigger than me, you and our emotions. Right now, everyone has lots of time. I recommend you looked up anti-racist resources (which are everywhere), and research the history of slavery, colonisation and oppression in the U.K. from the perspective of the oppressed rather than the oppressor, so that you never become the racist or non-racist (these are now interchangeable) again. Do not burden your Black friends by asking them to prove to you how they are marginalised. Become anti-racist.
Some of you may still be borderline and thinking “I can never experience what you’re feeling” but you can come very close by showing interest through unbiased research. It is a slap in the face when I see people who “can’t relate or care about PoC issues” but can resonate so deeply with animal rights and mistreatment. Am I worth less than a dog? It may not feel like it’s your problem, but it is OUR problem. This is my life, but this is your choice — make a good one.
By Ife Adeogun
Here is your opportunity!
This article beautifully explains the difference between non-racism and anti-racism:
Kindly donate to some of the links on this May/June Minnesota Bail Fund and Support List:
UK Anti-Racism Resources:
Hope everyone is staying safe during this pandemic :). 🤗🖤