“Wha Gwan Ma’am”, said a year eight boy as he entered a Religious Studies class I was covering for a teacher who was on training. “Pardon, What did you say?” was my response. The young boy went on to repeat his greeting to me. At that point I said to him I found that racially stereotypical as he would NEVER greet a Caucasian teacher using that term. I gave the boy a consequence (a warning) and carried on with my lesson. The most upsetting thing is that this was not the first time that a student or a member of staff had been racially stereotypical towards me in this particular establishment and others before it. I have had to deal with students googling pictures of Harambe, making comments about the colour of my skin (being called a Nutella) as well as other derogatory terms. Now, when I experience such racial ignorance (I don’t believe it’s racism because their comments are born out of lack of information rather than hate) I generally proceed to educate rather than take offence. To be honest once I’ve explained the implications of their comments I am usually bombarded with intelligent questions to understand why their comments may come across as offensive.
In saying that, I feel as though I have become immune to racist/ racially ignorant comments. In one hand I know it’s a sad state of affairs that I no longer feel a way about discrimmination (even though I know discrimination is wrong). However on the other hand I am very much socially aware that I am apart of an ethno-centric society that is not designed for me, a Sierra Leonean born woman.
Honestly, I think the only times in my life where I felt my race was not an issue was in secondary school and when I visited Sierra Leone. Therefore I have ALWAYS known that institutional racism exists and truly believe that it will always exist.
So, when I read Jamelia’s blog post on institutional racism I literally smiled because to me it was ‘same s**t (sorry for the profanity) different day’. As angry as I was reading Jamelia’s experience I couldn’t help but think that we can’t expect a society that was not designed for us to eradicate a system that is deeply engrained in them. For example, some African countries are extremely tribalistic. Despite most tribes now being fully integrated there are still some people who will not allow inter-tribal marriages and not even their religious beliefs (which should outweigh all other beliefs) will change that point of view. That’s because it’s a system in which they grew up in and it’s the only system they know. Now do not get me wrong…I am not excusing the action of racism/tribalism/ prejudice, however we must try and rise above it and educate rather than respond hate with hate.
When a boy referred to me as a ‘Nutella’, I didn’t get angry, I didn’t shout, I simply said; ‘Just so I am not offended by the statement you made, please clarify’. I responded in this way because I wanted him to think and feel stupid for what he said, which he did. As his punishment, I sat him down and explained to him how his statement may have made me feel and how it may have affected my perception of him. As a result, me and that particular student now have a better teacher-student relationship.
I fear for the future, for my son’s future because society already expects him to fail only because his parents are from a land where the sun is a lot hotter than the land in which he was born. I will teach my son to know about his history, factual as well as emotive. I want him to be able to go out into the world and be able to educate anyone who is uneducated about his heritage. I would love anything more than for him to be in a crowd of Caucasian people and fit in and equally fit in amongst a crowd of his black counterparts.
I urge anyone who experiences such racism/discrimination to educate and empower the ignorant counter-part. Kill them with kindness and love…it is what they least expect. If you respond with anger and hate then you will just play into their hands and fulfil their expectations. I know it is difficult but take it from someone who is constantly the only black/ African in the room.
So long as we are living in an ethno-centric capitalist state then racial, social stratification will always occur. Equality is a utopian ideology as a whole and here on earth we are far from getting there! In my head heaven or the after-life is the only utopian state there is…..That’s another blog post for another time!
You can read Jamelia’s blog post titled ‘First Class Racism here’; https://www.jamelia.com/new-blog/2017/1/14/first-class-racism
Be Happy, Be Bright, Be You!