I wish I knew the words to say…
But then, I’ve already said many of them. (It was never about a skirt!)
It was about something so much deeper, a lesson that still needs to be learned.
All that is happening, that happens in the world, whether 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, or now, all stem from the same place: The inherent belief that it is OK, expected, and acceptable that someone be judged and or punished based on something as arbitrary as how they look to someone else.
That they don’t appear the same way as their persecutors, or bystanders somehow means there’s no way to stop it, or there’s no point. That people all around are helpless.
I’ve had a fair few instances in my life where I’ve been wary of my surroundings and the people in them, just for being female. As a 12-year-old girl being stopped in the street by a stranger who went on to call me a “cock teasing whore” because I wouldn’t go into his house.
Or as a young woman on a night out when a guy thought it would be appropriate to take my hand and put it down his pants to his fully erect penis.
Both of these times I walked away. As a 12-year-old girl I just picked up the pace and kept on walking alongside my friend.
As a 19-year-old, I dug my very sharp nails into that guys scrotum. I squared up to him, and he left.
I’ve had people talk down to me, belittle me, shame me, for being a girl, being a woman, being young, being a single mum, whatever other bullshit they thought they could use. I’ve stood up for myself as many times. I’ve had people back off because I stood my ground. I’ve seen the balance shift in my favour as someone went from being a bully trying to dominate and scare me, to being a regular size person with a bruised ego dumbfounded and lost for words.
I’m fortunate that I can do that.
But am I? Am I really?
The only thing that makes me “fortunate” in this situation is that I’m not black.
I’ve been treated the same as many others, and no where near as bad as so many more.
Why? Because even when I’m standing out, I’m still also perfectly fitting in to the pre-prescribed list of attributes of someone who gets to be listened to.
Someone who has an unwritten, unspoken bias in her favour as someone who can stand up for herself and say what she wants, whom other people can defend, and if people don’t like it? Then it sucks to be them… not me.
With everything that is happening, I’ve taken time out, taken time to reflect.
Within all that I felt the need to reach out to a very dear friend of mine and apologise for my ignorance in situations where she was ignored and downplayed, and I didn’t see how it was such a big deal that she was upset.
I see how that was wrong on my part now. I see how I contributed to something that I told myself I wasn’t a part of.
At the time, I didn’t see things the way she did.
Our biggest difference is our skin colour.
My biggest downfall; not being black, and allowing that to delude me into thinking that these things that happen, even when they’re right in front of me, aren’t such a big deal.
The subtle, seemingly insignificant ways that black culture is overridden, overlooked and downplayed everyday. That black lives are diminished through ignorance.
In this instance it was a white DJ playing music by black artists and ignoring the request of the only black person in the room for a song.
Something to me that seemed small, after all, it’s just a song, right?
But it isn’t.
It wasn’t to her.
And it shouldn’t have been to me.
Music is an expression, it’s a way for people to be heard.
I remember growing up and hearing music from all kinds of black artists, I also remember my classmates, a bunch of 10-year-old white kids, thinking they were all that and loving Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, DMX and Tupac.
But this music – this isn’t just entertainment.
It’s a message.
It’s life, it’s experience, lived and channeled into something creative.
It’s pain and anger transformed and released as something anyone can access.
The problem is too many people don’t listen.
They take that message, ignore it, twist it, and use it as a weapon.
They take that anger, hurt, pain and frustration and instead of listening, instead of learning, they roll on in and take a ride on it to somehow validate perpetuating anger, hurt, pain and frustration.
“That’s what they’re saying, so that’s who they are!”
That is not who they are, that is how they feel.
That’s what they experience.
When you’re under permanent threat, how else could you feel?
Being always on the look out, always in defence mode, always on high alert.
That’s exhausting for any period of time, never mind every day of your life.
This small sample of music, is at odds with what I watched growing up; Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Moesha, That’s So Raven, Sister Sister… a few years later My Wife and Kids…
These shows were about loving, caring, funny, characters and families. Black families who love each other and their friends, who have fun, play around, caring people with so much respect for each other and those around them.
These weren’t “aspirational versions” of who black people could be if they got the chance, it’s who they are in their lives.
And they’re far more respectful, forgiving, and patient than any white person I’ve ever met. Why? Because history and centuries of injustice has had a hand in making them feel they need to be. And that’s bullshit.
I can read a room of people pretty quickly, but I’m still not as fast as my black friends. I never will be, because I’ve never felt I have to be. For me it’s just a heads up for what I’m getting myself into, not a strategic plan for where and how I might feel safe.
There is absolutely no need or reason why anyone should not feel safe living their life.
There is no reason why someone should not be able to go about their day without risking a “run-in” with law enforcement, aggression, or fear.
There is no reason why a man shouldn’t be able to breathe under the knee of another, or go out for a run. There is no reason a woman shouldn’t be able to sleep safely in her own bed, or a child go for a walk. There is no reason a man can’t get into his own car, or take his wife’s car to the petrol station, or walk through a park, or make a delivery in a neighbourhood, or just go about their day, doing their job, living their life like so many others do, like I do, every day without a second thought about whether they should wear that hoody, or put their hands in their pockets, or carry that backpack, or stand in one place too long.
The only reason for any of these things is the weird, bullshit, deeply inherent, subconscious belief system that you can and should only show up in the world one way. And that if you don’t, it is not only expected, but accepted that you will be judged, and punished for not appearing that certain way, without second thought. Or that your problems aren’t as serious, so you’ll be ignored.
These things are engrained into our psyche from a young age – no prejudice is born, it’s bred. Alongside fear, and the ability to read.
I once said a long time ago, I don’t care if someone is black, white, or green – I will decide they’re an asshole based on whether or not they’re an asshole.
Unfortunately, most assholes I’ve met and seen are fear led, self-entitled, ego-centric, white guys with an inferiority complex acting like they have something to prove. They fight their way into positions of power, and by having them there we get stuck in a paradigm. One that doesn’t help or benefit anyone. It just perpetuates their bullshit.
I don’t see a way to push this mountain over from the top – that way just doesn’t work. But I can see a way that we can all work together, come together, and be the light that eradicates the darkness. One person, one connection, one action at a time. It won’t happen over night, I wish, like many others, that one snap of the fingers could change all this and make it right, but unfortunately it can’t and it won’t.
But rethinking one thing, one apology, reaching out to one person at a time, listening to one person, being able to be held accountable, being willing to listen, to learn and to change how we are in our lives, and how we look at what’s happening around us, whether it directly affects us, or more importantly helps positively affect another… when we come together and do that, we build and grow in strength. Not just our own, but as a whole. And that’s what we need. That’s how we instigate change. And that’s how we make sure it happens.
I’ve seen a lot of comments from black people saying they’re tired. Tired of shouting to be heard, tired of needing to explain this shit over and over to the white people who just don’t get it, or who don’t want to get it. And I get it, I don’t blame them. I’d be tired too. So why don’t we stop shouting. Just sit, listen, talk, and take the time to really learn what’s going on, and work on changing that. History is not just “names and dates” – it’s lessons. Ones that it’s taking us too damn long to learn.
To my friends who read this, I love you, and I am always more than willing to listen and learn… we can start this together, and we can be each others strength to keep talking, to keep going, and to keep this wheel of change in motion.