The art of being black

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The art of being black

If ‘all lives matter’, why don’t we start acting like it?

“You’re big for four”, a sentence I was told many times when I was asked my age as a child. Big for four. The way I spoke, the way I carried conversations with adults, and even the way I remember it so well now age 22. I also remember at that very same age, having a very good friend, my best friend. We hung out together, we made up dances in break time, we shared lunch and one time I even visited her house after school. The next day she was cold and distant, and in my gleeful naive state, she told me we could no longer be friends because her parents told her she shouldn’t be. She shouldn’t be my friend because I was black.

Age four I learnt one of the biggest lessons I would ever learn: the art of being black. I call it an art, because it does not require doing what may come naturally. It takes thought, carefully positioned words, choosing your fights and a lot of in-head fighting.

If you’re black you’re very aware of the simple fact that a lot of people do not believe you are equal, while at the very same time being told “we’re all the same” and “we’ve come so far”. That may be true, but the journey is not over. The art of being black is you and your three other black girlfriends in a supermarket after school being wrongly accused of stealing, the supermarket informing the school (showing them a video of the group stealing nothing) and police being sent to their house for just… standing there.

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It’s being told you’re out of the catchment area for the school that every other white person on your street also attends. It’s being told that you sound ‘white’ when you speak well, followed by “you surprised me”. It’s being asked “can I touch your hair?” It’s interracial dating and being told “I’ve always wanted to fuck a black girl”, “I date black girls for their arse”, “I’ve got a case of jungle fever”, “I’ve never been with a black girl before”. It’s like you’re an exotic flavour of ice-cream they’re tempted to taste on holiday. It’s having to work twice as hard to be seen just as good.

The art is experiencing all these things in your day-to-day life and feeling that you cannot be angry about it because hey, at least you weren’t called the ‘N’ word.

Just because the people aren’t enslaved, does not mean the people are free.

The hair that grows naturally out of our head has been crucified to the point that the corporate world calls it unprofessional. Did that sink in? The hair that grows on my scalp naturally is unsuitable for work. Unsuitable meaning not pressed, curled, flattened or white enough. But, wait, “can I feel it before you go?”

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I’m black and I am British, born in Croydon actually. Although my parents are from Jamaica, I am very British – my mother even dined with Diana. I like scones and jam, I complain about the weather and enjoy a good cuppa. So when I’m repeatedly asked by a complete stranger “yeah, but where are you actually from?” it kind of makes me feel like I shouldn’t actually be here, like I’m lost, like my skin colour alerted you to the fact that I was in the wrong place and needed help finding my way home.

Some of you may think that what I am writing is to further barriers between races. If you think that, you’d be wrong. I want a unified nation. I want every culture and creed to begin to see each other as equals. For too long we have said such a thing could never happen, we mock pageant queens who plead for world peace, although doing very little to try to create it. We see indifference, acknowledge how wrong it is then… nothing.

And I say “we” meaning exactly that. We have all started to use social media as a shield for action. We like a post, share a meme, but when we notice something that is wrong in day-to-day life many of us cower away and save our thoughts for a conversation amongst friends later on.

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To my fellow sisters and brothers, we have to speak up more. We should unite hands with the rest of the world in seeing a nation that is filled with people living out their truth, being who they want to be with no judgement, speculation or persecution.

To the rest of you, it is not that black lives matter more than yours. It’s that a group of black teenagers at a pool party should have the same freedom, as white children, to play and have fun without the police pulling a gun on them. It’s that we shouldn’t be stopped-searched for our skin colour as the premise.

It’s that two four year old girls should be able to be friends – regardless of race.

All lives matter, let’s start acting like it.

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