"Where Are You Really From?" | Let's Talk

My goodness, what a week. First of all, thank you to everyone who read, shared and reached out to me about my previous blog post. This week has been exhausting. I hadn't planned to write this but here we go...

Some of the rhetoric that I've seen flying around has been 'But...but...I have Black friends'. Okay, so they're going to need you to speak up for them.

When I hear things like "well, I know there's a race problem in America but not the UK", I cringe. And let me tell you why: I am Black, everywhere I go. I do not see and hear the stories of Black people being murdered and brutalised and treated as lesser, I do not see an American, I see another Black person. Be under no illusion, the police are a problem here too.

I don't have the luxury of compartmentalising that pain. I am a black woman. I have three Black brothers. My dad is Black. And so on and so on. Yes, I can look away but forget about it? Not an option.

Racism in the UK is confusing because it's when people are politely racist to your face. Much of the time, you wonder if it even happened because it's so thinly-veiled as politeness, niceness or even concern. I read a tweet that perfectly summed up racism in the UK - it basically said that it's so subtle that you end up questioning yourself.

One of the reasons that Black people don't speak up about the incidents that make them uncomfortable is because those conversations are quickly shut down, those people are gas-lit or their feelings are dismissed. 

Those 'jokes', first of all, don't land the way you think they do. Every single time I've experienced a conversation like that, I don't forget it; it compounds. It gets added on to the pain of the previous conversation of the same nature.

On Instagram this week, I talked about microaggressions and how they are the problems that your Black friends have more than likely experienced. It may make for uncomfortable reading because there's a chance that you've thought some of these thoughts or said some of these words, not knowing the damage that they could cause. And that's what I mean about it being deeply ingrained. When something has been built into systems and woven into the fabric of a country, you can't see what's in front of your face. 

What is said: "You're so well-spoken." "You speak good English."

What I hear: I didn't expect you to be articulate. In fact, when I've asked 'what did you expect?', the response on more than one occasion has been, "I expected you to sound ghetto." I beg your pardon?

Good diction, a broad vocabulary and elocution are not to exclusive to whiteness and your shock that I'd be anything other than articulate is offensive. The suggestion that people who express themselves via their known dialect that often stems from culture they are proud of is also offensive. And if you hear that someone has an accent, please don't imitate it. It is insulting.

What is said: "I can't pronounce your name, can I call you ____ instead?"

What people hear: "This is too different for me, and I can't be bothered."

Expecting someone to simplify their name to make your life easier is entitled. Someone's name is their identity and about as personal as it gets. Please don't try to change or shorten someone's name, unless they have done it themselves.

Imagine taking the time to give your child a beautiful, culturally-rich name, only for it to be dismissed because someone is too lazy to learn it. I suppose you've never even had to worry about something like your CV being thrown in the bin because of your name, have you?

What is said: "Where are you really from?

What I hear: You don't belong. You don't fit the look of what I consider British, so you must be from somewhere else. This question may be asked out of curiosity about someone's heritage or background but the otherisation based purely on the way someone looks is what hurts people.

What is said: "Is that your real hair?" "I prefer your hair straight." *Reaches out to touch it*.

Historically, Black women's hair has been policed...a lot. Historically, a law was even passed, that required them to hide it. Whether it's their natural hair being deemed as 'unprofessional' in the workplace or comments about it being 'fake', we have so much nonsense to navigate. Not to mention that we are constantly at war with the media's blatant preference for Euro-centric features; it's hard not to internalise that narrative. I remember wishing that I had naturally straight hair when I was younger and then I grew up and realised that my hair could do both. 

Imagine telling your boss that you'd like to move desks because yours is next to a patch of damp on the wall and their response is "maybe it's just something in your hair?"

 Hair is such a personal thing and for it to be so frequently pointed out and commented on can be anxiety-inducing. Especially when we have to hear about your 'preferences'. I am not a doll. If you ever want to violate someone's personal space by touching it, don't.

What is said: "That is so ghetto/gangster/ratchet."

'Ghetto' is a racially-charged word, as there's no secret that especially in America, it's mostly ethnic minorities who are living in those areas (due to systemic racism by the way - do your Googles) and is typically associated with people of colour. It's almost certainly laced with negative connotations, so just don't.

A lot of microaggressions suggest that whiteness is the default and this is where the problem lies. I want you to understand how it feels when something that you can't and wouldn't ever change (your skin colour) becomes a source of amusement, is the root of someone's prejudice or is fetishised. It's humiliating and dehumanising.

The worst part is the internal struggle of not wanting to speak up because you want to be accepted or you don’t want to be labelled as ‘confrontational’, ‘having an attitude problem' or as someone who 'pulls the race card'. 

Over the years, I've let things slide, for reasons listed above. If there's one thing that I hope comes from all of this current discourse, it's that these kinds of comments are checked on the spot.  Because when I've spoken up in past conversations it's been met with "But you're not black black, are you?" Well yes, I am actually and I don't want to be your Black friend if I am only your palatable version of blackness. I've really had to do the work to love and embrace all of me. It's not easy to forget being picked on for my appearance in the past. Or being called a 'coconut'.

At this point, if you aren't considering what you can do, online and offline, that is willful ignorance. Beyond the black square, there is work to be done. Continue those conversations. Check on your Black friends. No applause for the bare minimum. Sorry. Back your chat.

 Saying that you 'just see a person' or 'don't see colour' just can't be true because if I asked you if you'd want to swap places, I know that the answer would be no. That's fine but only seeing 'a person' is an act of erasure and negates people's lived experiences and what makes them who they truly are and their present pain. Black is not a swear word. Listening to understand, rather than defend, is a vital first step. Black people just want to exist in the spaces they exist in as who they truly are - not the framework you've created.

If there is something that you don't understand, please research it. There is so much information out there.

Again, thank you for taking the time to read this. 

Much love,

Melly xox 


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