Today we start a series of personal blog posts from staff and students reacting to the killing of George Floyd and the protests here and around the world. The first of these is from Ursula, who has just completed her second year of study for a degree in History at the University of Northampton.
NB: Ursula’s blog contains language that some readers might find offensive, I’ve not edited it out because they are her words and are in context.
My mother and I
As a 47-year-old white woman I have never known life without racism. It saddens me that today it is still so apparent and prevalent within society and you know what the saddest part is, its that racism is taught, children learn it from an early age. I have lost count of the number of times over my life that I have had to speak up and tell classmates, relatives, friends or colleagues that they cannot use words like that in front of me and now as a mother in front of my children it is not acceptable.
They tend to look at me perplexed that I do not agree with them a white person surely I too should hold the same views at them, because that it was they have been taught, what they know and they know no difference due to ignorance and how they have been brought up. I am of an age where the words ‘half-caste’, ‘paki’, ‘coon’, ‘nigger’ were just a few of the terms used to describe those of a different colour to my own white skin.
I think back to the programmes on television ‘Love thy neighbour’ and ‘Mind your language.’ If these where show today there would be outrage and rightly so. But this is what I grew up with. Yet I was lucky I was different I learnt to not judge by colour but to treat everyone equally with respect for we are all equal. Why?
I am lucky not just because my mother was a product of an affair with an American Serviceman so she has olive skin, brown eyes and lovely fuzzy afro hair. My sister and I growing up were in awe of her hair especially in the seventies when it was at its afro peak best. I was lucky because of where I lived I had friends who were a mixture of races and religion growing up on a council estate in Essex and although not many went to my school they attended The Catholic Primary School I still played out with them and lived on a mini multicultural street.
I saw prejudice and racism first hand and got into many a scrape for it.
One memory I have is aged 18 at sixth form college two white lads were picking on a black lad outside class we were waiting to go in, I couldn’t hear what they were saying at first but as more people came to wait outside they became more brazen and cocky and so there insults became louder. I soon realised they were not going to stop so had I waded in.
I then got the insults and was called a ‘nigger lover’, and for a few weeks afterwards, I was taunted just because I tried to stop them to make them see they were wrong however their racial education had started at home and the foundations of prejudice there had already been laid.
I have many a time, unfortunately, stopped people in their tracks spouting racism, normally by saying ‘how can you say that’, they then want to know what my problem is?
And then I tell them about my mum and they say oh but that’s different because you are white! So because I am white and not obviously mixed-race, I am accepted. So being white = privilege and acceptance.
I have witnessed my mum dye her hair a lighter colour and iron it to make it straight or have it plaited off her face so people could not see her wonderful afro hair as it would count against her. I have seen her carefully choose what to wear and what bus we are to catch into town to protect us from racist comments, I have even heard her say that she is just looking after us, rather than admit she is our mum, to protect us growing up.
She struggled with her mental health partly due to her heritage. Unfortunately, so much so my sister and I ended up in and out of foster care and then I ended up in children’s home when my sister was sent to boarding school, which I later joined. Racism is ignorance people have no idea of the effect it has upon others, for me, it is all about education.
Education is the key not just at home but within schools. Our own history is littered with racism from the slave trade and how we wanted to be the biggest empire so invaded other countries to build a formidable empire.
The History and English Literature Curriculum needs to be upgraded as they are seriously lacking with regards to black history, racism, black authors. We must start to educate future generations at primary school and continue it into secondary school.
We cannot eradicate racism overnight but we need to change the attitudes of those around us and this can only be done by speaking out and education, for ‘ignorance is bliss’ but it is no excuse.
Ursula, BA History 2nd Year