How many times have people excused their actions because they have one single black friend who was me? How many people have I let touch my hair because I felt uncomfortable saying no?
I constantly review the amount of space I take up, wondering if I'm too much. Is my voice too loud? Constantly considering how comfortable I am to be around - and I think this is where I’ve been failing.
When you are black or brown in a mostly white space I think there is an expectation for you to adjust yourself to make the rest of the room comfortable; otherwise, you can be called aggressive or intimidating. You’re expected to repackage your words in order for them to be palatable for those that hear them, and maybe this isn’t everyone's experience, but this is how I have felt for as long as I can remember.
The best example that I can give of this is that once when I was younger, I was speaking about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and a friend said to me “sometimes you make us feel guilty for being white,” and I don’t know why, but I apologised. I haven’t stopped thinking about that interaction recently and how angry I feel at myself for being a pushover and allowing the other person to walk away with my apology.
I’ve been thinking about all of the times I have let the white people around me behave how they wanted - unchallenged - and assuming that their behaviour is okay because of my passiveness. How many times have people excused their actions because they have one single black friend who was me? How many people have I let touch my hair because I felt uncomfortable saying no?
Since May I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. I’ve been picking up my memories and reassessing them with a new lens and trying to think about the context of my anger after George Floyd’s death and the helplessness I felt watching it happen on a phone screen in my bedroom in Stirling, 3,711 miles away. In the days after, I spent a lot of energy trying to explain that although this did not happen in the UK, the UK is not innocent, telling people about how America does not have a monopoly on racial violence and systemic racism.
It would be wrong to say that I have been quiet about racism up until now, but I know that I could have been better and I need to be better still. I am exhausted but there is strength in clarity and I know that I won’t ever go back to being small - I can’t ask my white friends to do better without understanding that I have work to do as well. Going forward, I promise to never be quiet again.