Guest Blog; Written by Antonia Fagbohun
There were a lot of situations where I experienced racism… so the last two weeks have been trying to say the least. From watching George Floyd being murdered, to seeing brands proclaiming ‘Black Lives Matter’, to seeing a host of Twitter threads on anti-racist books to read – it has been one of the most emotionally exhausting and exhilarating moments for the black community. For once though, there’s somewhat a glimmer of some real, lasting change happening within this generation, albeit it taking a death of a black man for it to happen. I wasn’t even ready for all this to happen, but the plaster has been ripped off and the racism in the UK – as well as many other countries – has well and truly been exposed to those who were blind to it and are now willing and able to see. Many knew it has been around, many have described it as subtle, covert or even under the table, but is it really?
I think many people have become accustom to a certain level of ignorance without even realising. Many black people (myself from Nigerian descent) will relate to their parents telling them stories about the racism they faced when they arrived in the U.K., priming us for what to expect. My dad used to be a cleaner and he would tell me the horror stories about white men spitting at him on the street and how he and my mum struggled to find a babysitter as no one wanted to look after black children. I’d listen to these stories and my dad will always reiterate that things haven’t changed. Even when we discuss the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, he said he wasn’t buying it – it hurt to hear, but it dawned on me that in his years being in this country whilst trying to better his children’s lives, his experience has been overshadowed by racial abuse on the streets, at work and in society in general. My parents have been jaded by the onslaught of racism they’ve experienced and they unfortunately have no fight left in them.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time convincing myself that things had changed since my parents arrived in the U.K. nearly 30 years ago… but I knew it hadn’t. I was just in constant reset mode whenever I heard or experienced racism. I was shocked by how much I had buried away. Late-night calls and WhatsApp group chats with friends and family made it clear that no matter how much I covered things up, the constant fear of being described as ‘aggressive’ or ‘angry’ as a black woman was eating away at me, whilst I buried the stress of working in white spaces. It’s not rare that I’ll hear a commuter bark a racist remark at me during rush hour on the London Underground – prior to the pandemic of course – which I learned to dismiss. It’s also not rare I’d want to raise issues in the workplace but be made to feel like I was playing the ‘race card’ so I learned to keep quiet. They’ve already made an assumption about me being tell-tale so why bother.
After years of working in white spaces, you begin to chip away. You become a sort of hybrid, diluted version of yourself that you show to society to shield away from the stress of being in white spaces, leaving only your black friends and allies to meet the real you. I’m writing this on my 28th birthday and it’s the first time in my life where I feel comfortable enough to bring myself, wholeheartedly, to every single situation. I had spent years vicariously living through amazing black activists and influencers who called racism out unapologetically without any fear. Being able to unpack my own trauma and listen to that of my family and friends has been a rollercoaster, but now being able to show up and be authentically myself is the best birthday present I could ever wish for.