My experience of race and identity growing up was a very privileged one. I come from family of mixed culture, heritage and experience – my mother being Indian and my father Jamaican-English – I went to a school where every one of my friends was some new combination of countries, and I live in an area of London where I was always part of the ‘majority,’ as it were. But most importantly, I had always been told that if my colour made me different, it was just another part of my identity that was only to be celebrated.
What changed when I came to Oxford was that suddenly I was made aware of the fact I look different to other people. I became conscious of my skin as something other than just a good thing and I became part of a minority. But what shocked me the most was that there were very few conversations going on about race and racial identity and there are very few spaces where race takes priority as part of a discussion. I think that the fact so many people came out in support of the ‘I, too, am Oxford’ campaign highlighted this gap in our daily discourse.
The nature of the collegiate system can leave you feeling outnumbered. I found myself biting my tongue whenever this new trend of ‘casual racism’ would raise its head, for fear of being labelled ‘the sensitive girl,’ which was something I had never consciously done before. It’s not that people are racist or prejudice – it’s that there is an ignorance about what could make people feel uncomfortable and a lack of awareness of the context in which they are speaking. This is partly due to where people have grown up – I understand not everyone has been exposed to different cultures, but we are meant to be one of the ‘best and brightest’ institutions in the entire world, the graduates are future leaders of public and private institutions. Now should be the time to explore and to educate ourselves and our peers about the value of heritage, taste, racial sensibilities, traditions and cultures. The ‘I, too’ movements and other forms of race dissidence are a means by which to transform our university towards a more inclusive environment, and there is a lot that could be changed about the representation of race in the curriculum, the student and staff bodies. CRAE have been campaigning for a more inclusive and racially diverse experience for students at Oxford, and we must keep demanding a discussion on race be taken seriously.