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NEVER fail to call out racism: the devastation of silence

TW: Racism, sexual assault 

British society and campuses continue to live in denial of racial inequality entrenched in our communities. Removing the burden of racism from the rest of the international community is unjust and a besmirchment on the progressive principles by which we live. Racial injustice is a global problem, with particular resonance here in the United Kingdom. While many people seem to have only woken up to the realities of racial oppression now, this has been my reality from the very beginning of my life. The Black community has been fighting what feels like an endless battle against racism and we will have failed if our concern for racial prejudice disappears because George Floyd is no longer the number one news story and the news cycle has moved on.

White guilt should not be downplayed. It is valid to feel emotional distress and anxiety when you have to have to understand and accept your biases and bigotry. Due to the significance of White guilt, centuries have failed to give the correct priority to race issues in education and have simply pretended that it isn’t there. This is a miscarriage of justice for every Black person who must suffer racism without proportional consequences in order to protect the comfort of their White peers.

In my short time at Oxford, I have experienced too many racially inappropriate encounters. I have not always spoken about them because it is upsetting and exhausting; I should not have to constantly explain to people why I deserve respect and why they should have a personal regard for my existence as a Black woman. 

Here is what I have experienced as a Black woman in romantic settings:

  • I have always felt like the less attractive option and the lesser preference of my peers who comprise  my dating pool.
  • I have had my hair pulled, and was forcefully flipped and called violent racial slurs whilst someone  thrusted inside me with rage. Sexual harassment and assault is most prevalent in the Black community, but no one talks about it.
  • I am constantly the “booty call” and never the girl wanted for a serious relationship due to the hypersexualisation of Black women historically.

Here is what I have experienced as a Black woman in social settings:

  • I have had my box braids compared to Medusa’s snake hair
  • I have been asked if I have a health condition that prevents me from growing hair because I wear wigs
  • I have been called a slave on multiple occasions by supposed close friends

Here is what I have experienced in an educational capacity at Oxford:

  • I have been told by a tutor not to worry about my grades as my place at Oxford is more about being able to have “intellectual conversations about Hobbes and Aristotle”
  • I was gaslighted into believing I was unintelligent when I had a genuine invisible learning disability
  • I was told by a tutor that my handwriting was a reflection of my academic potential and that I should not allow this to be another “disadvantage” I must face
  • It was assumed that my dissertation on the Biafra war would be difficult due to a lack of sources in English when Nigeria was literally a British colony and has a prosperous educated elite… 

These are only a few instances and continuous cohorts of Black students have suffered a lot worse.

Wearing protective hairstyles at university means preparing for uncomfortable and agonising interactions. I must approach romantic relationships with caution due to the fetishisation of my skin. Equal expectations by my academic support system, relating to my potential to succeed, seem out of my reach. These issues should not only be important now that another Black man has been murdered by the police. This discourse is important and should continue – we must be vocal in correcting racism and all instances of implicit bias. Everyone must be working to educate themselves on the severity and pervasiveness of racism and anti-Blackness.

I grew up and went to school in a predominantly Black area, so I was less familiar with instances of racism, microaggressions and implicit bias when I arrived at Oxford. The hateful and baleful remarks against me and the evil racist attitudes being released into the world must NOT go unpunished. The burden should not be on me and other Black people to get used to racism and numb to the suffering. As an ally, you cannot and must not stay silent in times of injustice, in moments of racist hatred and ignorant disregard for the seriousness of the circumstances that Black people live through everyday. It will be uncomfortable, it may be in response to people close to you — friends and family — but choosing a position of neutrality is to allow such dangerous and harmful perceptions and structures to continue unabating.

One crucial lesson must be learnt from this: being “not racist” in silence is not enough. Failing to call out instances of racial discrimination is not just validating the hatred, evil, and ignorance behind racism, but it actively contributes to a dominant culture of dismissal and disregard for the plight of Black people everywhere.

While social media has been flushed with posts expressing solidarity for George Floyd, and support for those protesting racial justice and putting their lives on the line in the process, students and campuses need to go a step further. Real progress will require a deeper understanding of the ingrained oppressive power structures. It will require my fellow students to assume a more proactive allyship and become comfortable with confronting everyday instances of racism and prejudice.

“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And that is the only way forward.” – Ijeoma Oluo

Image credit: Daria Koukoleva

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