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Back to Black – Lives matter so let’s talk drug dealers and words. Language matters.

So it’s almost 6 months since I didn’t post a Black Square and I didn’t speak up.  I learned a new term ‘Race Adjacent’ thanks to a North American based cousin who read my blog post

We hear a lot about racism in North America – it’s more vocal and more people are aware of its modern and historical context.  In the UK, we still take a stiff upper lip approach to racism and find it hard to talk about – we’re not as vocal. But are we aware of the historical context of the British Empire and its colonies?  Were you taught at school to consider that the great British Empire was once the King of Drug Dealers?!  Yep – think Breaking Bad goes global, replace blue crystal meth with opium and rename it as the ‘Opium Wars’ – these modern cartels are amateurs in comparison!  Ever wondered why Hong Kong was returned to China or how it became part of the British Empire (#landgrab anyone?)       

So there’s education/wokeness needed through conversation but alongside that how do we become more vocal?

This is where North America are ahead of us in the UK – in the language by which they have to talk about race.  And this is important.  Many of us in the UK don’t have the language and therefore the tools to talk about race.  Let alone the confidence and the guts to open up these tricky conversations.  

Do you understand the terms Unconscious Bias, BAME, BIPOC, affinity groups, diaspora, imposter syndrome, privilege, white fragility, etc?

Are you equipped and fluent with the language and also have confidence to talk about race?

Are you aware of using inclusive language?  There’s a huge (albeit subtle) difference between talking about ‘the disabled’ vs ‘disabled people’ – the difference between a descriptor of a group of people vs a collective term.

In the last 6 months I’ve unknowingly been working on he above three questions.  Through watching TV, reading and having open discussions – I have now learned some of the words to talk about experiences I have had over the years.  There’s a common language and now a means by which to talk about and share these things that were so fluffy and intangible before.  Whereas before I had a niggly feeling that something wasn’t right, I didn’t have the right words to talk about it.  Now I feel a bit more equipped to firstly recognise that niggly feeling for what it is and also have the tools of language to express it without being not understood or shut down.

If you’ve read my previous post – you will realise that the death of George Flloyd really affected me.  It made me question my role and impact in changing the conversation and the system.  I’ve also learned that currently we seem to be in a time when we can share our experiences and open up conversations safely. Thank you to all those people who have been willing to engage with me and talk openly over the last 6 months – yes you’ve tended to be females but I guess that’s because of my situation and because you recognise the struggles of being in a minority.

So if you posted a Black Square –  what have you done over the last 6 months since posting that Black Square?  If you didn’t post a Black Square – if you’re reading this – read on and consider what you might read or watch.   Has your vocabulary increased? Do you have the tools to talk about race? Here’s what I’ve been reading and watching.

What have you done and what are you going to do before the 6 month anniversary of George Floyd’s death?

The School that Tried to End Racism on All4 (Channel 4 On Demand)This was filmed a year before George Floyd’s death and in a school with a white, male and progressive headteacher.  I found this hard to watch as a parent of mixed kids – which room would they go in?  
The Talk on All4 (Channel 4 On Demand)Again a hard watch as a parent. Have you considered when and how to bring up and talk about race to your children?  How do you explain systematic racism, its consequences and break that childhood innocent?
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism  by Robin DiAngeloThis is quite a heavy read but the term ‘White Fragility’ has crystallised a ‘niggly feeling’ for me although I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to use it.
Queenie by Candice Carty-WilliamsBoth well received books – these opened my eyes to others experience in seeing their worlds and hearing their voices
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernandine EvaristoIt won a Booker Prize.
Watched Good Trouble Season 1 and 2 on BBC iPlayerLove this – I’m still watching it. It raises so many of the issues I can relate to …

Let me know if you have an tips on what to read or watch next – my ‘What Next’ list includes:

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X KendiSo the concept is that an action racist or antiracist – there’s no in between …
Native: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by AkalaHopefully I’ll learn more about the Empire from this.
Something written by or presented by David OlugosoEnough said.
Crip Tales on BBC 4 iPlayerWatching and hearing about life through the lens of disabled people – eye opening.
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Living in a Box … Living in a Cardboard Box …

I’ve been ticking one box my whole life and it’s hard to consider that, with the way ME affects my life, I might be ticking another one – sadly the fact is that I’m not as able as I used to be.
But today I’m going to talk about the first box as I’m not there yet with ticking the other box.
So here’s the box I’m going to talk about – let’s go gently as it’s a delicate and emotional subject! But we need to talk.

The ethnic group question from the 2011 Census. Source: 2011 Census England Household questionnaire, Office for National Statistics (ONS)
The ethnic group question from the 2011 Census.
Source: 2011 Census England Household Questionnaire, Office for National Statistics (ONS)

It’s just over a month since the death of George Floyd and an outpour of racial awareness and unfairness erupted. Black squares clogged up my social media and I was appreciative of those who were aware of their privilege who posted but also aware that some of us who fit the ethnicity boxes – didn’t. I didn’t post a black square.

It bugged me – why didn’t I? After much thinking I realised that it’s because as ‘Yellow’ I’ve spent most of my time trying to fit in and not raising the race issue – I know it’s hindered my life but also as ‘Yellow’ I think I’m perceived as less different and less of an unknown – which helps. The British Chinese minority represent 0.7% of the UK population and are known as the Silent Minority. Chinese children tend to do well at school – but interestingly their educational achievement does not translate into better rates of employment. We tend to stay quiet as maybe ‘Yellow’ is a less threatening colour and culturally younger females don’t speak out. However I realise my privilege of being seen as ‘Yellow’ and am thankful for it (even if I still feel discrimination).

At primary school I remembered the slanted eye gestures and the “Chinky” chants that came of being one of the few ethnic minority children. I was lucky that although English was my parents’ second language – they worked in the NHS and used English on a daily basis. This meant that they could engage with the school and ask the teaching staff questions when needed. So thank you mum and dad – thank you for being able and willing to engage with the school to understand the UK education system – I know it took perseverance and tenacity. I know English was your second language and having not been educated in the UK – you didn’t know what a State Grammar School was – but you listened when your daughter said she’d heard of one and wanted to go to one. You found out what they were and supported me even though we came from an ‘English as an Additional Language’ (EAL) household. There was no chance of a tutor but we worked together on it. Thank you as you helped me broaden my opportunities and increase my privilege in this world.

Starting my career – I realised being a Chinese-looking female – you look young and can lack gravitas. I was lucky to receive some training when I was told bluntly that my voice hindered me. The enthusiastic and higher timbre of my voice re-enforced that I was young and not experienced – I learned quickly when presenting or participating in meetings I needed to speak lower with more bass in my voice. Plus I had to repeat points and fight to get recognition of them – it’s a lot easier to recognise a point when it’s raised by someone who you feel familiar to (because of their looks) even though you don’t know them or their experience. Young, female, non-white – I did okay but was conscious of it.

I’ve been told multiple times to ‘Go Back to Where you Come From!’. I’ve been asked in front of others ‘Are you being Racist?!’. Both times ironically by older white males – and no neither times was I being racist. I was talking about race and colour but I wasn’t being racist – I wasn’t disciminating against someone because they had a different colour – I was talking about it – I was conscious. It hurt and put me back in my box and sometimes it’s just easier to stay in the box and be a known quantity.

I think it’s human nature to fear what’s unknown and to like what’s familiar – I believe we’re ALL guilty of some sort of unconscious bias. For those who say I don’t see colour – you do. For those who say they’re not racist – I don’t believe you. Saying either of those phrases raises my alarm bells – I need to tread gently in discussions with this individual. It’s much better to say what you are rather than what you aren’t. When curious about someone’s background – you may be scared of offending the other person but if you approach it openly and with an interest to find out more – I doubt you’ll offend them. But maybe don’t ask ‘Where are you from?” – that’s too loaded because we’ve been told so many times to go back to where we came from even if we were born here. What’s your cultural heritage? Do you mind telling me more about yourself, your background or family heritage?

I’m aware of my privilege and culture. Are you? I’m sharing my experiences so maybe you can start to understand. From experience – females will more easily understand as we’ve been together on a similar journey and those who are less able or have been affected by chronic illness will more easily understand too. Sorry for the generalisations – perhaps you’re a white male and you’re angry at me for generalising. But I’m aware that I’m generalising – I’m conscious that I’m generalising. Are you conscious? Or are you still unconscious without realising it? Try this test – I have.

However enough about me – currently there is one house that is really burning and I need to speak up even thought it’s hard.

So I’m trying – I’m trying to speak out.

I get you Reni Eddo-Lodge as to why you wrote “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. I get how you felt you can “no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience” – it is SO emotionally draining trying to get your point across.

Because they have privilege and have never experienced not having it.


Thank You to the White Male Ally who spoke up publicly and inspired me to speak out more.