Occupy Your Space: Racism And Me

Whilst Danny Baker provoked outrage, where is the collective outrage for the racism that happens to everyday people?

n March 21, 2019, I posted on Facebook about an everyday instance of racism, when someone shouted “nigger” from a drive-by car less than five minutes from my house, as I was walking back from university. With eighty-one reacts and over forty comments, seven comments were from people of colour. That know, for us, racism is part of our coming-of-age.

That racism is as much a rites-of-passage as riding a bike or as common as buying milk and eggs from the off-license. The White-dominated comments section was filled with people that I respect very much, people that are known for speaking out. It was a footnote to good vibes and anti-racist activism. See, it’s not enough to just “not be racist.” You have to be publicly anti-racist. To be silent in times of oppression is to take the side of the oppressor.

After that incident, on that Thursday night, I tried to take it in its stride. But, I cried. And I was living in an epilogue of a childhood where I was called “coon” and “nigger” by White children, everyday. That “nigger” brought me back to a darker time, my insides jostling with the anger of an earthquake. The incident was part of the multiracial Britain that people boast about. Whilst we can celebrate diversity, racism lingers like a bad smell. My university degree and RP don’t protect me — my brown face and Afro hair — present on almost every continent. But I’m a writer, so of course I posted about it on social media.

And these acts of racism remind me that we are living in a postcolonial society in the ruins of race and empire. That these supposed random acts won’t get airtime, that Joe and Jane Bloggs on the street rarely get traction. My posts about White people aren’t malicious. I don’t hate White people, I hate White supremacy. They are directed at the thuggish minds in that car, highly likely UKIP supporters, readers of the Daily Mail and their clickbait headlines.

For years, I have struggled to come to terms with the trauma I picked up from the racist-based bullying I experienced as a child. The first time I was called nigger, I was six. When I see mugshots of Black men on police lineups; when I watched When They See Us — the triggering narratives of incarcerated Black bodies that enriched the media with ratings and division. When they pit anti-racism campaigners against known racists and watching them go at it, there’s a serious problem. This is not journalism. This is a framework for crime.

“White supremacy isn’t the shark; it’s the water.” — Guante

It’s the culture, and how people have grown to normalise everyday prejudice. So, when I see the likes of Malala, Afua Hirsch, and Jameela Jamil using their platforms to highlight inequality, they have inspired people like me, highlighting hate crimes wherever it occurs, as we must all tell our stories of abuse: race, gender, sex, or otherwise. If not, the narrative ceases to change.

Corporations like BBC that endorse White nationalist racists, and misogyny on a regular basis, giving platforms to xenophobes and politicians (often the same people). Politicians that have proven time and time again that they’re not fit for office. The likely next British prime minister, Boris Johnson, that people laugh about — “it’s just Boris” — that referred to Muslim women in hijabs as “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” — and gay people as “bum boys” — and Black people as “piccannies with watermelon smiles” — a more intelligent Donald Trump with dog whistle slurs and colonial-era rhetoric.

“I can’t believe this is still happening, it’s 2019” — People. It’s really not that surprising when you look at the history of racism (and British colonial laws).

These regular attacks and the media’s pyrotechnic party tricks are in partnership in 2019, just as they were in the 1990s with the Trial of the Century — The People vs. O. J Simpson, just as they were in the 80s, when my parents were growing up, as guns sounded in Brixton — and Handsworth was ablaze with revolution. In my homeland of Britain, it’s open season. It has been for a while, in the landscape of British history, with the bodies of people of colour, gay people, working-class people, homeless people, women and immigrants littered through White imperialist history books. I am Black and male; but I am educated. I evaded certain things because of that. Both my parents graduated from the University of East London with first-class degrees. But I’m a person of colour and racism doesn’t see your experience. White supremacy uses oppressed people as matches in the hue of capitalism and patriarchy, in the tint of colonial statues and streets named for murderers and slave traders.

It’s not just enough to be “not racist.” We must angrily be anti-racist, challenging leaders that continue to spout racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic nonsense. Occupying our space is standing our ground and standing up for our right to exist. We must challenge rainbow capitalism and poverty tourism. And question why the assault / incarceration of attractive, cis, White gay people garner more headlines than the murders of Black trans women? Why cis, straight people often make Pride about themselves? Why when Black Lives Matter, people are on the offensive, with All Lives Matter?

Racism and prejudice; it’s in colonial statues and electing mad men to office. It’s me being punched in the face as a child for being born Black. It’s Black and Asian Britishness being contested by White supremacist values. It’s celebrating explorers, when they were colonisers. It’s the absence of the Black female victims of police brutality and the victim-blaming of rape survivors.

It’s contested press freedom, as we must all stand up, join together and fight back, occupying our spaces with confidence and zeal.

Writer | Muses: history, inequality, identity, arts et al| Race + Black History Educator | Poet: Tre the Poet on Medium | treventour.com | E: tre@treventour.com