It's week six of our #BREAKFREE campaign, and Kemi Alemoru is exploring why racism is important - regardless of your ethnicity or experiences
It is not easy to talk about race. Although, the topic has in no way been neglected. Last year heated debates on the matter ranged from Black Lives Matter campaigns, arguments about cornrows and the character assassination of Iggy Azalea. More recently, Macklemore released his single “White Privilege” and Joseph Fiennes is causing a stir by being cast to play Michael Jackson, amid the #OscarsSoWhite row.
Race and the prospect that racism still exists is uncomfortable. Understandably most people like to think it is something in our past that we have overcome. Worst of all, if it still exists then we need to confront it, which certainly is not an easy task.
Perhaps this is why speaking about it can lead to you being labelled as “too sensitive” and accused of playing the race card. Some people deny your experiences, and attempt to claim your struggle as their own. We’ve all heard or read comments questioning “why isn’t there a white history month?” or “why don’t we call the MOBO awards racist?” But all these comments show is that the person saying them misunderstands why race and representation is so important for minorities.
People that hold these views need to ask themselves, ‘do you feel underrepresented? Really?’ From the education curriculum to award shows, black and minority ethnic achievements and perspectives are too frequently overlooked. The recent #OscarsSoWhite campaign highlights that the most prestigious awards in acting still doesn’t recognise black actors enough. They still don’t receive the same praise or opportunity as their peers.
Apart from a few racial slurs here and there, being called a ‘black c**t’ on my walk home and a ‘coon’ in a nightclub, I wouldn’t say I regularly deal with overt racism. Nor am I a cynic that believes every white person thinks I am below them, I know this isn’t the case. But what I, and in fact everyone, needs to break free from is ignorance. I’m talking about the implicit bias we all have that can be acknowledged and controlled. The bias displayed by statements like ‘you are pretty for a black girl’ (a compliment I have never quite understood) or ‘you don’t speak like a black girl’, which I investigated for my linguistics dissertation (spoiler: you cannot sound like a race).
I am now at a postgraduate level of education. Having studied in three different cities with varying racial demographics it is worth noting that other than one primary school teacher, I have only ever had two teachers that were not white. Both were guest lecturers in higher education. And both were men. In 2015 it was found there were only 17 black female professors in higher education. Do you think it benefits our education system to have such a blatant lack of diversity in its teaching, in the academic points of view considered and therefore the content of the courses?
Similarly, in my pursuit of becoming a journalist I have attended many talks about the industry. Some talk about the disappointing absence of women in senior editorial roles. A panellist at a Women in Journalism event said that it was ‘extremely disheartening’ to walk into a board room and not see anyone that looked like her. She meant that all the people in the room were men, but failed to recognise how disheartening it is for somebody like me who really doesn’t look like anyone in that room. Likewise, how disheartening it is to have dreamt of writing for magazines your whole life and yet hardly see anyone that looks like you in the pages of them.
This campaign is shining a spotlight on different things that hold women back. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty – I want to make them aware of the issues, so that they can support each other. We need to #BREAKFREE from our complacency.
Because race is still a factor, it is still a barrier some women have to overcome.
Nobody wants to live in a society where your peers do not feel equal, and where some do not feel included.