In this article, Linzi Cooper, Paralegal Business Manager, shares her personal experience of racism.
I was 14, wearing my school uniform, sitting on the bus on the way home from school. A really cute little blonde girl, sitting near me with her dad, catches my eye and I smile at her. I would guess she was about three or four years old. She looks up to me and, as clear as day, she says “are you a nigger?”.
Her dad looked straight at me but said nothing to correct his little girl. My heart sank, I felt embarrassed and extremely sad. I looked at the girl, gave her the biggest smile and said “no darling I’m not”, and then I looked away with tears in my eyes, not making eye contact for the rest of the journey.
That was 26 years ago, but I will never forget how it made me feel and I often wonder what that little girl is like now, she was taught to be a racist!
Around a year ago my son’s nan came to pick him up from our house, I wasn’t there, but something happened to do with parking and she had some cross words with my neighbour. I came back to a note from my neighbour, so I popped in to see what was wrong. That’s when she went on to tell me what had happened with the parking, it was silly really, but I explained that I wasn’t there, that I would speak to my son’s nan and ask her not to park near their house when she next comes around. Not happy with that, she went on to tell me how my son’s nan would not speak to her own kind like that…
I calmly asked what she meant by “own kind”, that’s when she went on to explain, “her own kind, people like her and like you”(me), “you’re all the same.”
She was talking normally, not shouting or aggressive, just as if what she was saying was perfectly ok, she also went on to tell me how she used to order from Avon but then realised that it was made by Polish people so she no longer uses it.
I remained calm, not giving her the satisfaction of having more negative thoughts about “my kind” and I explained that I found what she was saying very offensive and racist. I tried to get to the bottom of why she felt that way or thought it was ok, but unfortunately, I was getting nowhere so I just asked that she didn’t speak to me again and I left. I know that my neighbour looks down on me today, because of the colour of my skin.
Early on in lockdown, whilst homeschooling my 11-year-old, I decided to set him a project to study black history and create a presentation for me. I did this because I feel that I don’t know enough about it myself, I knew that he would only slightly touch on the subject in school and I wanted him to be better informed than I was whilst growing up. He really enjoyed the subject and now back at school, he has talked to his teachers about it and asked for more on the subject. It’s a shame that he has to ask.
I am mixed race and I identify as black and proud of it, but there have been times in my teenage years where I have felt like I didn’t fit in because I’m not white, and I didn’t fit in because I’m not black enough either. I now know that racism is not my problem; it is the problem of the racists. I am now in a place where I mostly don’t think about it, I mostly don’t worry about running into problems because of my colour. I am not better than anyone else, and no one else is better than me, I am who I am and that is good enough. We are all people.
Since George Floyd’s murder, and the media coverage of Black Lives Matter, I have struggled with feelings that I didn’t know that I still had, I have cried, a lot. I have felt fear and pain that I haven’t felt for many years, even when dealing with my ignorant neighbour. I don’t have the answers, I don’t know what will fix this, but I do know that change must come and talking about it can only be a good thing. Education is key, understanding and self-reflection. This is not a time to point fingers or name call, let’s all just be honest and look at our own behaviours, thoughts and unconscious bias, I am.