To understand we need to go back 20+ years ago to my childhood, where I grew up as part of almost all disadvantaged check lists. I quite literally was a diversity officer's dream. Poverty? Check. Single parent family? Check. Abuse in the family home? Check. Familiarity with prison services? Check. Exposure to mental health challenge with parents? Check. Mixed race? Check.
I look back now and easily identify that those challenges are what make me who I am today. But obviously it was horrendous and it's not something I easily reflect on or talk about. Also, it's difficult to articulate what growing up under those circumstances feels like, especially when your entire life has been spent hiding those facts because being poor is utterly humiliating. And I don't mean having no money so you can't afford to go to the pub the Friday before pay day. I mean shopping for a family of 5 on £40 a week, going without electricity and heating because your mum can't afford it (despite working day and night to make ends meet) and always being the kids who can't afford to go on school trips. This is in addition to seeing parents suffer with their mental health and having a major criminal court case dominate your early life. And amongst that being mixed race was almost an afterthought, the least of my worries. But by this I don't mean it wasn't an issue. I grew up being called a Paki on a regular basis and to this day when people ask where I'm from and I reply Essex, often I'm asked, "no but where are you really from?". But the reality is I am relatively fair skinned. I grew up with all white friends, no black role models at school or on TV and I learned that to be successful meant to be white and subconsciously that's exactly what I made myself. Even today, unless people meet my mum or I tell them, I would be surprised if people knew I was mixed race.
Because the thing is, I think growing up as I did sends you one of two ways. You either learn that this is life, it's a struggle and always will be. Or you decide that you will NEVER live like this when you grow up and you do everything possible to distance yourself from a life like that, which was exactly what I did. In my desire to get away from everything associate with my childhood, I threw everything into this pit that I was ashamed and embarrassed of.
Poverty, abuse, unstable family home and race all went into that box and I've worked my adult life to remove myself away from everything in it.
When George Floyd was murdered, I couldn't understand why I was so upset. Obviously it's horrific, obviously it's outrageous but it went beyond feeling a bit sad. For days I felt sick and devastated and couldn't articulate to my husband why I felt almost bereft. I remember talking it through with him and looking at the image of the policeman, so nonchalant with his knee on George's neck, hands in his pockets like he was chilling out as he choked the life from him and off a sudden I got it. I saw my brothers on the floor. My uncles. My grandad. And just like that things changed. My outlook on how I see myself, understanding who I truly am, was irrevocably changed. All those experiences my brothers, mum, grandparents, cousins have gone through - I'm starting to feel them. For the first time I am identifying with being a mixed race woman, who is part of the black community, and I am furious this is still happening. And I am furious with myself, that as a successful woman who can make a difference, I've done nothing to show young people that success doesn't have to equal being white.
I go back to my first point on why now, but the fact is black communities have been suffering the injustices of racism forever, we just chose not to see or talk about it. I don't dare try to identify with the horrific experiences that are still happening to the black community. In fact, I feel hypercritical when I made a choice as a child to pretend to be white. But what I do identify with is feeling that being black is not enough, being black does not equal success and being black is less than being white.
I'm now making a choice as an adult to be part of the black community and use my voice. We have a responsibility to show black and mixed-race children that people who look like you can be successful. We have a responsibility to hire diverse teams, embrace different cultures and actively call out racism when we see it.
It's taken 31 years and the death of George Floyd for me to realise who I am and understand I have a responsibility to make a difference. I have a long way to go, a lot of educating to do, but I stand proudly and loudly with the black community and will keep doing my bit until all #blacklivesmatter.
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