I'm 32, have been to medical school twice, and was a teacher for five years. At med school, I never saw another black male out of 600 potential doctors. During my time as an educator, I could count all the black teachers I came across on one hand, yet the Asian teachers on several.
Black people in the UK are 3 times more likely to be arrested, twice as likely to be unemployed, more likely to live in a single parent home, live in poorer conditions and four times as likely to be killed (more stats here).
I say all that because I'm from the minority of the minority – a gainfully employed black boy who has three degrees, earns double the average national wage, was raised by mum and dad and has never had any serious altercations with the police. Therefore, in the circles I run in, education (both as a pupil and teacher) and healthcare (as a doctor), I'm usually the only one.
I'm a leprechaun riding a unicorn. And that's the burden I have to bear; most of the time, it’s one I'm glad to.
Microaggressions can come from both sides
When I worked as a science teacher, during the first few weeks at any new school, the kids would just stare at me walking down the corridor. They didn't really know how to take me - and I get it. I’m assuming from their stares that they'd never seen a black guy speak English without an urban-twang or foreign accent. It’s important to note I'm making an assumption; perhaps they stared because I was new, or well-dressed, or because I’m ridiculously good looking?
Slowly and surely, the kids learned to love me, and I them. You see, it's important that majority white areas (like where I live in rural Nottinghamshire) see and know that people like me exist. They must see normal, professional and personable black people.
Therein come the microaggressions. According to Psychology Today, racial microaggressions are defined as, "the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated."
"Sir, you speak so well." "Joel, can I touch your hair?" From staff and student alike, there were microagressions aplenty. Now before we get the pitchforks out, the reversal is also true. "Mzungu [white person]. Come and talk to us." "Mzungu. Your hair is so strange." "Mzungu. Why are you so thin?" During my trips to Uganda and Malawi, I heard more microaggressions towards my white minority friends than I could shake a stick at.
"You speak so well" was a phrase I heard more often at my inner-city black majority church growing up, because they hadn't come across a privately educated, surburban black Brit. I get it, I’m a unicorn.
I don't want to point fingers. And compared to my father, who studied dentistry in Australia and had bananas thrown at him, I’ll take microagressions as proof of progress. Ill-intentions (monkey chants to the black players of the England team in Spain) have been replaced by well intentioned attempts at relationship ("Joel, come and read for us, you’re so articulate").
Progress was slow for Jesus too
Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi, who lived under Roman Occupation. Just like us, he was born into a world of us and them. His Jewish countrymen hated the Samaritans and rabbis did not mingle with ‘sinners’ (ie the diseased, prostitutes, tax collectors, criminals, etc.).
Yet Jesus didn’t let racial or gender divides define his limits. He helped Samaritan women, ate with traitorous tax collectors and had 'sinners' in his inner circle. Even still, you’d think Jesus’ closest disciples would get it.
Peter (literally called ‘The Rock’) had great intentions. He didn’t want non-Jews to be excluded from church, yet he still didn’t eat with them. It took Paul to confront him publicly to show him his fault (Galatians 2:11-14).
To all in my beautiful black community, we need to realise the grandeur of Jesus’ vision for us. The BLM organisation (not the movement) wants to disrupt. Britain First wants to say that white lives matter (was there a point where they didn’t?). Jesus is calling you to humbly find a third way: forgive the ignorant and embrace your beauty.
BAME: Stand up and be counted
And so, for my black brothers and sisters, who have found themselves as the only BAMEs in the room, I say stand strong.
I grieve for the hundreds of slights and poorly worded phrases we’ve had to absorb. I also celebrate the progress that we’ve made by standing on the shoulders of our parents. For here is the vision: Black FTSE 100 CEOs. More than a handful of black policy makers. The majority of the black demographic living in the middle-class. Black children more often being born into two parent families. Jollof rice becoming as popular as Chicken Tikka Masala. Camera recognition software that actually recognises dark complexions. Interracial marriage no longer being taboo. Black professionals. Blacks that feel as comfortable living in the English countryside as they do the city. White people holidaymaking in sub-saharan Africa as often as they go to Tenerife.
After all, a box of colouring pencils without the blacks and browns is incomplete. Let us forgive the ignorant and embrace our beauty.
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