“I feel like in our society, if you want to be cultured you have to get on with it by yourself, and find a way

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While you were growing up who did you see in the media that looked like you?
I didn’t grow up in the UK, I actually grew up in France. At the time, I don’t actually recall seeing many people in the media who looked like me and if I did they didn’t particularly resemble me aside from having darker than average skin (white skin); in other words I didn’t see my young self in them, I just saw characters who were not white and that automatically gave me a point of similarity with them. Sometimes I’d see some black characters but with distinctively altered Caucasian features; they had straight hair, not kinky hair like me. They had thin noses, not wide ones like me. For this reason I’d say I was always very surprised and delighted to see anyone who wasn’t white on TV or in the media in general, whether that be in cartoons or movies. Undeniably though, this didn’t happen very often.

Having said this, I wouldn’t say that at the time this was an issue that I particularly deemed important or offensive, I just accepted it as the norm. Unlike many minorities or coloured people I’ve spoken to, I can confidently say that never in my life have I wished to be white or any other race. I think that’s largely due to the fact that from a young age, I was taught about my African culture so I accepted myself and my family for what we were: black. I had a lot of white friends, as well as Arab friends. I was never, to the best of my knowledge, discriminated against or made fun of for my race. But my parents were, and they did not hesitate to tell my sister and I about their experiences, highlighting that despite the fact that we were blessed to be in such an accepting and welcoming society, we were nonetheless the minority and had to work twice as hard to get to where the white people were.

In school who did you learn about that looked like you or had similar experiences to you? 
In school, both in France and in the UK I do not ever recall being taught any history about me or my people, or any issues that really touched us. But once again; I accepted this as the norm because for one I did not know any different, but also because I assumed that being in a largely white society, I just had to comply. Any history concerning me or my culture was taught to me by my parents, or by my own research, and this started around the age of 8. In France, I’d say the curriculum is more balanced despite the fact that I didn’t learn a lot about Africa, so I’d say although it was predominantly White history, it wasn’t really noticeable because we learnt about other cultures as well. I’d go as far as to say that the first (and only time) I was remotely taught about my ancestors in a school environment was when we learnt about the KKK in history… in year 10. I won’t lie to you, it was so uncomfortable seeing all the white people cringing every time we came over the N word, as if it was an issue that just needed to be ignored. When discussing our curriculum with elder members of society they’re often very shocked to hear that contrary to popular belief it is not in fact very broad in its knowledge and richness.  It wasn’t until I looked in some African textbooks and saw pictures of black girls just like me that I realised that there was a real underlying issue that needed to be addressed.
Why do you think diversity and representation is important? 
In my opinion one of the main reasons why representation and diversity is important in our society is not directly because of us, it’s more about how others view us and our struggle. Unfortunately, many white people with whom I’ve spoken to, refuse to accept the fact that to this day, in our society, black people and other minorities are still not represented very well in the media. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve come a long way! But I think because they’re so used to seeing and being in a largely white society, they can’t imagine what it’s like to be on the other end of the spectrum, and weirdly enough that’s both for white people but also for some minorities. I don’t blame them though, I guess that’s how society conditions us. I even find that often if we dare to mention such subjects publicly, we’re ridiculed and made to believe that we’re exaggerating our situation and I feel like for this reason many youths in minority groups just go along with it and accept it as their fate.Another reason why I think representation is important is because it promotes tolerance, acceptance and celebrates the heritage of a wide range of people. I would not only love to see more of my history being taught in the school curriculum, but also more of my Asian friends’ history too, for example! I feel like in our society, if you want to be cultured you have to get on with it by yourself, and find a way. If I’m blessed enough to have children one day, I will not hesitate to teach them about our history but I’d love to be supported by the school curriculum too. And I’d love for them to come home and teach me about the history of South Indonesia! Why not? Finally, I’d say diversity and representation is important in order to crush the ridiculous stereotypes that plague our society.

Representation is important so my little nieces and nephews and cousins can see themselves in characters such as Princess Tiana, and don’t have to feel excluded during such a crucial time in their childhood. Unfortunately, it’s deeply rooted issues like this that breed future racial tensions between ethnicity groups. We need to do better as a society.

Did you relate to this? Do you have any questions? If so, write them in the comment section below- we would love to hear from you:)

If you would like to share your stories, experiences and opinions email us at oneisnotenough16@gmail.com.

Bless x

#Oneisnotenough TEAM

Twitter: @1isnotenough
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“We have to make sure our kids have the unalienable right to feel beautiful in their own skin, no matter what shade it is.”

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THE MEDIA – – >  

When you think back to the TV shows you watched as a kid, you’ll probably remember waking up early on a Saturday to watch your favourite cartoon; laughing hysterically over the practical joke your favourite character pulled pretty much every single episode. It’s unlikely that you’ll remember how you responded to the media, how you absorbed it and it absorbed you. Who was your favourite character on TV growing up, and what was it about them that made you aspire to be everything they were? For me, those characters were pretty, white slim girls that were probably head of the cheerleading squad. Even the misfits, who we were supposed to identify with, were white- at best, with glasses and a “geeky” persona to show that they were indeed, “different.” Speaking of, you may recall the cast of High School Musical breaking out into song “stick to the status quo.” Dig your old soundtrack out if you have to, but the film hardly broke the status quo; pretty white (with a dash of Latino) girl gets together with a pretty white (with a dash of chiseled abs) guy. And the black kids, Chad and Taylor? (yeah, I had to google their names,) they were forever the sidekicks, unlucky in love and with nothing to offer but a skill for spinning a basketball on one finger and a sassy one liner about weaves. How boring. How tragic. How boring and tragic that this same narrative is repeated, where the black kids are always left behind, and never represented as beautiful or worthy of love. This is the language that became part of my cultural dialect. White was clever. White was beautiful. And if you were anything but, you only had a choice of stereotypes A and B to choose from, and growing up racially ambiguous, I had no clue which box to tick.

THE CURRICULUM – – > 

The stereotypes of coloured people in the media are essentially just a continuation of the way they have been represented throughout history, and the state of the curriculum today doesn’t show any signs of straying off the beaten track. My two favourite subjects in school were History and English. In hindsight, I should have taken a comfort in a more uncontroversial subject like math; maybe then I wouldn’t have been so damn frustrated by everything that was handed to me on a comic sans font worksheet.

I’m actually horrified that I never studied a non-white writer in English Literature. Race was reduced to a theme that was being mediated to me through a white tinted lens, and that was extremely damaging. It makes me feel sick to think of the amount of times we were expected to write “In this novel, black people are represented as inferior.” History was one in the same, in which historical events are seen as a story of heroes and victims. In this sense, unsurprisingly, black people were always treated as the victims. Slavery was mentioned in whispers yes, and I always remember feeling uncomfortable as the whole class turned around to look at me in silent pity. It felt like I was being made to feel ashamed of my own heritage, my own history. I knew all about Abraham Lincoln, but knew nothing about the likes of Fredrick Douglass. I was taught that Carol Ann Duffy was the ultimate “feminist poet” but knew nothing of Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Gwendolyn Brooks, or the dozens of other black female writers I’ve come to know and love in my awakening to a more colourful world.

The world I learnt about in school was black and white, it was dangerous. The white curriculum that I and so many other ethnic minority students were dragged through epitomises what feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “the danger of a single story*,” that is, that having a secular perspective is dangerous because it cuts you off intellectually from the world around you, no matter how often you travel to Spain or like to eat Indian food. The proportion of ethnic minority pupils in state funded schools has increased dramatically since 2014, and in order for them to succeed in an inclusive learning environment, the curriculum should aim to teach a broader, universal history in an increasingly globalised world.

BEAUTY – – > 

In an increasingly globalised world, you would think that our society, with a constant overlapping of cultures, races, religions, we would have a greater, more compassionate understanding of each other. If you are not blessed with the gift of optimism however, you will notice how life is moving so fast that often, someone’s appearance is the most convenient way in which to form a judgement of someone. Picture this; there’s a black guy walking down the street, he has a bunch of other black guys behind him. You saw a sitcom on CBS once refer to such people as “homies” before. They laugh loudly and seem to constantly be pulling their trousers up. You assume they must be selling drugs, so you walk to the other side of the road. Of course, there’s nothing hereditary in the human psyche that causes you to make these assumptions, so where did you get them from? If you guessed the media, you get a gold star. Any other answer renders you incapable of understanding what I have to say next. Just how the media paints all black dudes such as my aforementioned imaginary friend with the same brush, the media likes to paint white people with a brush that just happens to make you prettier. Remember the public outcry that accused L’Oreal of lightening Beyoncé’s skin for an ad? How about more recently, when a Japanese advert for washing powder showed a black man being thrown into the washer and coming out as a whiter than white Asian? Or, if you want to bring colourism into it, the fact that the light skinned Zoe Saldana used black face to play Nina Simone? These examples all boil down to the fact that historically, particularly during the colonial period, there has been a white European hegemonic ideal (I know; who knew right.) Thus, the closer to white you are, in this instance, the better, prettier, or more attractive you are made to seem.

I am mixed race, light skinned, or hey, just feel free to stick whatever label you want to my forehead and be done with it. Anyway, from the day I was old enough to say “NO YOU CANNOT TOUCH MY HAIR,” my visual appearance has been fetishized by everyone from grandmas to perverts in nightclubs. A girl behind me in a queue for a club said my hair was “fascinating” so many times I wanted to drown her in a vat of Smirnoff ice. I’m the poster girl for school prospectuses, and my mother and father are commended on countless occasions for the “beautiful” brown children they’ve managed to produce. My best friend and I are told that we “really should” be a couple on the basis that we are both mixed race, which, in other situation, would be a completely bizarre concept to base a relationship on. I’m not ignorant towards the tribulations of dark skinned women, but I can’t speak for them either. White people fetishize light skinned people because they represent an exotic ideal, the aesthetics of being black in the absence of its sociological burdens.

WHAT WE CAN DO; 

You may have notice how I’ve used arrows at the end of every sub heading in this article. It’s not because I’m trying to be original or outrageously indie, but because it represents how all these things; the media, the curriculum, how we define beauty, are undeniably linked. And this is where my degree in English Lit comes in handy. In the first instance, the fact that these issues are all connected is good, because it means we can discuss them much easier. However, when issues like these are so integrated, it makes them difficult to break apart; instead we just end up with a cycle of what we’ve become used to as the norm, a concept that makes us so dizzy that we can’t see what’s right in front of us- and that is that something has GOT to change.

We have to make sure the next generation of BAME students have access to an educational environment that supports others’ and their own understandings of themselves and their history.

We have to make sure the media uses its power for good and that the images it produces are just as colourful as the realities of the people it is trying to portray.

We have to make sure our kids have the unalienable right to feel beautiful in their own skin, no matter what shade it is.

I don’t have all the answers, but together, by just talking to one another about race and diversity, we have the power to change the world we live in. If you’re not sure where to go from here, you can start by waking up- look at the world around you, educate yourselves, watch the news- and then notice what’s missing from it. And then start to wake everyone else up, until we make so much noise that the people at the top of the pyramid can no longer sleep in peace.

There’s a semi colon at the end of this subheading. People often don’t know what to do with semi colons, or where to put them in a sentence. But semi colons are used by an author when they could have finished a sentence with a full stop, but have chosen not to. So don’t let this be the end of your story, because we’re not even halfway through it yet.

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Did you relate to this? Do you have any questions? If so, write them in the comment section below- we would love to hear from you 🙂

If you would like to share your stories, experiences and opinions email us at oneisnotenough16@gmail.com.

Bless x

#Oneisnotenough TEAM

Twitter: @1isnotenough