I am a difficult person. There I said it. I am though, and I’ve been told that since I was a teenager, and probably before. My opinions are too strong, my voice too loud, my resilience too unyielding. Be quieter, stop speaking and listen, accept and don’t argue, bend when you are challenged.
Well I’m done. I’m done with being liked if it means I can’t be strong. If it means I can’t have a voice. If it means that I can’t be resilient. It’s not worth it. I would rather be difficult. And here is why.
I grew up in a very small town in North East Manchester, small in mind more than in size. It was a town where in school just by bent of being European White, rather than “white-white” whatever that is, I was singled out, targeted and at times bullied for having an odd name and ever so slightly more melatonin – I basically tan well in the summer.
I was raised by righteous parents. Parents who taught me to battle back at that small mindedness with smart remarks, intelligence, strength and resilience, to also battle the more overt racism that existed, challenging my friends at 10 years old for their use of unacceptable racial epithets. My parents gave me a great foundation. I took that foundation and steered my education around understanding prejudice, discrimination and inequality, studying the history of politics and social construct in the USA and Europe closely. The very existence of these conditions of discrimination have always unquieted my mind.
Don’t get me wrong. I see my privilege. I see it very clearly. I understand the slightness in my disparity of experience compared with people of colour, with black people, Asian people, Romanies, LTGTQ+, Latinx, and the disabled. But what I think my experience has allowed me is the capacity to be empathic with the world around me that has been systematically constructed to raise the white, straight, able bodied community over all others.
In theory I hit all of those markers, and outside of Oldham as an adult who has lived in London for the best part of fifteen years I feel that privilege. But as a 16 year-old who found messages in her Leaving Book from GCSE year such as “See ya later, you fucking paki” (from somebody I considered a friend no less) or the less aggressive, but no less questionable moniker my peers voted for me on leaving sixth form “the first Croatian Prime Minister”, I felt like I definitely wasn’t “white enough” to be accepted as a person first and foremost by my peers. The latter almost seems like a compliment at first reading, right? No, it was a signal of othering. I was first and foremost Croatian, not British (although in truth I’m 50/50 and born in Manchester…so really…?) and even then, singled out as being opinionated and political. Too loud, too difficult, too unyielding.
After years of winnowing down my loudness, my opinions, my unyielding bent on what is right and what is wrong. I’m done. I look at the world around me and I see too much wrong. Too much wrong not to say something, not to try and help to illustrate the wrongs, and help others see the right. Writing is my only recourse.
In the UK, I hear too many voices saying “this isn’t our fight, why are people protesting? George Floyd wasn’t one of us. Our police don’t murder black men for no reason”. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry when I see that.
Is there no recognition of the British wealth and power built on the foundations of blood spilt in procuring, transporting and selling slaves from Africa? The more directly involved, those who owned and profited from plantations in the Caribbean, West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, Australia? Where do you think the cotton money in Manchester came from? The Merchant wealth in Liverpool? The ship builders in Southampton? Who made our royal family wealthy and powerful beyond belief? Our politicians, our elite, who gave them that money and that power?
Where did it really come from? Can you not see it? Then more recently. According to inquest.org.uk “the proportion of BAME deaths in custody where restraint is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody. The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where use of force is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody. The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where mental health-related issues are a feature is nearly two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody”.
Want some names? How about Mark Duggan, Edson Da Costa, Yassar Yaqub, Jermaine Baker, Sheku Bayo, Anthony Grainger, Kingsley Burrell. That list is far from all of the names. That’s what, seven, names? Let’s take a moment, just to think of those lives, lost.
Seven names of BAME men killed in dubious circumstances by the police, whether inquiries have cleared the police or not. The circumstances are not straight forward in any of them and in some, are unquestionably worrisome. For a country where firearms are so highly regulated, in cases where the person who supposedly had an unregistered illegal firearm was never actually found to have one, and in cases where somebody with mental health issues was restrained with such force that it ended their life, we say that this isn’t our fight too?
Was it not our fight when Jews were being rounded up in concentration camps in Germany to be gassed to death for no reason other than their faith, or when in Russia the Gulag was slaughtering millions of people for political reasons, or when Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge murdered millions, or in Srebenica when more than 8,000 men and boys were killed along with another 20,000 civilians expelled from the region in an ethnic cleansing campaign? Was all of that not our fight?
Go beyond this. Go beyond the very obvious and very clearly real threat that BAME people deal with in western civilisation, and globally, what about the micro-aggressions? The small fears and worries that BAME people experience just by bent of having more melatonin than white people day in, and day out. From the more obvious being pulled over by police simply for driving down a street, to the wary looks they get walking around Waitrose with security following at a pace behind to make sure they don’t shoplift, or being pulled for “random” security checks at the airport. Go then to the experience of needing to perform more, perform better, achieve more to be recognised in the workplace. Do we really think any of this is okay? Do we really think that this is NOT our fight in the UK too? Really?
I’ve not even begun to delve into the disparities of the social systems, that discriminate very really against BAME people. Education, health, social welfare, community investment. I want to, but I also want to get this out and this needs some more research before I can even finish what I have already said, a lot of what I have said is off the back of just what I can see. Never mind what can be proven with a bit of work. Look at the COVID-19 disparities, is it fair to say that one of the reasons BAME people are more likely to contract and die from the disease is because of social disparity? You are damn right it is. That’s just ONE, one tiny example.
If this makes you uncomfortable. Good. If this makes me difficult. Good. Take that discomfort, that difficulty and sit with it a moment, let it circulate, let your brain actually digest the reality of a BAME existence in the modern “civilised, democratic” world. Then put yourself in the shoes of somebody who faces these fears and realities every. single. day of their lives. If you are white, straight, and able-bodied and feeling uncomfortable, all the more so. Feel it.
It is time for us to stand up and say that Black Lives Matter. Not just say it, fight for it. Defend it. Defend our right to say and feel what is right. I’m done with being nice. Nice only gets you so far, and it isn’t far enough. I won’t keep my thoughts to myself anymore, I won’t be quiet anymore, I won’t yield anymore. I’m difficult and I’m done.