Last week a local newspaper did an interview with me to talk about our crowdfunding campaign. During the interview I made some comments about being a black woman in Brighton for the past 16 years. The reporter said this is a story in itself and asked for permission to write another piece. I said “yes.”
A few days later the piece came out. (You can read it here). I remember when I saw it, I thought “Is it too much?” I felt that he had represented me well and reported accurately, but the wording was strong and I felt a familiar feeling that I dismissed and moved past quickly. Then our social media manager took a quote from the article and put it on our social media page and that feeling came again. This time I paused and took stock. I was afraid. In fact, I questioned her and said I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to post (something I have never done before). She said “This is who you are, don’t be scared”
I was scared, of the negative kickback for calling out the city that I live in for what it was. “Racist” I was scared that I had challenged the people who run the city in a very personal way and that they might not respond well to that. I was anxious that the worst of the city would cause trouble for me, the bookshop and relationships I had built.
The next day I was chatting to a couple of friends who are white and I was talking about a yoga class that I attend and I found myself hesitating to tell them that it was only for women of colour. Again, I was worried that my friends wouldn’t understand, that it would seem like I was being exclusive.
The events and feelings over these two days made me sit back and think. Not just about my fear and anxiety, but also about those who never have to experience this.
This week Stephen Lawrence would have 47. I was a teenager living in south London when Stephen Lawrence was murdered, I learnt very quickly that this country was not a safe place for many black and brown people. But I am an activist. It is who I am. I hate injustice and it is my hatred that compels me to speak out, not my bravery. I am not fearless. But I cannot let my fear get the better of me. I cannot let my fear stop me from building a better city and nation for my children and grandchildren.
I genuinely love the city I live in and many of the people who live here are amazing individuals with a passion for freedom, justice and equality. Unfortunately, there are also many who think it is okay to spew racial hatred, to serve us last in shops, to touch our hair or stroke our skin, to treat us with suspicion or call the police if we walk down their street, to assume we are drug dealers, shop lifters, parentless, unruly, dumb, low achievers and to think we would be ok if we would just know our place.
After our social media post went live, we received so many stories from people telling us their experience of racism in Brighton, many thanking us for calling it out and I was genuinely moved to tears.
I wasn’t less afraid, but I knew that it was all worth it.
I write this because I want you to grasp that you are here to make the change. You don’t need to have a big platform or be an eloquent speaker, you just need to hate injustice, you need to hate racism. You never need to hate individuals that will get you nowhere and make you just like them.
But that hatred of injustice will fuel you, it will not allow you to be silent when that joke is told or that assumption is made.
I choose to embrace my fear for the greater good. Because I believe that this is how we change the world.