Updated: Jun 27
“We don’t see you as any different”.
A lovely sentiment, of course. But, one that has caused a lot of damage. Damage that I thought only existed in my own head. Damage that I didn’t think was real. Damage that I could not articulate properly until George Floyd. The internet has been flooded for weeks with different kinds of resources and information. And most importantly for me, people’s stories. Stories I can relate to. Stories very similar to mine. Stories that have assured me that my thoughts and feelings are valid and very much real. They always have been.
I am half Black and half Sri Lankan. I have been brought up solely by my mother’s Sri Lankan side with no exposure to my Black side. I was brought up in Sri Lanka and if I’m being completely honest, had no idea I was Black until I was in my early teens and kicked on the school basketball court by a peer and called a “Jamaican Dog”. It was a rude awakening. One I couldn’t come to terms with for years because I had nothing to hold on to. There was no acknowledgment by my family of me being different. There were no conversations about my father in any way shape or form because of the way the relationship ended with my mother, it was a taboo topic. Living in Sri Lanka throughout my childhood also meant that there was no one else that looked like me. It was a very confusing concept to grasp as a child. It still is.
It was confusing to be seen one way by my family, but in a completely different way by everybody else. Being seen as one in the same by my Asian family did not stop other people seeing a Black girl. It did not stop the stares. It did not stop me feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. It did not stop people being racist. Places like Sri Lanka are very small and come with a “small island mindset”, there are no everyday reference points to Blackness. In fact, it’s the opposite, fair skin is blatantly highly favoured. People of darker complexions within the Asian community are discriminated against outright. What chance did an actual Black child have? Not having my Black side acknowledged meant that I had no grounding in that heritage to find commonality and comfort in to protect myself.
The Asians I am referring to include members of my own family who plaster “all lives matter” content on their social media pages during times of absolute Black crisis. It means I have tricky conversations with other family members who urge me to be understanding and forgiving. “They don’t know any better, you should try and help educate them”. It means my family not understanding my absolute outrage at the thought. It means my most basic, personal need as a Black woman in this world, having my thoughts and feelings accepted outright, is not being met by the people I love the most.
There have been years of similar conversations. Conversations that have scrambled my thoughts and invalidated my feelings. Conversations that have made me believe that I am the problem. Conversations that have unintentionally silenced me.
George Floyd and the movement surrounding his death has given me strength. It has helped me find my Black voice. I will keep having these conversations. Now, not from a place where I feel crazy (to be frank) but from a place of power. With the knowledge that I have something very important to say. With the knowledge that my voice is one that needs to be heard.
Thank you George Floyd. I will not be silenced.