Black is Gold
Black History Month - October 2019
Why "Black is Gold"?
"For as long as I can remember, the history I have been taught at school, higher education, through media, art, and literature is a white history. Even the month that is marked out specifically for black history too often focusses on the same historical narrative: white empire and slavery. But black history, and more importantly, black excellence, achievement and royalty was being made long before colonialism- where Nubian royals ruled the lands of Sudan and Egypt for 1400 years, never to be dominated by the Roman empire, and black queens ruled kingdoms across Africa including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Madagascar and Zulu Kingdom.
As the first woman of colour as Welfare and Equality Officer I am keen to change and reclaim the narratives currently dominating our Black History “celebrations”, and honour the black beauty and excellence that our black students deserve. Which brings me to the months theme: Black is Gold."
This was written by Sara Elkhawad, Welfare & Equality Officer 2019-20.
What happened during the week?
The opening night featured dance, spoken word and music performances, a fashion walk, an art exhibition and traditional Trinidadian cuisine, whilst the closing party took place in World Headquarters with DJ sets from black student DJ’s. We also hosting a panel, in collaboration with the Great Debate Tour, exploring the current issues affecting blackness and black lived experiences, followed by our #BlackChat and #WordsHurt series which reflected the types of racism affecting our black students today. All the events are free to attend and are open to students from all backgrounds who want to learn more about black history and experience some of the beautiful black culture here in the toon! Keep an eye out for posters and social media posts for dates, times and venue[s], as well as an exclusive pull-out in the courier for the month.
What resources do we have for BAME students?
During the campaign, we worked on #WordsHurt which brought micro-aggressions to the centre of the conversation. Throughout the campaign, we aimed to educate students on these micro-aggressions - supported by the videos (above). We also have a full webpage dedicated to supporting BAME students which you can find here.
What do we mean by micro-aggressions?
Microaggressions are the everyday and commonplace, verbal, behavioral and environmental snubs, insults, and prejudicial remarks made towards culturally marginalised groups based on their marginalised identity. Any group can become targets of microaggressions, be that BAME, LGBT, those with disabilities, and those with a faith or belief and so on.
Why do we need to call them out?
Microaggressions are notoriously difficult to call out because they are discreet, they are usually embedded into conversations and they may be intended as compliments or flattery. For instance, the phrase ‘You’re so exotic!’ comes across as a positive statement, but this can make black people feel foreign, alien and outcasted.
Similarly, the phrase ‘You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl’ might also be framed as a compliment, but it implies that darker skinned girls aren’t typically beautiful. We wanted to create bold, visual representations of racial microaggressions to raise awareness over the types of racism that black people experience on a daily basis.
Our #WordsHurt series of our campaign is not about exposing people’s ignorance, instead it is about making people more aware of the words they use and showing how microaggressive comments can create a hostile and toxic environment on our campus and in the city.
Why were micro-aggressions central to this campaign?
Part of the campaign aim for Black History Month was to articulate the lived experiences of our black students and staff on campus. We’ve accompanied the #WordsHurt campaign with videos of our black students and staff reacting to microaggressions and explaining why they are offensive. Make sure to check them out!
Because there are now incentives and opportunities that are exclusively accessible for BAME people, and that society has progressed massively since the British empire some people believe that racism no longer exists. As well as acknowledging Britain’s colonial past, it’s important to identify how racism still operates in society today, as it encourages people to take responsibility for their attitudes and help making the world a more equal place.
How to handle a micro-aggression, as a victim?
- Calmly confront the comment:
You shouldn’t have to be silent and unreactive to a comment just to hold the peace. But equally reacting to a comment with anger and exasperation won’t work in your favour, and could trigger more microaggressive comments- i.e. the aforementioned ‘why are you so aggressive?’ microaggression. Its best just to explain calmly why the microaggression is inappropriate/offensive. Much of the time the microaggressor won’t have intended to offend you and will gladly apologise and correct themselves.
- If the comment is discriminatory and you want to report it, you can do so:
There are various ways of reporting discrimination and receiving support as a victim of discrimination, listed in this document: https://www.nusu.co.uk/pageassets/support/report/Discriminations-document-2019.pdf
- Build a support network
It’s important to have people around you who you trust and who relate to your lived experiences. Societies are a great way to meet people of similar cultures and backgrounds to you and can offer safe spaces for you to speak about the issues you face as a black student. NUSU also have an elected Racial Equality Officer who works closely with the Welfare and Equality Officer to run campaigns and events intended to empower minority students but also articulate the barriers and struggles they face. You can get involved in NUSU campaigns, or run one yourself if you want to raise awareness over issues affecting students, such as racism.
How to handle a micro-aggression, as a perpetrator?
- Don't be defensive:
People can be quick to defend what they’ve said because they are embarrassed over their comment or mistake. But being defensive can escalate a situation because it tends to shift the blame onto the victim. Comments like ‘Oh you know I didn’t mean it like that’ can make the victim feel guilty about calling a microaggression out, and can push them back into silence. Instead, take control of your feelings and fears of being perceived as racist or ignorant, and accept the mistake.
- Acknowledge the victims upset, apologise, ask, and reflect
Take personal responsibility for your comments and actions, whether or not you intended to hurt the person. Ask politely the reasons why the microaggression was offensive, and use this knowledge to be more conscious of the power of words and the hidden meanings and assumptions behind them.
- Educate yourself and be an active learner
Wallowing in ignorance isn’t going to change anything. Do your research around microaggressions and racism? It’s not up to the victim to explain why racism exists or explaining colonial histories. There is so many resources available to you that you can access anytime of the day, including the internet, the university library, articles, films. You can also learn from the people around you; by joining a society that represents and celebrates students from an Afro-Caribbean background, or by engaging with campaigns like this one.