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Black is Gold: Words Hurt

Black History Month - October 2019

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 hosted 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. 


You may have also seen quite a few posters up on the walls of the Students’ Union featuring micro-aggressive phrases. Lots of these phrases appeared subtle and may have a positive intention behind them. So what are they? Why are we calling them out? And why are they part of our Black is Gold campaign?

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.  

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.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.