Growing Up Black.


There's been a lot of uncomfortable conversations floating around online, I've had many myself with people I considered friends in secondary school, with followers on instagram and in whatsapp group chats. Its been draining to say the least but I thought I would leave all my thoughts here and talk more about my experiences as a black woman growing up in the UK.

I've touched on it lightly but I'll start with the first moment where I realised I was black and that I was "different". One of the most exciting parts of having a child I'm sure is getting to pick their name. Picking a special name that holds meaning behind it and my parents did that. They named me Folayosade but like many other African parents they also gave me my bible name which can also pass as your "British" name for many, mine is Esther. 

My mum always likes to remind me of the time in nursery where my teachers called me Esther and within seconds I turned to tell them "don't call me that, that's not my name" and I laugh because four year old me was woke from the get go! Fast forward to secondary school where my name is now at the top of most registers as my surname begins with A. Secondary school is really where I really realised I was "different". 

Teachers seemed to always make a big deal when it came to reading my name, so much so whenever we had a substitute and it came time to do the register, all my friends would look at me eagerly with anticipation, waiting for them to ask "right so how do I say the first name?" accompanied by the nose crinkle, the shift back and forth with squinted eyes.

There's nothing wrong with not knowing a name or pronouncing a name wrong! I struggle with some of the names I sometimes see. But over time I built up this feeling over embarrassment over my name, the constant giggles of white classmates when they would find new ways to pull apart my name but not their own. "Yossy, Flossy, oh it rhymes with Bossy. No wait, Yoshi!". "Your name nearly uses up the whole alphabet!", with my name always came unwanted and ignorant comments.

Another thing teachers loved to do was mistake me for other black girls in the class (and there wasn't one time where I remotely looked like any of them by the way). They had no problem telling the three Alexs apart, or the three Olivias but they couldn't differentiate Yossy and Kalisha? Two black girls with two completely different names and faces. "Oh sorry I meant Yossy" I'm sure you did but why didn't that name leave your mouth Miss? Kalisha is on the other side of the class Sir? 

Every time I changed my hairstyle (which wasn't even that often, maybe every 2-3 months, my teachers or classmates could never let it go unnoticed. Same for any other black girl really, "you change your hair like every week!", "is that your real hair?" oh and lets not forget "can I touch your hair?" we're not petting zoos, did you ask Emily if you could touch her hair today? I wouldn't be completing the list if I didn't include your white friends running up to you after their holiday to tell you "look I'm almost the same colour as you!" as they flash their tan in your face.

I can't explain how triggering its been seeing people from secondary school who happily used the 'n' word in school, posting their black box on instagram. Especially when they've made it clear and apparent they still haven't learnt from then. Black lives matter isn't some fun instagram challenge for you to partake in to look like a good person. If you want to call yourself an ally read, educate yourself. Stop referring to black people as coloured, stop singing the n word in songs, don't post a black square then go back to posting pictures from your sesh and calling it a day. That doesn't cut it.

From sitting there and having to listen to your classmates do crap "eh eh" African accents constantly, to them thinking you're the gatekeeper of everything black, "oh ask Yossy she'll know!", to your supposed friends back then saying their parents don't let them have black friends. There has been so much I've sat on quietly for years. What irritates me or hurts the most is knowing I didn't say anything back then, I would just awkwardly laugh it off and think about it on my way home.

Growing up black is praying that when you apply for jobs that your experience is enough, its praying that the person looking over your application doesn't read your name and judge it off that alone. Its walking into an office on your first day and looking around to see how many people look like you. Its feeling like you have to reel in your personality because you don't want to be seen as the stereotypical "loud black girl", its altering your music choices depending on who you're around because you don't want to be seen as the "ghetto black girl who listens to rap". It's people telling you how much they love Fresh Prince of Bel-Air because they feel like its something you have in common.

Being black is being educated enough to know the difference between Russia and Poland but your friends not knowing the difference between Nigeria and Ghana. Its knowing that if you decide to date someone out of your race, their parents may disapprove of you because of the colour of your skin. Its being told by the white guy you're seeing "you're the first black girl I've liked / been with" as if its some sort of achievement or something to celebrate? Its having to thoroughly research holiday destinations for racism before evening thinking of going. Being black is visiting countries like Italy and being excited that you didn't experience like the other black people you know.

Its crying in the mirror because you hate the way you look, "why did I have to have such a wide nose?", "why are my lips so big?", "why does my hair have to be this texture?". Its features like yours, only becoming cool and fashionable in recent years. 

Its knowing that no matter what industry you try and go into, you have to work ten times harder to prove that you are worthy of being noticed. Its having to shut up and keep a smile on your face when customers and colleagues are showing their ignorance because you don't want to be seen as the "feisty black girl". 

Growing up black is realising that one day, if you decide to have kids you're going to have to explain to them that people may treat them different because of the colour of their skin. Its learning that your non-black friends expect you to speak up and support them on issues they care strongly about but when it comes to black lives matter, they are no where to be seen. 

There has been so much unnecessary hurt and pain that has come with being black, it's exhausting. The conversations I've had over the last week has brought up so many memories and made me realise how many and how much "little things" that I let go, hurt. 

So the next time you go to post a black square,  the next time you go to say "I see you, I stand with you" ask yourself if your actions show that. Ask yourself are you actively showing your support. Has it been all word and no action? I'm tired of tiptoeing around eggshells for the benefit of others so this blog post serves the purpose of letting you guys know that from now on I will strive to be unapologetically myself in every and all situations and if you don't like it, I am fine with that. As the great Kano once said "suck your mum and your dad" because I'm not done talking. 

until the next post.
with love,
yossy.

What's your opinion?

  1. This was so upsetting to treat but the fact that so many people can relate to this is deeply upsetting and I hate it to so much!

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