I don’t like talking about my personal life. Therefore, I would like to ask people to respect the fact that I do NOT want to talk about this story with people. I do NOT want to receive messages of any kind about this story. This is my story, but the message is not about me and I just can’t handle (SERIOUSLY) talking about it.
I do hope this will bring some deeper understanding of what FAIR is fighting against especially the important of managing racial complaints.
The past few months have been exhausting and while I have learned to prioritise only the work that really speaks to me, it is still a lot. I often spend five days in a row without going out or seeing a single human but as an introvert, I don’t mind that much because I am not lonely, I am just alone which I enjoy.
Recently, I started rollerblading. My friend D. and I meet early on Saturdays or Sundays, pick a random direction and explore the empty city of London for hours. One Sunday, we rollerbladed for more than 50KM during almost 7hours.
A bliss. Pure joy. No stress. No work. Just us. Two Black girls living their best lives. Discovering a city, we both didn’t grew up in. One of those moments I look forward to during my week until the afternoon of Saturday 28th of December 2020.
The past two weeks, we have been rollerblading from Hackney to Burgess park in Peckham. We always take the same road. Over time, we have learned to anticipate the bumps, avoid the holes, brake at the right turns etc. We are “in control”. We are safe.
At least, we felt safe until a white man punched me in my right leg while I was rollerblading as I passed next to him.
I can’t fully remember if he got closer to me after D. passed him, but I can’t remove the image of his arm and his fist lifting backwards…. I didn’t connect it…I didn’t expect it…until I felt it on my leg…
A white man physically assaulted me, a Black woman, minding her own business, happily rollerblading on a cloudy cold Saturday in centre London with her friend.
I SCREAMED. From an early age, my mother taught me that bad people don’t like “ a scene”. She used to say “if someone strange talks to you or someone makes you feel uncomfortable, just scream. They will be ashamed, and fear other people’s looking and leave”.
I couldn’t be alone in that trauma. We needed to “share” that moment of upmost discomfort and shock. He was surprised and for a second, it felt like a victory.
With sadness and anger battling inside of me, I didn’t want to show my attacker how profoundly bruised I was, so I stood “strong” while he was trying to appear threatening. He moved towards me time which made me wonder “Is he going to punch me again? Am I about to get into a physical fight with an old white man in the middle of the street? Please don’t let this happen…”
I wanted to believe that his actions were not intentional, that no one would just want to hurt someone like that for “no” reasons. I didn’t want to believe that it could be “racism”. I could have fallen; I could have hurt myself badly and all of this because I am Black?
So, I asked him “Aren’t you going to apologize?”
He answered with a smirk “obviously not” …
D. and I were in shock. He walked away and people in the street started talking to us and all I could think was “I need to leave this place NOW”.
I knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t be alone, and D. didn’t want to leave me alone so we rollerbladed back to her place while I held my tears. My mind was absent, distracted and I ended up falling on my hands. Nothing serious but in that moment, the light physical pain was almost welcomed to try to match with the emotions I was trying so hard to contain. We arrived and her roommate welcomed us with tea, sweets and music.
The urban dictionary defines Random acts of racism as when someone unexpectedly and suddenly abuses you racially especially in a public place. While the existence of that definition makes the entire situation even more real and common, I couldn’t make sense of what just happened.
I didn’t know if I did “enough” and at the same time I didn’t know what “enough” meant. Did I stand up for myself right? Should I have done more? Was it my fault? Did I rollerbladed too close to him?
I posted what happened on my Instagram and was showered with love but also realised that I just didn’t know how to talk about it. Between tea and some laughter with D. and her roommate, each message reminded me of that moment and the mere thought of it brought tears to my eyes that I wasn’t sure I could control any longer, so I decided it was best to forget about it.
The next day, I got out of London and went for a hike with a dear friend. I mentioned the incident and immediately changed topic.
I locked it in a box somewhere in my brain…..until I talked to my therapist.
I wasn’t even about to mention it, but it came out. Again, I immediately tried to change topic, but she wouldn’t let me because she knows me. She was outraged. She wanted me to know that I had been a victim of a violent, brutal attack. She was angry. She wanted to help me work through it.
I initially didn’t want to tell her for the same reason I still haven’t told my two best friends. Because her reaction matched the emotions I tried to lock into that box. It meant that it was real. It happened and it was as bad as what it felt like. I had to confront these emotions, but I didn’t know how…
I am the type of person that needs to find meaning in every situation. Make it Make sense is one of my mantras. I couldn’t and still can’t make sense of that moment, so I tried to forget about it.
So much that it didn’t even occur to me that I was probably somatising when out of nowhere, a throbbing pain through my right calf, scapula, neck and temple made my work painful and my nights uncomfortable. That same side where that man punched me….
My therapist asked me to make sense of these emotions instead...even if it just meant just “feeling them” for a moment in that safe space. So, I cried. I just cried for the first time since that day.
I felt Violated. I felt Powerless. I lost my sense a safety. That man stole the joy that came with rollerblading. With being Black, young, and free. He also made me question my sense of belonging as someone who moved to London…I thought I should leave…
At first, I didn’t tell my therapist that the attacker was white. Not because she is white and I have any kind of discomfort discussing racism issues with her, it is in fact the opposite but because that fact, is what makes that situation even more difficult to comprehend.
I have never been the victim of a physical overt acts of racism. I hope I never have to go through it ever again but now, I have to acknowledge that it might happen again….it is a terrifying thought. I tried to hide it from her because I didn’t want to acknowledge that loss of control…
There is nothing remotely satisfying or enjoyable in recognising racism in situation. I wish it wasn’t racism because if he didn’t like my red rollerblades, I could change the colour and wear the white next time. If it was my hat, my perfume anything, I could imagine a way to avoid finding myself in that situation again, but I can’t stop being Black…and most importantly, I am really proud of my origins, my skin colour and I have the same right as anybody else to feel safe in public spaces.
This act is NOTHING when compared with many racial acts of violence. Some people might not have felt like me and my reaction is certainly due to my personal history but that’s exactly the point here.
First, we should never try to compare and grade those stories because they are personal and second, situations like that should not happen and most importantly not be made so easy to happen without consequences.
We have talked a lot about handling of racial complaints and concerns lately. I have discussed with many students and staff who have been victims of racism at School since as far as 2003. Some are still very traumatized and while they are not ready to share their stories, I wanted them to know that they matter. We see them. We are them.
I also wanted to provide some answers. People have asked me why I didn’t call the police and it is for similar reasons that students don’t use the current channels.
1. Because still now, I can barely speak about it. I just cry uncontrollably. I haven’t even told my family because they would worry too much. When people ask me how I feel, I feel the urge to reassure them and it is exhausting and unhealthy. I am fine but just not when it comes to that particular story. I just felt/feel like if I don’t think about it, I “function” better.
2. Because of the fear of people denying the emotional impact and focusing on signs of physical pain or “proof”
3. Because of the fear of “he was just an old guy, you know how they are, it is another generation they don’t understand, don’t take it personally, just go home and get a good sleep and forget about it”.
4. Because of the fear of “you are being oversensitive” or “you are overdoing it” or “how do you know it was racism?” as if one just enjoys being exposed like that in front of strangers…
5. Because of the knowledge or assumption that nobody cares about random acts of racism and their consequences on Black mental health. Centuries have not proven me wrong…
- why would I subject myself to more dehumanization?
- Why should I try so hard to make people understand how deeply disturbing that act was?
- How can I “dare” to believe that they would care about my physical and mental wellbeing enough to do something when it means taking the risk of people judging me negatively and making it worse instead?
- How could they understand something that doesn’t exist in their world?
Being a young, free and happy Black woman rollerblading in the streets of London again will be my personal act of resistance. Whenever I feel ready. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone or “be strong” to inspire people. It is about my life, my mental health, my wellbeing.
Sharing this with everyone is about representation. One of the burdens of Black women and other individuals from minoritized background in these spaces is being seen as “strong”. As if we go through these days and these meetings unshattered. Talking and fighting against racism, doesn’t mean we don’t get to be affected by it. It doesn’t mean we are immune to it. It doesn’t mean we are not triggered by it. We just stand strong and we make sure that we have the right support system. That what safe space is all about. I am fortunate to have an amazing therapist and support system.
It haunts me when I think of all the silent victims of racism at LSHTM. I wish that they find safe spaces and their own personal ways to deal with those feelings.
If they decide to speak up and confront their oppressors, FAIR will be there with them !
I hope these oppressors know that while they might not have done it consciously, it still happened. They should listen, be self-conscious about their white fragility or fragility if they are non-white, apologize, thank the victims for sharing their stories and educating them, learn from it, commit to not reproducing it again and normalize these conversations.
And the School should track those and make sure that failure to comply will have serious consequences.
Denying a non-white person, the right to speak up against racism, is racism.
People and institutions that allow that are complicit in the fact that non-white people get to experience those random or normalised acts of racism and have to:
---- live through these feelings because talking about it is too painful or won’t create the appropriate reaction from those supposed to protect ALL of us.
---- still find it in them to find kindness in everyone especially those who look like their oppressor.
----- remind themselves that they are not deserving of such treatment while those acts go unpunished.
---- Move on and try not to live their lives in constant fear of when the “next” incident will happen
---- “manage/suppress” the anger and sadness that grow inside of them because respectability politics have “taught” them that white people rhetorical comfort is more important than non-white people’s lives.
Once again, PLEASE DON’T MESSAGE ME.
Instead ask yourself if in your way of talking to non-white students, correcting their work, talking about their level of English, their country of origins, their peers, their people, etc. you might have triggered those feelings.
If you don’t know, ask yourself if you created a safe environment for them to discuss it without fear of racial gaslighting or retaliation if that happened unintentionally.
If you feel uncomfortable while doing so, remind yourself that to be non-white at LSHTM, is to live in constant discomfort when it comes to racism.
Finally, this post has nothing to do with courage. It is coercion.
It is the fact that is only takes some of us to Bleed in public, Die in public, Suffer in public to make people understand this pandemic a bit deeper and take it seriously.
I am well aware of some of my “privileges” and I have decided to use them even if it means embracing discomfort because a victim of racism at School told me “she was nothing in the grand scheme of things” and I want her and others to know that they are not nothing!
Their lives and mental health matters.