This photograph was taken earlier this year at Bass Coast festival and it was one of my favourite moments.
I learned so much from my cousin Nikki this summer in the time I got to spend with her and it further helped me to truly step into myself. When she expressed the discomfort she felt being a minority among white people, having spent most of her life in Cameroon, I wanted to tell her that everyone is the same and that she would be treated the same as the white girls but I also knew this wasn’t the reality. I didn’t let those false words leave my mouth and instead, as I watched her gracefully pull herself together and hold her head up high, I stood beside her, feeling different to the crowd around us but stronger together. We took to the dancefloor and after a few minutes we were approached by a beautiful black woman who said she wanted to say hi because she too noticed there were very few women of colour at the festival. A minute later we were joined by another black woman and another until we formed a power circle in the middle of the dancefloor, excitedly making introductions and then chatted and danced and laughed and it was honestly a pivotal moment for me.
That wasn’t the first time a black stranger approached me in this way and I didn’t really get it before. It truly made me nervous. I was so used to accepting white as normal and spent so long trying to blend in that it always took me by surprise when my blackness was acknowledged. Even saying the word black felt exposing. I had grown accustomed to my grievances about racism being dismissed so
I rarely spoke of them. I habitually put my white friends' feelings before mine and almost felt like acknowledging any oppression or hurt I had experienced was a betrayal to the white people in my life and a denial of all of the positive things and privileges I had had throughout my life. I barely wanted to acknowledge that I was part of a minority and I didn’t want to be disloyal. It’s been a lonely and confusing life living on both sides of the racial spectrum or at least deluding myself into thinking I did but something shifted in me this year.
I’m finally finding acceptance in who I am and seeing the value in embracing and getting to know the black community and seeking out other people of colour. It’s been quite shameful to realise I’ve been going along with the status quo for so long without questioning it, essentially ignoring my people and thus contributing to systemic racism myself. In the past I rejected the notion that black people should stick together, equating it to further segregating ourselves from white people but I’ve come to realise that was a false way of thinking. I was almost offended when someone wanted to know me because of the colour of my skin and not because of my personality. It’s now so obvious to me that my skin is part of me and that everything I have experienced in life is from living in that skin and it has made me the person I am. It’s now so much clearer that solidarity only makes us stronger. I am trying not to give myself a hard time about how long it has taken me to get here and I often feel like I’m playing catch up from a lifetime of white washing.
As I wake up to the realities of oppression against black people in Western society and really get to grips with my identity, navigating friendships with some white friends this year has been difficult and messy. I fear I am being “too much” and fear having to explain why something is racist or why I am hurting. I’m afraid of losing sight of what I’m saying when the need to apologise for their discomfort takes over. I’m afraid of being gaslit when they don’t understand where I’m coming from if they haven’t done any work or that opening up the conversation will reveal that they think they are exempt from doing any work at all because they are my friend and that this revelation will change us. Me vocalising racial awareness is new territory among existing friendships and it is uncomfortable. I don’t want to hurt anyone but putting other people's comfort before mine ultimately ends up hurting me. I understand I am particularly sensitive these days and perhaps this will never change but right now it’s hard to be around people who are not passionate, vocal or at least interested in anti-racism in some capacity.
So I’ve sought safety in friendships with other people of colour who don’t need me to help them understand an experience similar to one they have lived, and with it I have found a whole community that's been ready to welcome me with open arms. I was wrong in thinking that seeking a safe space meant a betrayal to the white people in my life. I thought calling each other sister was insulting to my actual sisters who I would die for and that seeking out other black women meant playing into stereotypes and lumping us all together. I didn’t realise that they were, in fact, integral to my survival and general well being. Being around other black people, in particular women, feels safe and familiar and familial. So far it’s been a magical and spiritual experience intentionally meeting with other black people and I’m so thankful for the role models I have discovered and the new connections and friendships I have formed. As I stopped accepting white as default and opened my eyes, my world has expanded. The algorithms on my social media are also aligning and now when I open my phone I’m seeing more black faces, musicians, artists, celebrities. I’m obsessed with black and African culture and I really should have been here all along!
I’m so grateful for my white friends who see this as a celebration and understand that this doesn’t mean I hate white people or don’t want them in my life and that this is important to me.
We danced in that circle for half an hr, or an hour or more, I don’t remember. What I do remember is that this was possibly the first time I ever truly fully embraced my identity as a black woman and accepted that I am allowed to wear those words, and it felt powerful. The space we created was liberating because all I had to do was show up and exist, unapologetically. At that moment I finally gave myself permission to intentionally share space with other black people, and realised that I have a right to that sanctuary and don’t have to apologise or feel guilty for it. That day I felt I shed a layer of skin that had been suffocating me for so long and left that dancefloor feeling somehow lighter.