it's time to get above ourselves

I’m Done with Being the Token

dbc725d8-2741-46b0-a41a-aa94e211b0dfBorn and raised in South Lanarkshire, I’ve lived the entirety of my twenty seven years in Scotland. I attended non-denominational primary and secondary schools (although we were hiked off to church twice a year for Easter and Christmas service), got my play piece from the school tuck shop, started drinking Merrydown and Smirnoff Ice in parks and multi-storey car parks well before the legal age, attended and hosted many an empty and hung out at the GOMA in my teens. At school we penned each other, watch others play chippy and witnessed many a menshy in the making. During my adolescence my friends taught me the lyrics to ‘Evil Scotsman’, episodes of Chewin’ The Fat and Still Game were memorised and golf balls were thrown at the mozzy. I’ve experienced the typical aspects of Scottish culture throughout my years yet due to one very small factor I’m considered the token of my social groups. Yeah, I was born in Rutherglen, I somewhat remember my family’s tartans and I have a wee granny who makes the best shortbread about – but I also have big lips, dark skin and a large afro.

All my life I have been around white people. All my life I have been accepted by white people. All my life a minority of white people have treated me differently due to my mixed heritage. This prejudiced minority group includes, but is not limited to, ex-colleagues, friends, acquaintances, old classmates, previous employers, strangers on the street – you get the point.

I wasn’t properly aware of my race (I was a wee kid after all) until the age of four when I started school and classmates pointed out the ‘irregularity’ of my parents’ interracial relationship (obviously not in those exact words, we were four, but in the brass way kids do – ‘why are you a different colour from your mum? Are you adopted? Are you from Africa?’ ‘Why is your mum white?’ etc). In almost every social circle I’ve been a part of since primary school I have been either one of a few people of ethnic minority or the only non white person, more often than not the latter being the case. In the few social circles that are predominantly people of colour such issues rarely arise. When you are a minority within your own social circles – whether it’s race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, background – quite often you’re seen by outsiders and at times your own peers, as the ‘token’.

Back during my adolescence when I was heavily struggling with my racial identity I embraced being the token. I would make racially stereotypical jokes at my expense, allow friends to do the same and generally accept casual racist behaviour as ‘the way things are’. Of course if someone was aggressively racist and called me something along the lines of a dirty half cast their face met with my fist – when I approached my twenties I abandoned physical defence methods against verbal attacks. As I made my way through my twenties I started to become more aware of how toxic this behaviour was and began my journey in removing such behaviour from my life wherever I can.

After a recent social occasion in which I was singled out by a friend of a friend who then proceeded to treat me as not just race ambassador for all ethnic minorities and in so many words requested a lesson on racial sensitivity. The sheer ignorance of assuming a single person can speak on behalf of the members of their entire ethnicity while also expecting that person to give you a lesson on racial sensitivity is unbelievably repugnant and degrading. It’s brought me to my most recent revelation – I’m done with being the token ethnic. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating and it’s a waste of my time.

I’m fucking done with people thinking that just because they don’t waste energy on shouting racial profanities at friends, colleagues and strangers that they’re not racist. If you make assumptions of someone’s behaviours, interests or attitudes due to their race, you’re still racist.

I’m fucking done with people asking me what the ‘correct terms’ are and ‘How do I avoid using racially insensitive language’. Although they’re trying to come across as being a decent person in the pursuit to not offend it’s really an indication of the little sheltered bubble they’ve created for themselves and just how little they’ve done in regards to integrating with other communities.

I’m fucking done with people thinking that their intoxication is an acceptable excuse for calling me their nigga. Just because you’re drinking with a person of colour does not give you a free pass in using derogatory language. ‘But black people do it’ isn’t an argument for why it should be acceptable for someone to call us that word. Yes, some black people have many uses for this word and use it daily yet there just as many who find it detestable.

I’m fucking done with people ignoring my Scottish heritage and referring to me as their black friend – especially done with people who see no issue in telling me that this is how they refer to me to their other friends.

I’m fucking done with people who treat me as a race ambassador and expect me to answer to the behaviours of black and half black people who I’ve never met or interacted with.

I’m fucking done with people excusing their racist relatives because they come from another time or didn’t grow up with POC. That’s not an excuse but an admittance of their ignorance and unwillingness to change discriminatory behaviour. It’s a somewhat polite way of confirming they’re bigoted.

I’m fucking done with people who don’t experience racism telling me what racism is and how I should feel about it.

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I’m fucking done with people telling me I don’t sound black. I’m an mulatto Scot so of course I’m going to sound Scottish, it’s my accent! Surprisingly enough, not all black and half black people sound like Mammy Two Shoes, The Boondocks or any stereotypical black characters in Family Guy.

I’m fucking done with people telling me how I should identify or that they feel I have a chip on my shoulder about my ‘whiteness’. Although, physically, I’m outwardly black I identify as half white and half black. This is how my body naturally developed, I can’t help it if my white heritage isn’t physically visible for others to view.

I’m fucking done with people who deny cultural appropriation. It’s completely different from culture appreciation – “A term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.”

I’m fucking done with people who refuse to admit the racism prevalent in our society. The fact that it still oppresses millions today in our own nation should be proof enough. Just because it doesn’t affect you or you don’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

I’m fucking done with people who call me racist for calling out racism. It’s not racist to talk about racism, it’s a malicious and unacceptable aspect to life that millions of us endure throughout our lifetime. Due to these experiences we speak out and challenge actual racists regularly.

We’re all in our constant pursuits of happiness and in order to achieve this it seems all too obvious to cut out the toxic aspects to our lives. No longer will I put myself in a situation where I’m treated as the token ethnic but surround myself with woke people, in some attempt to avoid the experience from ever repeating. We all have our reasons for fighting for equality. Amongst other reasons, I want to be seen me as a person and not just as that half black chick with the big afro.

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This article first appeared at Kiltr here – and is republished with kind permission.

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26 Comments

  • iain taylor 4 months ago

    Took my 8 year old (mixed race) son into a building society to open an account for his savings, armed with all the paperwork they’d told me to bring. Clerk checked it all, looked at him, looked at me… and then asked to see the adoption certificate.

    Reply
  • Jamie 4 months ago

    It is idealistic to expect people to understand how to behave around other ethnicities when it is very obvious that the UK is a racist country. You only need to watch TV programs from the 80’s backwards and racist language was prevalent never mind the reasons for most for voting Brexit. The TV may have dropped this but wider society is taking longer because it is not always clear to people what is offensive because now a days seemingly everything is offensive and everyone is offended. If you want to live your life in your safe space without educating those who are at least asking to be educated I advise you never leave the house. That would be pragmatic. However walking around and then in turn shouting racist at everybody you happen to disagree with is simply idealistic even if it is a popular hobby of many today.

    Reply
    • Valerie 4 months ago

      Good God, try a bit of empathy, ffs.

      How about this, you just talk to and deal with everybody on the basis of who they are, and how they act, without injecting anything about ethnicity into that transaction?

      I treat everyone the same way, unless they present as being an arse.

      We are all equal, and we all deserve to be dealt with in the same way.

      I can’t imagine how hurtful some of Shola’s experiences have been, but it is generous to share here to raise awareness, and hopefully make all of us think.

      Reply
      • Bilco 4 months ago

        I don’t think that the UK is any more racist than any other country. People are inherently xenophobic as this has been selected for by evolution. We used to live in small tribal groups and having a fear or hatred of outsiders was a positive because it stopped the spread of disease. Tribes that were open and welcoming simply didn’t leave any descendants. Although we can be trained to be, on the surface, open and accepting of strangers, there are studies that have shown that the unconscious bias remains. We all share the same flaws, no matter what you would like to believe. We simply want to be with people who look like the people we grew up with. It’s very difficult to overcome traits that were once survival necessities – look at the obesity epidemic. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try of course, but demonising people isn’t productive in this respect.

        Reply
        • Valerie 4 months ago

          Do you honestly think that’s a good defence for a racist. I can’t help it, I’m not sufficiently evolved? Many on the planet somehow manage to have enough control over themselves not to express racism, and racists are in the minority.

          You are asking me not to condemn or demonize racists? Fuck off, I will continue to condemn these Neanderthals, who deliberately cause hurt and pain to people just because they look ‘different’, or your theory about tribes.

          I’m not talking about what people think, and you know that, did you even read how people have behaved in the article?

          We hunted with spears too, but managed to evolve beyond that, some of us anyway, but there are always those looking for some type of escape clause to justify the BNP, Britain First etc.

          Reply
          • SleepingDog 4 months ago

            Ouch, Valerie. Implying that Neanderthals were bad people is actually really racist, and hurtful to those descended from them for not having pure African blood:
            https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/neanderthal/

          • Bilco 4 months ago

            If you don’t understand where behaviour comes from then you have no chance of changing it. People aren’t binary good or evil, it’s a lot more nuanced than that, which was my point. Do you think people behave badly because they made a conscious decision to dislike other races? Or do you think that they are a product of all the influences they have faced, from their parents, friends, culture on down? If a child does something wrong, you don’t beat it, shout at it, whatever. You teach it where it went wrong, judging the behaviour and not the person behind it. That way you can moderate behaviour. I agree with you that racist behaviour creates suffering and is wrong but by calling someone a racist you condemn the person, make them defensive, create conflict and make change less likely. This type of shrill condemnation only creates polarisation, which is what we see in the US.

        • SleepingDog 4 months ago

          When you say “people are inherently xenophobic”, @Bilco, what evidence are you drawing from? Is that some evolutionary psychology theory?

          The health of a population relies on expanding the gene pool by breeding outwith small kinship groups. In subsistence cultures, as existing throughout Scotland at various times, hospitality to strangers was a culture norm and some people were fiercely proud of such traditions. And wanderers from far-off places have been prized throughout history for their storytelling, novelty and bringing of news.

          Reply
          • Bilco 4 months ago

            A lot of the evolutionary theories about prehistoric behaviour are based on primate studies. I take your point about expanding the gene pool and this was explained by the fact that, at the level of the individual, ‘foreign’ (from other tribes) people of the opposite sex were often viewed as quite alluring. This would allow accidental / secretive sexual contact between individuals, expanding the gene pool, while at the level of the tribe a xenophobic outlook was maintained. As regards our own bias, there is work done by Harvard University and others along these lines. I think they still have an online test that you can take to measure your own unconscious social attitudes to characteristics like race and sexuality. This link (http://www.tolerance.org/activity/test-yourself-hidden-bias) is quite useful. Their conclusion? We’re all racists deep down, even the ones that shout really loudly.

  • Muscleguy 4 months ago

    @Jamie
    That doesn’t mean the next person of colour you meet is beholden to help you are anyone else along their brownie point accumulation project.

    I grew up in West Auckland, NZ and went to a large secondary school with a large proportion of Pacific Island people, Samoans, Tongans, Cook Islanders, Maori even a genuine Fijian along with a few Indian Fijians. I was a volunteer friend of a guy from Jakarta who was Chinese Indonesian.

    Nobody told me how to treat those people or gave me lessons. They were people and I treated them as people. I don’t claim to be a saint, only someone who is mystified at how in the information age people need specific personal instruction in how to treat other people.

    I can say ‘hello’ in several Pacific languages, because I paid attention. I used to be able to tell when people were conversing in Indonesian vs Malaysian, because I paid attention.

    Reply
  • c rober 4 months ago

    As an obvious Scot when I am on my travels , someone hears me speak , even in the foreign languages and places I am at the time , they pick up on the twang.

    To whit always comes , just like the author , what about the “Indy , Scots racism , Salmond and Sturgeon” , while its not like the authors experience on being the “expected by company ” as a mouth of the minorities – I think its relative , that the singular in “familiar yet alien” environments are expected to be the “representative”. Its a bit like BBC , “and heres the news from where you are” , but in race , colour and creed.

    IT of course shows the absurdity , more so when your ginger , or a Scot in non Scot domain , of expecting a voice of one to speak for , and have the knowledge of , the many.

    Is there even a ginger hive mind?

    One should be worried then for world domination.

    So mibbe thats the reasoning for the sounding out , looking for that hint , that sleekit facial expression confirming the fear in but a moment , that “when we the Gingers overthrow you , your first in the stocks”.

    Reply
  • Gail Gyi 4 months ago

    Thank God I’m Yorkshire born and bred ! I suspect we are the same gorgeous shade of brown, but I am no longer an “Angry young Woman!” I surmise I am just slightly older than the author, who appears articulate and educated, but I would politely suggest she should go and read some Maya Angelou, especially the poem “And still I Rise.” The authors over use of the “F Word” in this article diminishes the affect she is trying to effect. Scotland unlike England never experienced mass immigration of people of colour. With the march of independence this country will in her lifetime inevitably change and become more colourful. In the meantime she would do well to remember the pen is mightier than the sword.

    Reply
    • Valerie 4 months ago

      I disagree, the use of ‘fuck’ in this article communicates anger and frustration in the context the writer finds themself.

      Perfectly entitled to express these feelings after many years tainted by racial abuse imo.

      Scotland is quite colourful, given our generations links to India, Pakistan, and 100s of years links to Europe. It is why we want control over our immigration, to invite many more people, regardless of hue. As Sturgeon says, we are richer for it, and privileged if they choose to settle here.

      Reply
    • Jo 4 months ago

      @ Gail

      I agree with you about the over-use of the F word. I was enjoying reading the piece but the repetition was unnecessary and I found it irritating. The message was already powerful without it.

      Reply
    • Susan 4 months ago

      *I think that if people would grow up well, create a goal for their lives, and focus steadily on that goal, they won’t have the time to worry about their physical descriptions as much, and they will , ultimately, be happier and more successful in their lives. ie., this person, like so many others, obviously has too much free time, and too little focus. And then, if you are truly not happy where you are, go somewhere else.

      Reply
  • SleepingDog 4 months ago

    At least in many modern computer games you now get a full range of human skin tones either generated for you in characters or as a choice in character creation mode. It’s still about the least significant part to the functioning of the game (along with hairstyle, tattoos etc.), but having a variety is cool.

    Reply
  • Brochan 4 months ago

    “Amongst other reasons, I want to be seen me as a person and not just as that half black chick with the big afro.”

    I struggle a wee bit with this because she IS the black chick with the big afro just as I am the old guy with two hearing aids. We all have our own identities. We are all perceived according to our features. That will never change.

    Reply
    • Opl 4 months ago

      The word “just” is key. Are you happy to “just” be the old guy with two hearing aids? Is your whole identity “just” that? How would you feel if everyone saw you as “just” an old guy with two hearing aids, including your friends?

      Reply
      • Brochan 4 months ago

        I would very much doubt that “everyone” sees her like that.

        Reply
  • Willie 4 months ago

    Dear oh dear, thus is a gal with a grievance. From the anger and angst in her piece I suspect if it wasn’t her colour it would be something else.

    Reply
    • Mac 4 months ago

      Agreed, there’s a real culture of victimization from minorities in the West now. As an Irishman who lived in Scotland I was on the receiving end of many of the behaviors described in this article. I just accepted there are stupid idiots in the world or that many people say stupid ill thought out stuff in new or awkward social situations and got on with things. As Stephen Fry said self pity is the ugliest of human emotions. White, Western people’s of European origin are amongst the most tolerant, least racist people’s on the planet. Most of our traditional homelands have been subjected to mass immigration and multiculturalism, mostly without our consent and by and large we have reacted to these huge and sometimes discomfiting changes to our societies with a lot of tolerance and acceptance. I would question if other non white parts of the world would be as accepting as we have been. I refuse to apologize or feel guilty in the face of this PC bull any longer. The world will always be an imperfect place with good and bad, you can’t moan about and micromanage everything and everyone, you’ll create a f**king fascist state. Go live in China or the Middle East or Africa and call them racist, try to persuade them of the merits of accepting mass immigration of White Christian Europeans into their countries and see how you get on

      Reply
      • Valerie 4 months ago

        And there we have it, it’s now ‘PC bull’ to even be discussing racism as a bad thing.

        Judging by some of the comments on this article, there are plenty kippers about, and they read Bella.

        Absolutely disgusting.

        Reply
        • Brochan 4 months ago

          ” …. to even be discussing racism as a bad thing.”

          I doubt that anyone would deny that racism, real racism is a bad thing. I think what we are discussing is what constitutes racism.

          If you want to see real racism have a look at https://www.facebook.com/TheUnitedKingdomValues/ then tell me what disgusts you.

          Reply
        • Willie 4 months ago

          Oh come on Valerie what is this nonsense about Smoked fish, and plenty of them at that, reading Bella. Try and get out a bit more. Bella and its readership are by and large a pretty fair and well intentioned lot. Quite the opposite from UKippers who you think infest it’s comments page. Wisen up as the say in the vernacular.

          Reply
  • Andrea 4 months ago

    ““A term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.”

    What’s ‘Western’? Is it a euphemism for ‘various shades of white/pink’ and a plethora of cultures?

    ”carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.” Now where do I find that book of manners that lets me know I’ve connotated, instead of simply taking an idea and played with it?

    Do Easterners take over artistic forms etc? If they do – then the covertly ‘racist’ interpretation could do with a red pen and a dose of sunlight.

    Reply
  • SleepingDog 4 months ago

    I guess empathy is seldom in the top-ten British values. On the one hand, there is apparently little sympathy for those who suffer in silence, and yet when they dare speak out, they often seem to face a malignant backlash. And yet how else are we to improve our (oh-so-improvable) society, except by facing up to criticism?

    Those who reject the notion of cultural appropriation presumably don’t know where Paisley Pattern comes from. Witness the double standards of today, where copyright and patent bodies on the one hand protect corporate intellectual property whilst plundering community IP. Historically, cultural appropriation was a tool of culturecide, which we should be all too aware of in the once Celtic/pagan Britain whose festivals were hijacked and gods were reduced into elves of green mounds and further into quasi-historical figures or leprechauns by the media managers of Old Christianity.

    Children often try and avoid standing out from the crowd during phases of development, and I have no doubt there can be real pain of not fitting in; but you cannot change your skin or features the way you can change your trainers.

    I hope that articles like these are useful in highlighting behaviours which we might want to amend so that children and the adults they become do not feel excluded or demeaned. I remember reading the introduction to the book Children’s Minds by Margaret Donaldson where she describes an idyllic scene of early years learning, only to then describe unhappy and alienated older pupils, and setting out to investigate their disillusionment: surely a high priority for any culture is to invest in healthy developmental psychology (even if they don’t call it that).

    I would also like to see an article from a racist to find out what exactly they are so angry about, that other racists can comment upon to see if they are actually angry about the same things.

    Reply

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