On Wednesday, October 3rd 2019, we held a roundtable discussion where we invited everyone who identified as a Person of Colour to discuss what that title meant to them. We gave them a space to talk freely about their experiences not just at university or in Falmouth, but their life as a whole. We began with an introduction where everyone stated their name, course, and where they called home (a harder question than you think) and then went on to cover a range of topics which consisted of: History, Discrimination, Self-belonging, Family Issues, Representation, and the Celebration of Race as well as touched on race within pop culture and education. Although most of the group were in agreement when in the discussion, some topics sparked some discourse leading to an accumulation of varied opinions as disclosed below. - Kenisha Ganesh
How many of you have heard of Voices before?
*5 people raised their hands*
Joe: I was actually featured in the first edition of Voices and it was a really interesting time because here I was being asked to speak about race in front of black people and I thought, what do I say that they don’t already know? I grew up in Norwich which was once known as the last White city, and that’s a real experience because everyone always talks about being black in London, try being black in Norwich. But if anything what I was speaking about was trying to understand how I could be better, and now I’m asking the same question. I think Voices provides an opportunity for people to speak out and it actually gives them an opportunity to be heard.
What does your story mean to you?
Joe: To me, I think, we all live our own lives and it’s really easy to get caught up in all of the bullshit. You spend your days getting up and going to classes, going to Tesco’s to get food, spending hours in the library doing work, and when you stop to tell your story and you stop to take a moment to be with yourself that’s actually a radical act and if I have learnt anything from the hours spent reading, it’s the small things that you do that changes how you think. That moment of truly understanding can genuinely change someone’s life and their self-esteem and help them reclaim who they are. The world is attacking a person of colour every single moment, and there is a system in place that’s trying to eliminate the experiences you have. The idea that you can have one great moment of strength and reclaim all of it, is ludicrous, it’s a series of moments and a series of telling yourself that you shouldn’t be embarrassed of facing racism like I was for years. And if I could do anything for anyone it’s to try and remind them that it is a slow process of valuing yourself if you have been told not to, and it’s definitely one you have to work to do.
Martha: I went predominantly to ‘white’ schools and once I took myself out of the situation, from a ‘white’ school to one that is quite mixed, I realised what was wrong and how different situations affected me. Walking home and hearing racist comments and not dealing with it in the proper way meant that it has resonated with me throughout my life and had an effect on me as I grew older. But I think that being able to get out of that situation and to re-evaluate it; especially when you are surrounded by people who look like you and embrace you helps realise that it’s okay to be who you are and makes you feel comfortable with your race. I think I now feel comfortable because of what I’ve been taught, both socially and in education, especially in relation to doing Politics at university, as it has had a big impact on my thought process and how I view things. Learning from world history also makes you realise that what you’re going through isn’t an isolated situation and that it is happening to an abundance of people all over.
How do you feel in Falmouth?
Martha: Personally, didn’t acknowledge my race in first year that much but after I went to China over the summer, I realised that the looks and stares that I was getting there mirrored the ones that people gave me here. Visiting a country which is isolated and has little to no black people, therefore understanding their reaction to me, to living in a country which was built on multiculturalism, it creates confusion because people in Britain shouldn’t perceive POC like that.
Akira: I’ll say one positive thing about being a minority in such a small campus like this one, because we are so few, regardless of what ethnic society you’re part of, for example, the Islamic or Asian Society, you’re always going to see the same faces and that’s one thing that I find really nice. Although I was invited by African-Caribbean Society today, I see people from various other societies and that’s a plus I find really helps me feel comfortable about being here. Because of how small it is here, we can’t get away with being divided or staying within our groups and it’s something you can’t find in another uni, like the ones in London for example.
Albert: I don’t know about anyone else but I applied to the main campus (Exeter), and with applying there I knew what I was going to get myself into. But coming here, I expected a much smaller community of POC but was surprised at the size of the black community as well as the wider community of POC. It was much bigger than I realised and extremely helpful to help me adjust and feel accepted into a new environment.
Are societies a big part of your life in Falmouth?
Aaya: They have provided a sense of security, for me, especially when you’re a minority and you are going to place not knowing what to expect. It’s interesting because I had a conversation with someone from my accommodation who’s also part of ACS (African Caribbean Society), and he’s conflicted because of the name and believes there’s some sort of reverse psychology to it. He believes that we shouldn’t have an African-Caribbean Society because it makes us more segregated than we should be, and I understand where he’s coming from, but without it I would be very lost. It has given me more of an incentive to reach out to people and has provided a platform for me to meet people from ISOC (Islamic Society) and ASOC (Asian Society) for example, allowing me to network through my social life which is really nice.
Has anyone experienced discrimination?
Akira: No one can tell where I’m from! But nothing has really happened to me on campus that’s been significant that I can remember which is nice. I mean if you just smile then most people don’t say anything.
Joe: I think I faced discrimination when I first started here as if you have not had the pleasure of being in a class with me, I can be what some people may call ‘confrontational’. I’ve had a lot of lecturers who see me as ‘uppity’ but I believe that if the rules of your classroom affect the lives of thousands of people and you’re using them to promote a system which is oppressive, then I don’t care about the rules of your classroom. You can’t take division as a bad thing as people are not alike and we do disagree on certain issues and doesn’t undermine any movement we have, it actually makes it better because this idea that we all have to think the way is actually ludicrous and hurts people because we are all forgetting things and have our own privileges. I am one of the most privileged persons of colour there can be; I’m middle class, my mum’s white, I’m a man. The full effects of racism don’t affect me in the way they do other people and if people are afraid to call me out, then I’m not doing anything worth doing.
Khadija: I grew up around black people, so when I went to college it was a really different experience for me because there were like 6 girls who were mostly from Nigeria. So, for me, growing up I would watch tv-series and films and it was always white people so I grew up with white people in a sense. And then in college, it really wasn’t a problem for me but the way they treated me was different and I found it a bit hard. Like there was one time I was buying something at the shop, and a lady asked me what my name was and I said it was Khadija and she was like ‘oh you guys should have British names’ and I was really upset. I was really tough but I got used to it.
Have you felt as if you weren’t represented within your education?
Nasima: I think what we study in Politics is quite varied to be fair because our Professors are all mostly left-wing, therefore they try to make sure it’s not just white focused. With Politics, it’s quite difficult because it’s all mostly statistics and data, but if you’re doing a BA it would be more different, but if you’re learning about personal politics rather than stats then you would learn about Post Colonialism for example.
Kenisha: Yeah, definitely. I mean with English we barely study literary figures who aren’t old, white men and when we do it’s always the same one. It’s only in 3rd year where there are modules that discuss POC writers through the entirety of the module rather than just for one week.
What about ‘Quota vs. Merit’?
Akira: Do you mean when a Professor feels pressured to put an ethnic text or figure on the module just say it’s diverse as opposed to the person or text actually being important? In that case, then I would rather just listen to the old white Professor because it could seem like they are trying to ‘academically fetishise’ certain people on the basis of their colour or ethnic background and it’s degrading because you’re singling us out and just picking them solely because they are a person of colour.
Kenisha: Again, they did that in English as well. In my second year there was a module titled “Liberty, Tyranny, and Slavery” so obviously more people of colour would sign up as it’s something that would resonate more with us than old white men writing poetry. But instead of actually discussing ethnic writers and poets we discussed Langston Hughes in the first week, who was also known as the POC quota author because he was always added when they needed to ‘diversify’ the modules. And after that first week, we proceed to discuss opinions from predominantly white authors for five weeks who gave their opinions on slavery.
Did you learn about any ethnic histories throughout your education? In secondary school for example..
Nasima: I think in secondary school it’s so much harder because even if you’re learning about History it’s from a white standpoint, so if the topic is Colonialism, for example, it would be taught as a good thing. Which can be quite difficult because you’ll grow up thinking Colonialism is a good thing because that’s what you have been taught and then you would have to do your own research if you wanted to know about other viewpoints. But in University, you have access to resources such as JSTOR which can help you learn more academically and you are able to widen your personal knowledge. The curriculum much all taught from a eurocentric standpoint, is really toxic because as children we absorb everything we hear because we know no better.
Do you agree with how People of Colour are represented in the media? Eg: pop culture, in films etc…
Martha: I think it is an attempt at representation because for some shows we are represented, but the issue is more to do with how we are being portrayed. In some shows, for example, a light-skinned women and dark-skinned man would be together, but in reality we mix with every other ethnicity. Another example would be a character with darker skin would be portrayed as someone with an attitude. So I think there is representation, and then there is a false presentation of someone.
Anonymous: The thing is, for me, during that age where you absorb everything around you, all I watched was Nigerian movies and TV programmes, in my country or in Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone etc… So I wasn’t really exposed to Western culture and for me, all I saw was black people. Then when I came back here at the age of 9, and I watched EastEnders or Coronation Street and it was all white people on TV. It was such a weird experience for me because I was so used to seeing people for the way they are rather than how they were portrayed in Film and Television. The Real Housewives for example, how they pit women of colour against each other, falsely intertwining women of colour and conflict. Or male characters being portrayed as criminals, aggressive, or vindictive. How they portray people of colour, to me, was so off putting because we’re not really like that because everyone reacts in the same way but because of the colour of our skin everything is amplified. But the way the media portrays us, especially in Western culture, pitting us against each other just for entertain and engagements is quite sickening. Why do you need to portray us in such a way just for the entertainment of others?
Kenisha: I think you can see that still happening now with Love Island for example, and how Yewande was edited to look aggressive and angry all the time throughout that whole Danny situation whereas Arabella was just seen as innocent and happy all the time. (In reference to Love Island 2019 Participants)
Albert: And you can see it in people’s reactions on Twitter as well. I mean watching it as a black person I thought she was acting normal and I thought that’s how I would react, but then you go and see the reactions and everyone is saying ‘Oh Yewande is being very aggressive’ and ‘Yewande is attacking everyone’.
Anonymous: That's the thing, if it’s a person of colour reacting to something that has upset them, their actions are always seen as ‘overreactions’ which are seen as aggressive or being ‘over the top’. There's this bias that we are being aggressive and hysterical (especially for women of colour). In a way it’s sort of dehumanising because why shouldn’t we be able to act the way others act, and express our feelings?
Martha: I think it’s the little things that are hyperbolic, for example Meghan the Duchess of Sussex. Her actions being deemed as ‘controlling’ and ‘crazy’, in the media, and used as the villain in the Royal household.
Is representation important in every space, like for all communities?
Anonymous: Absolutely, we do need to be represented, it’s just the way we are represented that’s the problem. Just represent us as human beings and the way we are and not based on a stereotype. When watching TV shows, like Jane the Virgin, there’s the stereotype that in Latin culture all women are ‘sassy’ and that they always have an attitude, and it’s the same for black people as well. It’s the way that we are being represented that’s the problem, and how the media goes about it is what needs to change. Sometimes they do it to fit a ‘quota’, saying they have someone from that race, but their portrayal is wrong.
Joe: I think representation is nothing if that representation isn’t an activist one. There’s no point having a black person, for example, represent the community if they are going to turn around and speak white narratives. We’ve all seen the Candace Owens’ and the Clarence Thomas’ and all these people who are more than happy to fall for the attention of white people by coming out of with radical hot takes like Kanye for example. ‘Slavery’s a choice, get over it guys’, well in reality he does not feel the full impact because his money has helped him buy his way out of the problems real people face. If you are fighting against injustice, you’re going to be seen as aggressive and that’s not a bad thing. Because the world is violent, and if you pretend it’s not then your representation means nothing.
Do you feel comfortable as labelling yourself as British?
*we went around the room and each person gave their answer*
Albert: I say I’m British in regards to my citizenship but when people ask me where I come from and venturing into territories of countries I usually say Kenya and Ghana, and then I have to go into what tribe my grandfather was from etc… So I usually say I’m Black British just to keep it all together as one.
Nasra: My nationality is British because I was born here but I wouldn’t say I am British because my parents are from Somalia and came to England when they were quite young. We don’t speak our language much at home anymore but I am fluent in my home language and follow my culture.
Albert: Would you not say that you’re English?
Nasra: No, never. Would you look at me and think ‘oh, she’s English’. Especially down here they will ask you where you’re from and if you say London, which is where they assume you live when you are of a different ethnicity, they will ask you where you’re really from which is definitely my favourite question. Like what you said earlier about discrimination, I wouldn’t say it’s discrimination I would say it’s the term microaggression. I’ve heard some things and seen some things which will definitely be classified as microaggression, like the question ‘where are you really from though?’
Nasima: I wouldn’t say I’m British, like what you said about citizenship in that sense yes, but not my nationality. I probably called myself British when I was younger but as I got older I completely disregarded it. I think what snapped me out of it was realising what the British actually did to my home country and I don’t want anything to do with that, I mean I was born here but I didn’t really have a choice. I wouldn’t be proud to claim being British, and I think people who are proud should seriously think about that.
Gabriel: Nah, I’m not British. I don’t claim it, why would I claim it? I mean just because I was born it doesn’t mean I have to identify as it, by birth I’m British I guess but that’s about it.
Aaya: I never thought about it like that and now that I have, it’s interesting. I do identity as British, not in the sense that I’m patriotic, but that I’m grateful that my parents were able to bring me here and allowed to have the label of ‘British’. Now that I’m at University as a home student, I know that I am able to have a strong future and I’m confident in that, and I think it would be ignorant of me to completely disregard that label. But to what extent I am emotionally attached to that British label is another story.
Khadija: I’m not British, I was born in Nigeria so I would always say I’m Nigerian. Touching on how people ask you where you’re really really from, when I say I’m from Nigeria no one prys any further, they have got their answer.
Kenisha: I feel like here, once they get an ethnic answer they’re satisfied.
Anonymous: For me it’s a bit of a tricky one because if I’m filling out a form or if I’m asked in a formal setting, I would say Black British. But if I’m talking to people I would just say I’m African, and if they ask ‘oh which country in Africa’ I couldn’t really answer, because I’m from all over the place. I’ve been exposed to so many cultures because of my family and their backgrounds, I’m a part of all those cultures and all those countries but I’m also British because I was born here. Being able to have that label of being British will open so many more doors for me because I can’t deny that part of myself. but it’s also something that comes with a negative connotation because of what happened to the countries I associate with. So I can’t just choose one really.
Nelida: I would say I’m from nowhere really. I’m from Africa but I grew up in Spain. I am in the middle of these two identities so it’s easier to just saw I either come from nowhere or I’m a citizen of the world. That’s my philosophy.
Ayisha: I’m British Pakistani. There is a conflict that I face because people in Asian culture dress more modestly for example, whereas Westerners tend to be more liberal so I kind of have a foot on each side in a way.
Martha: With me, I think the only part that makes me British is growing up here. As I grew up, I started saying I am Nigerian first before saying I am British, because I’m proud of my culture and where I’m from.
Kenisha: I’m Asian. Born and bread. But I find it so interesting that some of you are so comfortable with not just being from one place because if I were put in that situation I know I would need a definite answer and I like having a place to call home. I went to boarding school in Wales and there were so many ‘third culture kids’ who have moved around a lot or have mixed parents so each quarter of them is different, and I couldn’t deal with that as I find that there’s no sense of belonging.
Joe: The concept of ‘Britishness’ was created to merge the union of Scotland and England, it’s an ideology that’s a complete lie based on a negative identity. To me, I use British because it’s so much easier than the long explanation of where my parents are from or how they met and where they live etc… Today, we’ve talked a lot about these tensions, and I don’t think any of them can be reconciled. And part of the true liberation is that not every problem has an answer, and that’s a difficult thing to take on in this world.
Do you ever find yourself searching for a label to put on your identity or are you happy with embracing every part of you?
Joe: To be honest, it’s about where you’re going not where you come from.
Anonymous: We’re not all from one place, we’re all from different places so you can’t exactly claim just one place. In a way, for me, claiming one place in a way is betraying the other parts of me because I’m not just from one place in Africa, I’m from multiple places.
Sam: Do you think you’re still trying to find yourself or are you satisfied?
Anonymous: I used to search for an answer but now I’m happy with being from many different places. We’re all different and all have different backgrounds and that’s because of our histories and migration etc…
Aaya: I’m all for everyone embracing the different aspects of where they’re from but I do understand the social problem that can arise, and that’s the issue with it. I went to a Secondary School in South London, where it had predominantly People of Colour, and I felt that I was going to belong, like ‘these are my people’. Being from Sudan, we are African but we embrace an Arabic culture so I speak Arabic at home, for example. So when I was with my black friends from school, they were mostly Caribbean and West African, and even the East Africans couldn’t really relate to me. I had questions like ‘how do you spell plantain?’ or ‘how do you pronounce it?’ ‘you don’t belong with us’. And then when I would be with my Arab friends they would say I’m black, but my black friends say that I speak Arabic so I can’t relate to them. So I felt a major confliction questioning myself like would I ever know where I belong? But as you grow, you go through a lot of these hardships and gain wisdom from it and eventually you move forward when you accept it.
Should we move on to cultural appropriation? In relation to pop culture, like Kim Kardashian for example.
Kenisha: I think there’s a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. A very fine line.
Joe: There was a moment, where she straightened her daughters hair that sent me into an apoplectic rage. If you want to do it it’s fine I don’t want to police you, but at such a young age I feel as if it would have a lasting impact.
Martha: I think for her, most people who have mixed race children don’t know how to do their child's hair. But I feel as if you marry into the culture, you should learn the responsibilities that come with that. Forcing that decision on your child at such a young age will have an underlying effect on her, especially with her daughter having so many cousins that are mixed race as well but obviously varies with parental choice.
Anonymous: You let them be until it’s their kind of decision and even then, you tell them that they are beautiful as they are. Changing your child to mould her into a version that you like, I mean she isn’t a doll.
Does anyone want to talk with their experience with Colourism? Or an example of Colourism they would like to share?
Albert: Well one major example for me is that (growing up) my sister was always a little bit darker than me because my dad is darker and my mum’s a bit lighter so we mirrored our parents. I remember our mum chatting to us in the car one day and was like to my sister, ‘when you were born one of your aunties looked at you and said you should have come out lighter and you would be prettier.’ And obviously my sister and I are super ‘radicalised’ so when we heard that we were outraged and disgusted and were wondering why an Auntie, who was fully Kenyan and grew up in Kenya had such a colonised view.
Nasima: That happened to me, my Dad has got green eyes and is very light-skinned and when I came out everyone wished that I had green eyes and were really disappointed when I didn’t. In an Asian community, when a baby is born everyone would be like ‘it would be so much cuter if it was lighter’ and that’s so much pressure to put on anyone especially a newborn
Kenisha: Yeah it’s like bleaching soap, which is still to this day strongly advertised in most Asian countries. The promotion of such products and ‘fetishisation’ of lighter skin and western traits stems from colonialism, and the lasting impact it has had on continents such as Asia and Africa. And due to the difference in generations, it is now only questioned and seen as ‘insulting’ when someone something like ‘you shouldn’t spend so much time in the sun, you’ll get too dark.’
The issues discussed during our roundtable discussion provided a real insight into these people’s stories and the struggles they have faced. There was a real sense of comradery as although they were describing incidents that affected them negatively, the group provided comfort and empowerment as they reiterated that age is a turning factor. It allowed them to understand that despite what society says, they know who they are and are aware of their identity and that’s the only thing that really matters. The discussion on discrimination was most interesting as most said they hadn’t experienced direct racism however experienced more of what was defined as ‘microaggression’, such as questions like ‘where are you really from’ and ‘how do you get your hair so curly’. It was also interesting to see how even within the ethnic community assumptions and ignorance were present, such as all Asians being oriental looking for example. Overall, it was agreed upon that it was nice to discuss issues such as colourism and discrimination with other people of colour, but concluded that the next step to discussing these issues in order to invoke change would be to open up the conversation to white people as well. - Kenisha Ganesh