Why can’t you be more white?
I have a really good friend called Eve. She’s an incredible soul, a ray of sunshine, a wonderful woman made of energy, light and love. I’ve had lots of great conversations with her and, through the years, she’s given me a present she doesn’t even know about.
She’s given me the present of helping me understand who I am. Helping me understand how the colour of my skin represents and defines me, regardless of what’s underneath it. Or I should say our skin. We’re both black and we both have grown up in countries where the majority of the population is white.
So thank you, Eve, for inspiring these words and for helping me understand who I am. Reader, I really hope you have an Eve in your life.
I’ve been told things like…
Straighten your hair. These chemicals smell horrible and they might burn your hair and scalp, but your hair will be straight, like white people’s hair.
A family friend when I was 12.
When you buy make-up foundation, get one shade lighter so your face looks… a little less black.
An employee in a drugstore when I was 18.
Bring your lower lip closer to your teeth. You look like an African woman with your lip hanging like that.
A relative when I was 8.
Do these exercises to make your bum smaller. Or wear these jeans to make your bum look smaller.
A friend when I was 15, 20, 25…
Don’t speak that language of yours in public. People will think you can’t speak English.
An old landlord when I was 23.
Don’t take this food to work, take a sandwich or whatever your white colleagues eat.
A flatmate when I was 24.
Watch this new tv drama, even though people like you aren’t featured. You are going to love it.
An old boyfriend when I was 20.
Watch this new movie, even though people like you are only featured in roles like the cleaner, the slave, the prostitute, the thief, the murderer. You’re going to love it.
Same guy, same age.
Don’t go out and protest like a savage, uneducated, unkind person who doesn’t think about others.
A stranger, a few months ago. George Floyd had just been murdered and the world was (and still is) battling a pandemic.
This is what I say to those people
I can’t be more white because I’m black. I don’t really want to straighten my hair. I don’t really want to look like a white woman.
Big hair, big lips, big bum. Yes and, more importantly, big values, big heart. And big on not wanting to be brutally murdered because I’m black.
I’ll say all of this in English. I could also say it in another two, four, ten languages. But I need everyone to understand me, so I’ll say it in English: the food I eat is fucking awesome. It’s made with love and effort, and it nourishes my body and my roots.
I will avoid watching TV shows that ignore or degrade black people. I will also deliberately look for, find, and consume shows that are about the lives of people like me, created, directed or produced by people like me.
I’ll deliberately look for, find, and consume music that speaks to me. To my experience, to my people and my feelings. This is how I support black creators.
Oh, and I’ll definitely go out and protest like the calm, educated, and kind person I am. When people stop going to beaches and celebrating soldiers during a pandemic, when people stop killing us, when people stop diminishing us, when people stop looking down on us and not trusting us, I might stop protesting.
Until then, world, please stop telling me what to do with my blackness.