What does it mean to be black in the UK? When does the colour of our skin speak for us and when do our actions speak louder?
Racism in the UK is very real and apparent. We cannot continue to deny it any further. Black people are often portrayed negatively by the media in comparison to their white counterparts. For example, the emphasis of the colour of their skin related to a crime or death in comparison to when a white person has committed a crime or death. Almost always their blackness is associated with negativity and discomfort rather than positivity and safety. Alternatively, this emphasis is rarely there when relating to positive news such as representing the country for a sport or making a breakthrough discovery. Suddenly they’re just “British” or “part of the team”. Their blackness is undermined in this sense.
Ever since the Euros finals with England vs Italy, I have been asking myself more questions about the double standards or racism that black people face. The fear that was installed into black people due to the aftermath of results that night is not the first time we’ve felt that way in the UK. Why are these young black boys now criminalised upon failure, when they supported the team in reaching the finals in the first place? Why is this frustration now taken out on other innocent black people who just wanted to enjoy a good football game or just wanted to get on with their lives?
Many of these racially driven attacks happened around me and it was completely uncalled for. I was unable to go anywhere for a week out of fear for my safety, and I was also contacting my black friends and family to continue checking on their safety. I should never have to be afraid to leave my house, talk my piece and live comfortably in my skin, but I was. I was afraid because racists disguised as football fans use this opportunity to maximise their racial attacks. As a black person, I shouldn't have to overachieve or go above and beyond just so my position as a human is validated. That should already be a given.
Therefore, this should be challenged more frequently. There are many ways that we can begin to break down the double standards that hold back the unity of this country and the success of black people.
The main two ways include calling out and reporting racist behaviour. This blatant racism should not be allowed to continue any further. Discrimination is a criminal offence and those who partake in it should be aware of the consequences. Therefore, if you can, call out this behaviour, report it to their workplace and see how the workplace will tackle this. Another method is looking at the media through a critical eye. If their blackness is highlighted whilst addressing something negative, look into the story more. Understand the language that is used to deform their character, and correct that as if you weren’t aware of their skin colour. On the contrary, if their blackness is overlooked with regards to positive news, celebrate their blackness, recognise that they are black and be proud of that fact. Flip the way the media presents this news. Lastly, support those black people who have been victims of these racist attacks. They need nothing more than the support of their peers and knowing that they are not alone.
It’s seen time and time again that the colour of our skin is only highlighted when paired with something negative. When positive, it is ignored and replaced with British nationality. Why should the colour of someone’s skin determine their worth? There should never be double standards and black people shouldn’t have to question their identity because of it. If you see this happening to anyone around you or online, be sure to report it or call it out. We should be celebrated as a union and as individuals.
I had been afraid to go to the GP for months. Not because I thought I would be judged, but because I thought I wouldn't. Whenever I go to the GP, I am not treated equally and don’t receive the reviews others do. My medical journey hasn't been taken seriously for as long as I can remember and I would rather save my energy and disappointment each time I wasn’t provided with the help that I needed.
Racial inequality in healthcare can also be known as a form of direct discrimination. Direct discrimination is when someone is not treated equally as a result of a particular characteristic, for example, their race, sex, gender or even disability.
Many black people are being affected by racial bias within healthcare, whether that is working in the sector or just receiving services from it. Luckily, healthcare in the UK is free so we can access it quite easily. However, some countries find it more difficult as healthcare is privatised. Statistics show that many black people come from poor socio-economic backgrounds which makes it harder to afford a lot of healthcare services. This can affect the faith in the healthcare system for black people and whether they trust it enough to take care of them.
Further discrimination includes a lower priority of care provided to black people as compared to their white counterparts despite potentially suffering the same symptoms. Black people are less likely to visit the GP as a result of distrust and not having another black person to treat them (as they would feel more comfortable knowing that their issues will be listened to).
It is also evident that this is a sector in which black medical professionals are discriminated against and not taken seriously within their profession. A report from the RCP showed that white applicants had a 98% chance of being shortlisted, compared to BAME applicants who only had a 93% chance.
I struggle to go to the GP or seek medical attention due to my health being disregarded. In the past I have gone to the GP, genuinely concerned about how I was feeling for weeks, just to be told that there was nothing wrong with me and I was overthinking. Despite this, the pains would continue for weeks after my appointment and even up to now I still feel them sometimes. Each time I would go to the GP everything I was concerned about would just be rejected so eventually I grew tired and decided to ignore my medical issues. To me, it felt that there was no point of even bothering to have my voice heard about my pain anymore. Lately, I don’t take my medical problems as seriously so they begin to get increasingly worse, such as the sprained wrist I have had for quite a while now.
However, I don’t think what I am doing is the right thing to do. I should certainly continue to voice my concern for my health and make sure that it is heard to get the necessary attention and care needed. Regardless, I find this exhausting and I am sure other black people will feel the same way. Therefore, to my fellow black people: please do not be afraid to seek medical help. You must maintain your good health and ensure you are regularly checked. Your health is just as important as everyone else’s therefore you must continue to fight for its recognition even though you are tired. We cannot continue to ignore our problems in hope that they will subside.
My advice to those who are not black is to encourage your black friends and family to visit their GPs as regularly as they can. Please make sure that with any of the medical issues that they are facing - physical, mental or other - they are not suffering alone. It can get to a point where we black people feel so alone that we don’t ask for help, thus please check up on the physical and mental health of your black family and friends - they are not superhuman because they don’t ask for your help; understand that they feel pain just as you do.
Lastly, call out medical discrimination when you see it. Not enough people are talking about the medical discrimination that black people face regularly, and that is mainly because they tend to cover it up in such a sly way. However, if you have caught onto this discrimination, you should definitely call it out so that more people can be aware of what this discrimination looks like.
Remember that medical discrimination is still as prevalent in 2021 so it is imperative that it is called out and spoken about. Just as I mentioned in a previous article of my “Being Black” series, there is now a stigma around black people having to be strong or even seen as superhuman which is not the case. We cannot allow ourselves to think that we are anything other than human. We all see, hear and feel just as much as each other. You are valid.
I knew I made a mistake when my mother saw that letter. I had managed to hide my letters from her up to this point as she had an affinity for opening them, but I regretted showing the letter to her that day. “What does this mean?” She asked with worry in her eyes but it came across as pure anger. Therapy was not an option for me.
Many black kids, as well as adults, struggle to talk about mental health in the home. It has become such a taboo subject, it is often greeted with anger, judgment, disapproval, or dismissal. This topic is discouraged within the black community, which causes difficulties for black people to engage with health services.
Cultural barriers are not the only reason why black communities may be reluctant to attend health services. Language barriers, lack of publicity for mental health support services, and even professionals having a lack of knowledge of what is important to meet black people’s needs are all valid reasons why mental health within the black community is difficult to tackle.
My mother was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2007 following her nervous breakdown. I was only six at the time yet the trauma of seeing my mother like that stuck with me my entire life. It affected how I built relationships with other people, I also felt a sense of guilt as I wasn’t able to help her at the time. This, amongst many other traumatic experiences in my life, was the root of my declining mental health. I did not realise this until I was getting physical responses to my trauma such as random chest pains that would last from a couple of minutes to a couple of days.
When my doctor referred me to a counsellor on the suspicion of me showing signs of depression and anxiety, I went into panic mode. The immediate concern about my mother being either disappointed or feeling guilty that I got to that stage washed over me. Although I was old enough for my medical information to remain private, it didn’t mean anything once I was back home.
One day I had received a letter about recommended places for therapy and confronted my mother about it a couple of weeks later. I couldn’t bear hiding this part of my life from her and thought it was the right thing to do. I had already visited a school counsellor prior to the doctor appointment just to deal with my high levels of stress and to support a friend who was also attending therapy. As I thought, my mother wasn’t happy about the news. I know that this came from her personal experience with mental health services and the way she was treated as a result of her illness. She didn’t want me to go through the same thing. However, the way it came across did not show that. Soon I became reluctant to express any negative emotions around my mother and started to keep more things to myself. To this day I am still afraid of getting professional help in fears of watching my mother relapse because she drowned herself in guilt over me potentially having the same type of depression as her.
However, what I started to do was become more aware of my emotions and learn how to process them healthily. I know I still have a long way to go when it comes to being more appreciative of myself and learning when certain emotions are okay to feel. However, I have definitely made progress from where I was before.
Therefore, my advice for those who are looking for ways to support their black friends in this situation is simple:
Encourage your black friends to talk about how they feel. They NEED to be heard. Their trauma is not just limited to what has happened in their personal lives but also the systematic racism they have to face on a daily basis- directly or indirectly. Simply talking about their experiences is enough to make them feel that someone is there to support them.
If they begin to open up, don’t cut them off. Hearing black people discuss their personal issues and open about their mental health is one of the most important things that could happen. From what I’ve experienced and already discussed, mental health is extremely difficult to talk about within the black community so letting them open up may be one of the small chances that they get to express themselves.
Never invalidate their feelings. You don’t know what they’ve been through or how it has affected them, the same way they don’t know about you. Pain is relative and you telling them that it isn’t that bad because you don’t feel the same way or it hasn’t affected you personally, will only cause them to become more reserved.
Protect your black friends. They need to know that they have others to rely on, and it’s not something to keep to themselves.
If you are a black person who is suffering from talking about mental health or even experiencing mental health issues yourself, please remember that you’re not alone. There are services available for you to discuss with other black people who may be feeling the same way, as well as a helpline to call. Ask for a professional who is a person of colour. They are more likely to understand and meet your needs as a black person.
After my mother calmed down from her outburst she hugged me and let me know that she didn’t want me to go through what she went through and I could tell her anything. Simple acts like this can be the beginning of destigmatising black mental health. Remember, you are never alone and your voice deserves to be heard. Listen to those around you; care for them. Let’s stop mental health from being a taboo subject one talk at a time.
The Black African and Asian Therapy Network
Decluttering and organising always seems like one of those tasks we dread - the pressure of dealing with our mess is too overwhelming and so we leave it for another day, week, month, until there's no choice but to face it. Perhaps that is because we have spent all that time trying to avoid our responsibility.
There are quite a few good reasons why it seems difficult to begin organising. Perhaps you have never properly organised before. The fact that you have not actually experienced a good organisation makes it unlikely for you to want to experience that feeling in your life. Another clear reason is you have too many things. Whether that be tasks or even possessions, the fact there are so many causes you not to want to do anything at all because it seems overwhelming. Additionally, organising in general takes time. With the many other activities and priorities in your life (friends, family, education, etc) organising is not really at the top of your list.
However, clutter can really affect both your physical and mental health. It can cause stress, fatigue, and even depression. Physically, it is clear to see how it can affect you; a cluttered home can cause fire hazards, dust, and even mould. Studies show that a clutter household is associated with your food choices as it makes you more likely to choose unhealthy foods over healthier choices.
However, with decluttering, it can help you sleep better, boost your productivity and even help you sleep better.
I often found myself adding more and more activities onto my things to do. I say this is because I am bored – really, I am just avoiding life’s responsibilities for me and thus I am stuck with a pile of tasks that I do not know where to begin with. Inasmuch as I do enjoy keeping myself busy, I realised having so many activities to work on confuses the brain more and causes you to, in fact, become more disorganised. I had to start finding effective ways for me to remain organised with all the tasks I set out for myself, whilst having some-time so that I do not crumble underneath all the stress and pressure of completing these tasks.
You may not know where to start with the organising. So here are a few ways which helped me organise my time and my life:
1. Think about your three most important tasks. I consider the three main priorities I need to achieve and I try to make sure that I focus my day around these three tasks. By doing so everything will start to fall into place.
2. Make yourself an easy and workable task/ to-do list. I often find myself breaking my day up into the simplest tasks such as “brush your teeth” and “eat breakfast” so that I can still reward myself and my body for the hard work it goes through day in and day out. If I keep these measures in place I can judge when I am overworking myself or not doing quite enough.
3. Colour coding. I find colour coding to be one of the most effective bits of organisation for me as I find it very pleasing and easy for me to pick out certain tasks or assignments if they are colour coded. Make sure the colour system works for you; sometimes you do not need to have too many colour variations for everything, just enough for you to differentiate the different tasks you have.
4. This one is quite important: Do one thing at a time. I know because I try to do so much, doing it all at the same time proves to be ineffective. So, finding one task to do first and completing that first before moving onto the next task.
5. Another quite important one: Do it now! Tomorrow will never come if you keep saying it so start doing it ASAP.
6. Simplify everything as much as you can. This relates to the second point. If you start to simplify tasks you start to notice how much easier it is to complete them.
7. Make sure there is a place for everything, and you have put everything in its place. By doing so, you have now organised and arranged specific places for your possessions and your mind will be organised with these allocated positions.
8. Put it away now. Relating to point seven, make sure whatever you use, you return as soon as you finish using it. That way you are remaining organised throughout your day and you do not need to overwhelm yourself with the thought of organising piles of stationary or books later.
9. Make use of the word no. Saying no to certain things helps you take control of your time and your priorities. You do not need to attend every event or social gathering that it is taking place. You do not need to help every friend or do every task if it is not required of you. Take time for yourself and have that break. There is no need to overwhelm yourself for tasks and activities that can be done later or are taking a big toil on your health.
Decluttering and organising can really seem like a big task when you do not know where to start but if you use some of these nine tips then perhaps it will become easier for you to start. The amount of stress, fatigue and other negative effects on your health will begin to reduce and you’ll start to see a change in your livelihood. Remember, if you can organise your time, you can organise your life.
I never quite thought being “strong” could be more belittling than the intention of a general compliment. Black women are often put on the pedestal of strength: a dystopian version of superwomen. Black women are meant to respond to life’s challenges by demonstrating this mass of strength and hiding any trauma they may face.
The question here is: where does this stereotype come from? The majority of this goes back to the mindsets that were created during slavery. When black men were snatched from their families, their wives were left to raise families on their own. Even after slavery ended, the U.S. Government’s “war on drugs” was used as a racist veil way to jail black men for the same non-violent drug offenses that were also by free white men. Throughout several points in American history, black families have systematically been placed in situations where black men were taken away, leaving black women to fend for themselves. The fact black women had to overwork themselves so much stole their feminine softness and instead of being humans, were treated as martyrs.
This “strong black woman” stereotype was embedded into my life from a young age, passed on through generations. My mother made sure I was not to show any weakness in the house; revealing that something upset you made you weak and vulnerable to others. Her response would be: “Is this how you would act if this happened to you in the workplace?” Or “Is this how you’ll always be?” It was not acceptable for me to allow myself to be frustrated or exhausted about work I had been struggling with as that could be seen not having the strength to overcome life’s hardships.
Other people’s opinions added to this stereotype. I always found myself being the strength of the friendship group – the one who had to hold everyone up even when I felt I did not have the strength to. When I did show that point of vulnerability, I was often looked at as if it were unacceptable for me to even begin feeling that way; others had to deal with more than me. So, I was left to silence my vulnerability and act as a pillar of stability for others.
It became a toxic expectation which eventually took a toil on my mental and physical health. By suppressing so much, I found myself neglecting traumatic events of my past as well as overlooking genuine health conditions I had started to develop. In fact, it became apparent that even doctors began to believe that black women could endure more pain than their white counterparts and thus were given less compassionate care or their issues were often overlooked.
I learnt that the “strong black woman” stereotype is not just a fault of social norms adopting this stereotype as a normality, by also us black women for allowing it to define use, and adopting it into our lifestyles subconsciously. It was specifically slavery and systematic racism robbed black women of their humanity. Therefore, it is understandable that the quickest way of reversing these effects is making sure what we ask others and the expectations we have of ourselves always maintains our shared humanity.
It is simple really: aspire to be treated as a human. Remaining bound by this outdated concept only brings more pain. If black women do not break the stereotype, who will make the move? If we are so-called “strong”, should we not have the strength to break a toxic expectation that has been normalised within society?
However, this should not be the sole responsibility of black women. Others must recognise how racism and sexism will continue to impact how black women and girls experience and receive healthcare. We should increase the number of those in the mental health sector who are culturally competent practitioners that are well trained to address and treat the trauma related issue that black women gain. In addition, we should encourage black women to address and perhaps release the burden of strength in some cases. It would be beneficial for both patients and healthcare providers to improve their relationship if the providers knew how to address violence at home, school, on the job and in neighbourhoods that typically influence a black woman’s wellbeing.
We should really be more conscious of how we approach black women. The toxic expectation of black women not only affects our health but also destroys society’s perception of what “strong” is. It stops black women getting the proper treatment they deserve, not only in health care but also in society. No, it is not a compliment to be a “strong black woman”, as if black women are the only demographic that can be strong. Why are these specific words put together in our times of vulnerability? We must not overlook a black woman’s pain for the strength that has been subconsciously associated with the colour of her skin and her gender. It is killing us.
As I patiently read the text messages my friend sent to me about the treatment he receives within his society at university, my mind wanders to what could cause them to act in such a disapproving way towards his character. Holding a management position within the society, polite and understanding, hardworking… You would think that there would be some sort of respect for what he provides. There was no reason for their behaviour when he asked, however each time my friend was assertive about what he disagreed with, it seemed to cause an argument. Even with his Caucasian counterparts expressing themselves in the same manner, there was never any disapproval towards their character, just his own. Was it the colour of his skin that threatened them so much? Could being the only black boy in that committee really be the reason for their behaviour?
Black people, especially black women, are snowed under the stigma that they are angry, aggressive, or violent. Simply disagreeing with the norm will stimulate this stereotype which clearly has no place with being at all factual. In fact, this stereotype – named the Sapphire – came from the 1800s to the mid-1900s. This was used to portray black women as sassy, emasculating and domineering. The caricature described black women as aggressive, loud and angry. It earned its name from the CBS television show “Amos ‘n’ Andy” relating to the character, Sapphire Stevens.
Many of the stereotypes that were created happen during the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and were used to help turn black people into commodities and give reasoning to the business of slavery.Unfortunately stereotyping is natural and automatic. For us, to make sense of the world, our mind takes mental shortcuts; categorising and seeing the world based on generalisations that are made from the information fed to us. Psychologists call these mental shortcuts heuristics. When something is still fresh in your mind, it is more like to influence how you think.
I have faced the forefront of stereotyping on numerous occasions, without even saying a word. The assumption that “all black people are angry” is simply not true and yet, it becomes so easy to be fearful of them, just by them being themselves. After a while, I started to notice myself becoming complacent with this stereotype. I would constantly try to reform myself – my speech, my tone, even my posture, just so I don’t come across in the way that is thought of me. I was being forced to become quieter and compliant, to the point I was afraid to speak my mind against anything in an educational, professional, or even social setting.
The moment I realised the stereotype had influenced my actions so much, I knew I had to write about this. The words “I don’t want to be seen as the angry black girl” slipped out mid-conversation to my Caucasian friend after he told me to be more honest with what I thought. Confusion washed over him as he asked, “what does that even mean?” I didn’t even know what it meant. I just said it. This was already engraved into how I behaved around others growing up and now I’ve become accustomed to it.
I learned that I was also allowing myself to become defined by this stereotype. However, this wasn’t something I could easily slip away from. For me to try to express my thoughts assertively, I would constantly be greeted by barriers blocking me from speaking my truth. I learned that the problem was rooted within the racial injustice systems already in place.
I wished the only advice that I had to give was “don’t assume”. However, it is deeper than just an assumption of black people. The act of stereotyping is natural and automatic. The only way we can work upon this is unlearning the stereotype. Reminding yourself constantly that this group of people are not a threat and you shouldn’t treat them as such. There is no easy way to go about how to tackle stereotyping however, you can learn more about how to be anti-racist. Creating awareness for what it is to be black is so important for others to change their perspectives, so these articles are written to highlight these struggles. Despite this, I know it will be a slow journey before we can change the mindset of everyone completely.
So, I tell my friend – 6’2, black boy, not sure of what to do – I tell him: “don’t let them think of you as the angry black guy.” I tell him to hold his peace, shut up and smile. Pretend he knows no better. If he does that, then at least they’ll have no reason to say anything against him. Even if unintentional, racial stereotypes will continue to exist and this is the harsh reality of being black.