I have chosen Carole for the V.O.W project as she shows what it means to be Scottish. I am inspired by the ongoing resilience she shows and the love she has for her 3 gorgeous children.
*This story contains sensitive issues around racism and violence. The racial slurs highlighted by Carole herself I have not censored as I feel that this shows how words really feel for individuals who are subject to racial abuse.
My chosen word is Survivor, the dictionary definition is “a person who copes well with difficulties in their life” and that’s what I do. Fortunately, I grew up in a very supportive family but I am the only mixed-race member of my immediate family. I am the daughter of a white Scottish Mother and a Nigerian father. My father played no part in my life and left shortly after I was born.
I have chosen Black Lives Matter UK as my charity because I believe in racial equality. A big part of making that happen in Britain lies in educating people about history and culture without the whitewashing that has been and continues to go on in our society and education system. I wasn’t aware of my skin colour causing any problems in my life until I started school. It soon became apparent that I was a bit of a novelty at best and at worst a punchbag. I quickly learned new words like “wog”, “coon”, and “nigger” not realising initially what they meant. I usually had to ask. It soon became just the way it was. I learned to use humor and that smile you see in the painting. Everyone talks about that smile to this day. That smile was a fake it until you make it smile, my accent helps me too. I have a broad Scottish accent, I quickly learned that people connect to me when they hear it, they become more accepting of me as soon as they realise that I’m not just “off the boat” and perhaps I may actually be from here and I’m home already. Not that you should treat people any differently regardless, I am using the racists thought pattern to my advantage here. Yes, that smile and my voice became my trusted tools of survival. It’s the reason why to this day people often comment on how open and friendly I am, it was all learned behavior to help me survive!
At 17 I was the victim of a violent racist attack in my home town of Paisley. It was a turning point in my life. They held me by the hair and banged my head off the curb, battered me with my dog’s lead, kicked me in the face and body, and then held me up by my hair to chants of “jungle bunny, fuck off to your own country”. There had been a few violent encounters in the past but nothing like this, it was usually the odd kick or being spat at. This particular one was the turning point. I actually thought I might die. I am reminded of that attack whenever I catch the scar on my top lip in the mirror or when someone walks too close behind me when I’m out alone. I lived with the discoloured tooth until a year ago, it’s a beautiful shiny veneer now. They actually split my face open with their boots, I still can feel that but I have used the experience to my advantage. It taught me how to forgive and empathise. It taught me how to try and look beyond a person’s actions to determine the cause of those actions. I would dearly love to meet my attackers today and I’ve tried to find them but it’s ongoing. The police came to interview me in hospital later that day, they treated me as though I was the criminal and did nothing about it. I still have a mistrust of that system and realise how much it needs to change which is another reason why my chosen charity is Black Lives Matter UK. I know that physical violence is awful but the relentless lifetime of a more subtle type of racism is worse. Sometimes I think given the choice I’d rather take the kicking and get it over with. The other form of racism is the subtle one that I live with day-to-day. I also accepted it as just being just how it was. I felt grateful that it wasn’t as bad here as it was in London or in America. Imagine feeling daily gratitude because things aren’t as bad as they could be? That became not good enough for me. It is exhausting having to prove yourself over and over. It’s people just touching your hair without asking, speaking to me in Jamaican accents, assuming I can dance or sing. People asking where I’m “really?” from, no “really, really from?” because, despite black people being in Britain since the Romans and the industrial revolution that built our cities through the ill-gotten gains of the cotton and slave trade, they just don’t get that it could be that I’m really from here in the UK and the UK wouldn’t be what it is without Black people! People only ask about ancestry if the person in question isn’t white in this country, why is that? Because we are still perceived as being “other”. Another one I always get asked is if I’ve been to Africa and being shocked when I haven’t. We can’t go and visit every country that shows up on our DNA results, we’d all end up on a world tour!
All the negative racial slights, tokenism, stereotypes are overbearing at times. It is worth pointing out that although some come from a place of malice, most is just plain ignorance. BLM is such an important charity for me because it supports learning and equality. The current opposition to it demonstrates perfectly why this is so desperately needed. I have three beautiful mixed-race children and although they have exactly the same ancestry only one of them looks black, it is that one who has already been racially abused here in Scotland. We need things to change.
However, for me, survival is about never giving up. There have been so many times in my life where I could have thrown in the towel. Survival isn’t about being tough, it’s about being kind. It’s about being honest. It enriches my soul and strengthens me to listen and learn from others. It’s about understanding those who seek to harm you and forgiving them. It’s about knowing you are in the right and doing your best. It’s about checking yourself and about moving on. Survival is feeling the pain of past events and not letting them consume you. Survival is the 17-year-old feeling the racists boot on her body and taking every blow knowing it will soon be over. Survival is then biting that lip hard years later when people reply to your “Black Lives Matter” with a “but all lives matter, don’t they?” Survival is seeing that faint scar from that kicking on my top lip every day when I wash my face and remembering the love and kindness that poured from family and friends as the wounds healed. Survival is about trying so, so hard to make sure my beautiful children get to grow up in a better world.
Survival is about claiming and owning your space. It’s about being kind, smiling, talking, and connecting.
I am a survivor.
~ Carole ~
~ I am a Survivor ~