As a black female who grew up in a majority white town, attended majority white educational institutions, competed in a majority white sport and works in a majority white industry. Dodging peoples ignorance and prejudice based on the colour of my skin has become a way of life.
When I was younger I looked forward to the day when my skin colour would no longer be a barrier. To the day when people would just accept me as a person and descriptions of me would not be prefixed by my skin colour. I would be a person, just like them. Not a black girl or member of a community different to theirs, just me.
Recently however, I have experienced something which completely shattered that ideal. It has made me realise that perhaps, even though we are in the 21st Century, and there is a lot of rhetoric surrounding improved race relations and the perceived successful diversity in the UK, especially in London. There is still a long way to go.
What’s worse: Ignorance or Prejudice?
My experience made me reflect on my back catalogue of prejudicial experiences. Dangerous? Yes. Spending too much time in the past can have a significant impact on the here and now. But necessary. I wanted to see if there was something in the past that could help to explain the now. Not necessarily something I had done. Rather a clue that was overlooked, because my focus had been elsewhere.
From this reflection and recent experience I started to question if it was peoples ignorance or prejudice that most affected me. The clue the past had given me was the importance of distinguishing between the two. Because an experience that was born of ignorance has had a different impact on me when compared to an experience that was born of prejudice.
Ignorance; lack of knowledge, understanding; information
Prejudice; preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience
Once the two were defined, it was possible for me to see that my current experience was born from ignorance. But continued and strengthen by prejudice.
In isolation, it is my belief that a persons ignorance is worse than their prejudice. Why? Because an ignorant person is not acting out on any known experience. They are just acting out. They believe they can do and say what they want, just because. Because: they haven’t been bothered to look outside their own experience and try to understand another person or point of view.
Someone acting out of prejudice has some experience. Limited? Yes. But they are acting out on their truth. It’s what they believe to be right. And, in some, there is a small part of them that could be persuaded to see that there is a different side to their belief. In most, they are aware that what they believe is not what everyone believes. That is the key difference between the experiences.
Ignorance is worse. There is no known base for their belief, so they won’t be able to understand or want to acknowledge that they have been ill-informed. As they did not want to understand or be informed in the first place.
When faced with a prejudice solidified by ignorance. Where is one to begin to understand and untangle the web they are caught in? If you are anything like me you will end up driving yourself crazy trying to understand, how? what? when? where? and why? this has all come about. Convince yourself several times that it was just one big misunderstanding. That will be fixed as soon as you causally point it out.
Then reality hits. And it is revealed that the injustice and mistreatment is not understood. Because the people you are trying to explain it to can not understand. Not because you did not explain it eloquently enough. But because they have no idea what it is like to be born into a society where your skin colour has a greater rule over your life than you actual ability. Where the first thing people see about you is not that you are above average height, have a great personal style or that your shoe lace may be untied. What they notice first is that you are black and they are not.
This reality left me feeling empty, helpless and for a while hopeless.
So what now?
If there is one thing this most recent experience has taught it. It’s that there will always be someone who makes a prejudgement about me. One that is based on their own assumptions or agenda. That they will not be prepared to question or interrogate. Nor will they be prepared, when challenged, to admit that they were wrong and adjust their preconception.
That is not something I can control. I can however control what I do. So if I want people’s preconceptions to change, I must be that change. I must walk in my own truth and encourage others to do the same. I will continue to speak out against treatment that I know is unquestionably wrong. And continue to hope for the day when my skin colour will no longer be a barrier. We were all born equal. And we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
To learn more about the experience I suffered that was a catalysis for this change of mind, click here.
Until next time,