Back 2 my roots: I was called a Monkey for the first time. Oh wait! No, It was actually the third…
Last week I was called a Monkey. It was the first time it had happened to me. Oh wait! No, it was actually the third. Am I keeping count? Not exactly. However, I have spent the past few weeks unconsciously reliving every overt and covert racist moment to ever have hit me; BAM in the face, since the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many more in the process. The rise in protests all over the world in the US, my native Britain and even in the Netherlands where I now live, seemed to start something inside of me.
First it was sadness, then anger, then like this finality of being “allowed” to finally speak up, speak out and talking about the things that I (and likely many many BAME people in the world) had experienced as a black child and now as a black woman in the world of the white privileged and white supremacy and just outright discrimination. It was like finally black people worldwide were being heard, truly listened to and that we now had “permission to speak.”
The rise in protests all over the world in the US, my native Britain and even in the Netherlands where I now live, seemed to start something inside of me. It was like finally black people worldwide were being heard, truly listened to and that we now had “permission to speak.”
So, back to the monkey business. Like I said it wasn’t the first time someone had called me a monkey. It was actually the third. But this time it hit different. The first time I was about 12, walking to the corner shops and some boys started making monkey noises and shouting monkey at me. I said nothing.
The second time was a year later in Secondary school. I was 13 and a group of boys were talking outside French class. I wasn’t even involved just waiting to go into class and one piped up “What do you think?” “What do I think about what?” I asked. “Monkey’s.” I was genuinely confused. I knew I loved animals, so maybe they were just asking if I liked them.
“You think we descended from monkey’s?” I questioned. “No, not us YOU.” “It was like he spat the word out venomously at me.”
“Do you think we evolved from monkeys?” I was (still am) a proud christian so for me Genesis was were it all began. “You think we descended from monkey’s?” I questioned. “No, not us YOU.” It was like he spat the word out venomously at me. “You look like one, so you must of descended from them.” I just looked at him – I was shocked. The others started laughing. I know I should’ve told someone. Maybe got them into trouble. Have them held accountable. But I’d had a past experience of telling and that also did me no favors (but that’s a story for another day).
So, back to two weeks ago week. Like I said this third time hit different. Perhaps because protests had happened in ‘Dam square some 24 hours earlier, or I got caught off guard, or because this time I was a grown adult. Or maybe because I’d seen so much diversity in the Netherlands – similar to the UK – that I just though this time it would play out different. Whatever the reasoning I wasn’t ready, but subconsciously I was. THIS TIME I spoke up.
”Or maybe because I’d seen so much diversity in the Netherlands – similar to the UK – that I just though this time it would play out different.”
So, What happened?
I volunteer at an animal shelter and it’s my happy place. Like previously mentioned. I love animals and it was something to do in between the unstable work hours. I was cleaning the cage of a kennel and closed the door to allow this man to dredge the water down the drain. He looked up at me and when I looked into his eyes, something shifted in my soul. I just knew what was coming next….
“I like to see you like that. “, “Like what?” I questioned. (I knew full well like what). “Locked in a cage. You know,” He began making monkey noises. “Like a monkey”. I could’ve gotten mad. Begun shouting at him. But what would that ever achieve? I calmly looked him dead in the eye and told him that he was being offense and racists. He got defensive. “It has nothing to do with racism.” He re countered. I continued. “Many would not see what you said in any other way, and of all the animals in a zoo why did you choose that one? To liken me to a monkey? Why not a giraffe or a lion?” He walked away.
“Monkey” Why is it offensive?
Let’s rewind for a second, so those of you who are trying to re-educate yourselves and support your black friends during this BLM movement. Some may ask why is it even offensive? Why is being likened to a monkey even insulting? Here’s why…..
- White most evolutionist in the 1800s believed humans decended from the same stock, some noted migration, natural and sexual sleection had created human varieties that – to them – appeared superior to Africans or Aborigines.
- Mendelian genetics (Gregor Johann Mendel 1822-1884), aggravated this issue by suggesting races had become separate species and that, in particular Africans were closer to great apes in evolution than Europeans
- The ape insult is actually about Europeans further differentiating themselves both biologically and culturally, in a effort to maintain superiority over other people – in other words we have not evolved to past basic understanding – read – Black people(especially black men) are animals
I short it is animalisation. Another malicious and effective way to continue desocialisation and dehumanisation of black people. In Belgium, as recent as the 1950s, they had human zoos. Black families kept together in enclosures and cages to be gawked at.
Uneasy soul – tackle it from higher up
I went home that evening. I told my partner. He wanted to “speak to him”. I said don’t bother. He clearly was not ready for a re-education. But it bothered me for days….. I spoke to my Mum – who back in the UK – was also now dealing with a disciplinary regarding a colleague who felt taking the piss out of her Ankara head wraps was totally okay! She said take it to management. They must have policies in place right?
The following week I decided to approach it with management. He had to have some loose education whether he took it on or not. The outcome left me mixed. I relayed the story and could sense the managers getting uneasy. Race was clearly not a topic they’d ever had to address, nor wanted to in this moment.
What I found baffling, but half expected was that before he was spoken to, he was already being defended. She said “He probably didn’t mean anything by it.”, “Maybe he meant it as a joke.”, “It’s not right, but he wouldn’t have wanted to be malicious.” That may well be the case lady, but it was all very much hurtful, misplaced and this is a time of change, have you watched the news lately? And then she asked … “What would you like us to do?”
Now let me explain what is effectively happening when that question is asked. What is being said is this. I don’t know what to do. It’s not my problem. You should fix it. But that’s just it. Black people did not create this problem. Enslavers did. In asking us what WE want YOU to do about the problem, you put the onus back onto us. But let me say what many have said on instagram over the past few weeks. It is not our problem. In asking us what you should do about the racism caused by your ancestors, or the anti-racism work we’d like you to do now you are effectively burying your heads in the sand. We cannot continue trying to fight and fix a problem that was never created by us. It’s up to you now to do the work and help us change the problem we never asked to be a part of.
“We cannot continue trying to fight and fix a problem that was never created by us.”
A re -education
I was discussing this very point with my friend Vicki yesterday. She was saying that as a white female that she felt she has a whole re-education to go through. She said sorry, yet acknowledged that black people are no after sympathy here. Sympathy doesn’t change anything. Everyone wants to turn around and say they are not racist, maybe, but are they really anti-racist. Can they call themselves that?
”Sympathy doesn’t change anything. Actions do.”In conversation with Victoria Gathard 17.06.2020
It is not that they are necessarily calling black people n*****s, or monkeys. But my thinking around this related to whether this man would have said anything had other people, black, white or otherwise been around to here him say it. And would anyone have spoken up for me had they of heard it. She explained from her point of view how not speaking up means you yourself are not promoting anyone else to think about what their saying or what their actions are.
She mentioned being confused about what they should and shouldn’t do in those situations and how best to go about it. I loved how she talked about “‘feeling hurt and acknowledging that it’s not even her hurt to feel”. That got me. In a peaceful way. Seeing one of my friends allowing me to be in that vulnerable moment, acknowledging my pain, being willing to speak about it and re-educate themselves is half of the battle.
This is America’s problem
Is it? Is it really just ”America’s problem”. I’m sorry but, I beg to differ. Remember my encounters above. Two of which happened in Britain and one in the Netherlands. None happened when I was holidaying at Disneyland or walking around Maryland. Just saying.
Britain needs a re-education, Europe needs a re-education and America well….where can they even start? My friend pointed out something that I totally feel even as a black woman. Not being educated properly. Whether in schools or in our own homes. There is much about black history I have still yet to learn and I am a black woman.
She recounted how she was always taught you don’t call people black. I didn’t ask, but I assume she was taught to call black people coloureds. She remembered being told calling people black was offensive. So to think we grew up in the 90s – now that really wasn’t so long ago. Also, the generations that are now for black people, using their platforms to support us and marching in the streets have been failed. The covert racism that they may have knowingly or unknowingly shown towards black people has come about through incorrect education. White people should have know different from birth, been raised differently and taught differently. And why she feels so many of our generation feel they are in no way racist. ”We’ve (I don’t even know who we is – meaning white people, we British – there are so many ‘we’s’ there ) not been taught properly at all. We’ve been taught wrong all along.”
“We’ve been taught wrong all along.”In conversation with Victoria Gathard 17.06.2020
She hit the nail on the head. That’s just it. White people were never meant to be taught right. The white supremacists and the far right wanted to keep it that way. So that even when small changes came throughout the years, we couldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We couldn’t hope or dream too high. We could always be reminded that we were inferior to the white race. We could speak to, befriend, date as many white people as we wanted but never believe we would ever be equal to them.
How can I re-educate myself?
- Do your research – there is google, there are library archives.
*Do not ask black people to educate you. We are dealing with our own traumas right now in a big big way, we cannot carry you too!*
- READ,READ READ – There are so many books out there right now. Why I’m not longer talking to white people about race – Reni Eddo-Lodge, Me and White supremacy – Layla F Saad, I am not your baby mother (my current read) – Candice Braithwaite (on a black British woman’s experience of motherhood), Born a Crime -Trevor Noah. For teens give them the Noughts and Crosses series by Malorie Blackman, well worth the read. Amazon and Bol (dutch peeps) are your friend right now.
- Watch Films – Netflix has a fair few – When they see us, 13th, Dear white people, Let it fall – (documenting the 1992 LA Riots). If you’re in the UK the BBC did a flip on race with Malorie Blackman’s – Noughts and Crosses. Perhaps you’ll find it in their archives.
Well this post has been lengthy and in some ways, really hard to write and emotional too. I am sure I will recount many more stories as they seem to have never fully buried themselves and are now overwhelming me in ways I thought I’d internally dealt with. Being able to speak out and say what I have to say is refreshing, but it does not come without relived pain.
Be gracious to each other. God knows we really do need love and kindness right now.