This piece from Remi Ryans.I was restrained by a police officer at five years old because I walked out of a shop with a toy fireman's hat on by accident. Click To Tweet
- I was restrained by a police officer at five years old because I walked out of a shop with a toy fireman’s hat on by accident.
- At 6, be forced by my year teacher to stay behind for a same day detention because she didn’t believe my art homework (I was so proud) of had been drawn by me. I had to do it again in front of her. After 20 minutes she conceded she could see I had done it, but I had to stay anyway
- The same teacher showed my work for a different project to another student’s family; they copied it verbatim, guess which child ended up in detention.
- Being told my name and face didn’t match by a former Prime Minister.
- Being called a slave by my history teacher.
- Another teacher told me (in front of the whole class) that my mother was illiterate because my name was ‘misspelt’. Then be punished because of my subsequent reaction.
- Being the only one in a group of friends (only black person in the group) to be questioned by police about why I was playing in a small park outside my friend’s house on his birthday. His parents had to resolve the matter.
- Carrying my violin in school uniform on the way home from and being stopped, searched and questioned over the ownership of the item because frankly, ‘we don’t see boys like you doing things like that.’
- Less than 3 miles from where Stephen Lawrence was murdered have a group of white men pull up to my bus stop and threaten me with weapons if they saw me in the area again.
- Be the only one in a group of teenage boys (I was the only black one), to be stopped, questioned, and had details taken when playing tag on the heath in Blackheath.
- Be stopped and further questioned at Heathrow when returning from a school trip to the Gambia, again; I was the only black persons in the group.
All of this by the age of 18 years old, while very much entrenched in systemic whiteness my mother sought to create to protect me. There is a notion that respectability, the delusion that appealing to tropes of British civility (private education, classical languages, classical instruments, dining etiquette, etc.) will elevate you to a place where your humanity somehow becomes immune.
Firstly, don’t get it twisted, you can do any of this stuff and love it for the sake of your enjoyment. Assimilation is survival, white readers will know of times they have changed their accent or sat up straighter at the table. For PoC assimilation is survival, it’s not just a perception but having to comply or risk physical violence. As undertaking as a form of appeasement, like a going belly up to illustrate harmlessness and submissiveness is dangerous.
Secondly, this mindset does nothing to help your community as you become a pawn, an example to be held up while being used to beat your community further down.
Thirdly, and most importantly ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ Audre Lorde (#citeblackwomen). The delusion that respectability and politicking your way through life can make you some double agent is pure fantasy.
You don’t overcome fascism with closer proximity to that evil, you don’t overcome gender inequality by getting closer to those who create the misogyny. Confrontation (non-violent or violent is a conversation for another time) is how change is earned.