Imagine taking your one-year-old daughter for a walk in the pram and having garbage thrown at you because of the colour of your skin. Or being attacked as a teenager because of the colour of your skin. Or feeling like you must contribute and participate contently in a society where your life is not valued, respected or recognised and remain unconfrontational about it, because of the colour of your skin...
This is the experience of racism. And it’s something many of our readers – myself included – have so much to learn about. To make changes and fully understand white privilege, we need to listen more. We need to educate ourselves. And as Simone Bevan points out here, the fact that black culture is something we profit from and are entertained by daily, but Black death and the value of Black life is suddenly a new thing, is not good enough. “It literally took a video of George Floyd being choked to death. That video is popping up everywhere with no trigger warning perpetuating the idea that trauma is consumed as a form of entertainment. It’s a sobering reminder that unless there’s unarguable evidence, Black injustice is constantly invalidated. However, I want people to really understand that this movement is not defined by the single murder of one man, but an entire infrastructure of injustice.”
Simone was born in Britain and now lives in Sydney with her family. Here, she openly shares her powerful thoughts on anti-racism and how we can all make real change.
You have mentioned flaws in well intentioned allyship. Can you discuss this further?
Many Black and POC people are cautiously optimistic that the uproar of Black Lives Matter in recent weeks could be the beginning of monumental change. However, watching this change happen in real-time can also feel really gruelling and triggering for people who experience racism their whole lives. At times it feels saturated, messy and trendy. Non-Black voices are taking up important space and instead of using their platforms to amplify Black voices and drive practical change, I feel like they’re diluting the cause.
I think it’s really important to anchor this conversation in a recent, real example. ‘The Show Must Be Paused’ campaign on June 2ndwas founded by Black women Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang aimed to hold the music industry accountable in how they drive the rhetoric for Black Lives Matter. Organisations like Apple and MTV got onboard and the campaign was aimed to drive people to a designated website filled with charities, petitions and over 91 resources where people could go to become better educated on racism. It was quickly dubbed ‘Blackout Tuesday’ with brands and individuals jumping on this trend to show solidarity to the Black community. This is where it becomes problematic: firstly, hundreds of thousands of people used #BlackLivesMatter saturating a hashtag that was once filled with amazing resources and important conversation led by Black voices with black squares. Secondly, no matter how well-intentioned, it is act of performative activism. Posting a black square then logging off just reinforces the issues of non-Black silence when it comes to racism and further silencing Black voices as the originators of this campaign were almost entirely removed from the conversation as it snowballed. It quickly became so saturated that people were just blindly posting black squares without looking into the origins of what it was intended for in the first place: driving people to useful resources. People followed suit of a trend without taking the time to research and understand what it was and it happens so often on social media.
Currently (21st June 2020) on Instagram the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag has 21.7m posts. Whilst the #BlackoutTuesday hashtag has 24.7m posts. Bearing in mind Black Lives Matter was founded in 2003 and #BlackoutTuesday was intended for just one day this month. This solidifies the issues with performative acts when it comes to marginalised groups. You aren’t driving momentum; you’re crowding an important space.
Can you tell us about your heritage? And what did your parents teach you about racism growing up?
I’m third generation Black British. My mum’s side is Jamaican and my dad’s side is Dominican. I have always been incredibly proud to be Black and never struggled with my identity despite growing up in predominantly white communities. Like many countries with histories that thrive from systematic oppression, in the UK I learnt nothing about Black history at school. My dad got me a history tutor and I was taught about the slave trade and racism, but I was also taught about amazing leaders, creatives, inventors and celebratory figures within my history. My dad was adamant about not propagating an oppressive narrative. We acknowledged our history, but revelled in the joy of our vibrant, beautiful culture. Both my parents taught me to love myself and be proud of who I am, and I always have.
In your own words, describe how racism feels…
Racism feels like you must contribute and participate contently in a society where your life is not valued, respected or recognised and remain unconfrontational about it.
When you moved to Australia six years ago, what were your impressions of the country?
When I moved to Australia, I thought of my grandparents who left the Caribbean to move to the UK. My husband and I both had new jobs and I couldn’t help but think my Grandad especially would have been so proud that his family made it all the way to Australia (he passed away when I was teenager). Overall, I enjoy the lifestyle and like most Brits I love living in a coastal city and being close to the ocean. In Australia I have experienced more ‘casual racism’ often shrugged off as banter. I remember a security guard in an office building saying ‘I didn’t expect a voice like that to come out of a girl that looks like you!’, I also recall a manager in a company meeting jokingly asking me if I knew how to speak Aboriginal, when working on a brief that needed marketing material translated into Indigenous languages.
Can you tell us about what happened when you took your daughter for a walk in the park recently?
I was taking my daughter for a walk as she was going through a phase where she’d only sleep in her pram. I was walking along and a van slowed down next to me, three men in the van started throwing rubbish at me and making monkey sounds. It was one of the most degrading things I had ever experienced and was incredibly damaging for me as it was my daughter’s first experience of racism at one year old. I felt like I had failed her by not being able to keep her safe. Following that, I didn’t leave the house for days because I was so scared of something happening to my little girl. I’m getting over it now, but those situations have a way manifesting into trauma. I often think white people can’t comprehend situations where you’re scared to do things like walk to Coles, especially in a seemingly pleasant suburb, but racism has a way of revealing itself in the most ordinary places.
Going back, you were physically attacked in your teenage years when you walked back from the corner shop after buying sweets – what happened?
I was 14 years old and it was a group of older girls I knew from the area. They had made racist comments to me in the past and they followed me and waited outside the shop I went into. I asked the staff for help and if they could call my dad or the police, but they refused. I had no choice but to go outside and face them. They dragged me to the car park and began punching and kicking me and shouting that they had a knife and were going to kill me. No one intercepted, they just scurried past with their heads down. I was a tough kid and I wasn’t going to back down despite being outnumbered, so I began to fight them off. I remember knowing as long as I could stay on my feet, I’d be OK. Looking back, it’s sad that I had the ability to think so logically in such a violent situation because of experience. I fought hard enough to make the entire group back off and retreat and I ran home. The police did not do anything as they didn’t believe it was that bad as I managed to get away with just cuts and bruises, which I now realise was racially motivated. I remember one officer even describing me as ‘street smart’ which now as an adult I recognise is a Black stereotype.
As a new mother, do you see yourself reflected in the 'mummy' communities online?
From a personal standpoint, I tend to avoid the online mum community as whole to be honest, but I am across who they are because of the industry I work in. Even following Black mums becomes exhausting because I observe their audience and other known mums treating them as a token symbol in the influencer community. They are constant representations of being Black which doesn’t always account for their experience of being a mother all encompassing. It’s like they only exist for white audiences to be in closer proximity of Blackness within the comfort of their own bubble. They also get inundated with the most audacious comments and questions from tone deaf people and constantly have to defend themselves. I just don’t have the energy for it. We’re Black mothers, but we’re also normal people who love cooking, reading, sports, reality TV and online shopping. It is a reminder that just in being Black you have no choice but to be an activist.
How has your life changed since becoming a mother? What's been the greatest challenge, and the greatest joy?
My daughter has really anchored me and given me purpose and meaning that I never knew was possible. It sounds cliché, but she is the love of my life. She is the greatest joy and brings me so much happiness – I feel like my purpose in life is to be her mum. I love it all – even the tantrums in Target over Lego! She’s playful, inquisitive and headstrong like me. She’s such a mama’s girl; always stuck to my side and following me round. The biggest challenge for me is hoping that my ability to parent is stronger than how horrible the world can be. If she grows up and she doesn’t feel proud of who she is I’d feel like I have failed her.
How can we talk to our children about what being anti-racist means?
The best way to be anti-racist is to lead by example: call out racist friends and family members, continue to do the work even when the dust settles, use your platform to amplify Black voices, and practically contribute to change. Look at your own friendship circle and the friends that your children have. Your child should grow up around kids with different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. You can have as many diverse books and Black dolls as you like, but if real life doesn’t reflect their toy shelf it’s tokenism. Teach them to see colour, explain what racism is in a clear digestible way, and why they should be against it and what to do if they see racism unfold. Celebrate Blackness and inclusivity in your household, learn about the history of racism but celebrate and appreciate the culture too. Racism should not be exempt from conversations because we fear our kids are too young, there are studies that reveal children observe racial biases from as young as two years old. One of my earliest memories was my dad talking to my then 12-year-old older brother about how to conduct yourself as a Black man in public: don’t have your hands in your pocket, don’t hang around for no reason, if the police stop you be overly compliant, even if you know they’re in the wrong. If these are the types of conversations Black people have to have with their kids, it’s a conversation no household should be exempt from.
To diversify our feeds, can you share your favourite people to follow on Instagram?
At the moment I really enjoy following @theconciouskid on Instagram. The platform is probably the most comprehensive guide on anti-racism and inclusivity specifically aimed at teaching our kids. They have just worked with Instagram to create a great resource on how to raise actively anti-racist children. I also just started reading The Book You Wish Your Parents Read. I was interested in the way they discussed themes of emotional baggage and how to not pass that on to your own children. With my lived experiences I am cautious about how my own energy and emotions impact my daughter.