Growing up as a woman of colour, you’re taught to tone down your identity. We experience so many forms of casual to extreme racism, that you do end up silencing yourself. In my first year, I had a drunk girl come up to me at a party questioning where I’m from because I ‘don’t look from here’ (bearing in mind I was born and lived in the south of England for eighteen years of my life, I found this incredibly ignorant). But I have never experienced a worse form of racism and sexism than right here last term.
I was walking back home from a night out at 3AM. I was by myself when I encountered three boys on Iron Bridge. I don’t tend to get scared of people at night; I come from Portsmouth, which is quite a rough place. Plus, these three boys looked my age and seemed harmless. As I got closer, they stopped in front of my tracks, so I walked onto the road to avoid them. One boy shouted, ‘give us your time’, which I declined by quietly continuing my journey home. Somehow, in his mind, this gave him reason to repeatedly shout ‘you f*****g n*****’ as I walked away.
I froze up. I wanted to punch him (I wish I did). But it’s hard to gauge these situations. Would I have been raped or hurt by them? Three boys against one girl. The odds were against me. I quickly walked home and refused to cry because this is typical of Exeter. But that’s not right to think. I shouldn’t excuse a city’s racism just because it’s ‘normal’. I tried to file a formal complaint to the University that same day, but the lack of evidence came back to bite me, so I gave up. I wish I took a photo of them or asked for their names. I was haunted that entire day by things I could’ve and should’ve done. I was meant to go to my friend’s house the next day, but I cancelled because I was too scared to walk on the streets of Exeter. That’s never happened to me before. Even before this incident, I was more scared here than in my hometown where murders and assaults happen frequently.
I find the whole situation ridiculous. I, the victim, must be the one to sort out another person’s ignorance. There were so many things wrong with the incident: a man asking a woman to give him attention but when she declines his offer, he gets aggressive? Tells her she’s a frigid or a slut or a n***** ‘anyway’. This is a narrative I’ve heard and experienced time and time before. It sickens me that other people of colour are experiencing these kinds of situations. I had one friend tell me to ‘not let it get to me’. Why shouldn’t I let it get to me? Telling a PoC to silence themselves and forget about it is a form of racism.
Women and men of colour should be talking about their experiences. And most of all, they should be encouraged to.
I felt like an outsider when I came to Exeter. Ironically, it wasn’t until those boys in the Bracton Law Society came out with their disgusting comments that I felt a sense of unity. The rally back in March 2018 showed me I wasn’t alone. There was an atmosphere and feeling that day which I will never forget. However, when I got back to my home in Birks Grange Village, my (white) friends didn’t seem to be as passionate or encouraging with my new fuel. I half-hope they read this, and I half-hope they don’t. I love my friends here. But there have been times where I’ve felt silenced or not listened to. I was used to this before I came here. I think every PoC is, to an extent. It’s so much easier trying to forget our experiences and who we are. But don’t. Don’t silence yourself. If someone says something ignorant, clap back. I’ve been learning to give myself that justice.
If you’re not a person of colour, support those who are. We’re human beings too, we occupy the same space and rights as you. Just listen to us and grow. Teach those who are ignorant, even if they’re your friends. I don’t blame that boy for what he said that night. I blame his upbringing, his peers and our society. This has been my take away from last week.
This has been my justice to myself.