Just Putting This Out There…

27 Feb

Personal anecdote: when I was six, Ancient Egypt was one of our class topics, and we were going to put on a play. I was desperate to be Cleopatra. I was the only black or mixed race kid in my class (at that point), one of only a handful in the school, and I wore my hair in braids with beads on the ends. One of our activities was making wigs… Braids with beads on the ends. 

I was gutted when I wasn’t chosen for Cleopatra: casual racism was an everyday thing at my school and I remember feeling entitled to that part because it was the first time we had touched on a topic that involved Africa in any direct way. Of course in a perfect world, any child would get to play Cleopatra, and skin colour would be no more relevant than eye or hair colour. But none of us is operating in a vacuum. It’s ignorant at best and insulting at worst not to acknowledge privilege and history. In my school, children were openly racist, and teachers openly ignorant (the teacher of that class once told me the person I was drawing should be a “nice fleshy colour”, and not the brown I had chosen, so she gave me the peach pen), and brown people were in the minority.

I felt bitterly upset that I, the one black girl, who had the *actual* hairstyle being replicated – a hairstyle that was frequently mocked and was nothing like the hairstyles of any of the other girls or any girls’ toys readily available- could not be given this one chance to show being black in a positive light.

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