Preface: As part of Epigram’s (University of Bristol, student newspaper) campaign to raise awareness about micro-agressions, I submitted the following sort-of-poem. Everything I have included is informed by talking with students, research and personal experience. Which is why there is a reference list at the end. As Audre Lorde says, ‘Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.’ Please read, think on it, and share. Mille grazie.

‘We need to stop framing racism as offence and start to frame it as abuse. This really is not about hurt feelings. This is about health, psychological and economic abuse. We need to move away from the feelings discourse. Abuse is violence. Abuse has long terms consequences. Offence is short lived. Offence is about sensibilities. Racism is not, it is about our right to health and mental health. It is about our right to safety and dignity. It is about our right to freedom from psychological violence.’ Guilaine Kinouani (radical psychologist,  feminist, therapist, equality consultant and writer/researcher.)

 

We stand in the aftermath, watching as she drags her broken body… home.

The first question we ask is, ‘Did she jump… or was she pushed?’

The EDI specialists, a kind of university CSI, investigates, they say:

‘The evidence shows us, no significant violence happened in her time here.’

Nothing of significance. No mighty trauma… so… she must have jumped…

There was nobody there… nobody to push her.

Nobody. No bodies. No bodies to push her.

But there were voices… Voices that had been with her before she got here.

Voices with her. Every day. In classes. In the halls. In the corridors. In the city.

Morning till night. Smiling voices. Friendly faces. Nice clothes. Educated tones.

So many voices.

Asking…

Where are you from? I know you say Coventry, but where are you really from?

Where are your parents from? What is your ‘background’?

Show me your ID.

I hear you have an accent? No, I don’t have an accent? You sound different from me, so you have an accent. I don’t. I can’t.

Where is your name from?

I can’t pronounce your name. It’s lovely, but I can’t pronounce it. Yes, I know it has only two syllables, but I can’t pronounce it.

Can I call you Lily? I can’t pronounce your name.

Show me your ID.

Can I touch your hair? It looks like sheep wool. It is so exotic! Can I touch it?

Why are you so sensitive? I just want to touch your hair. Dig my fingers into it.

Your hair. I want to touch it.

Show me your ID.

Can I use the n-word? Why can’t I use the n-word?

Did you get in because of diversity?

They let in all sorts of people now.

Show me your ID.

How come you scored higher than me on that test?

Everything is so politically correct now!

Show me your ID.

Can I wear your skin as a costume for Halloween?

Why are you so sensitive?

Why can’t I use the theft of your ancestors’ bodies and land as a theme for my party?

When did we get so sensitive?

Lighten up.

Show me your ID.

These marks are surprising.

I didn’t expect you to score this high.

Racism is over now.

I am sure they did not mean to be racist.

Think of it as a compliment.

Can we get your opinion as a person of colour? The only one in this class?

Please speak for your race…

Show me your ID.

Voices… In classes. In the halls. In the corridors. In the city.

itooamharvard

 

And all she hears is:

You do not belong here!

You are not welcome here!

This place was not made for you!

We have no place for you!

Your history has no place here!

No place in our books, on our walls, on our statues!

Your body does not belong here!

Your name has no place here!

Your culture has no place here!

Your emotion does not belong here!

Your knowledge is not acknowledged!

Your voice should be silent!

The way you appear is violence!

I have a right to your person!

You are less than a person!

Show me your ID!

Disappear!

And so… she did.

School girl victim of violence

Each voice

Drew blood.

Each word

Took apart her soul,

Broke her heart.

To survive, to live, she left.

So how do we measure a violence?…

We measure a violence, not to diminish its impact,

We measure a violence to soothe the soul of its source.

It is nothing. It is overlooked. It is tiny.

Micro. Aggressions. Mini. Traumas.

Violence. But just enough. To be acceptable. Just below the threshold. Of significance.

The sea swallows the land, drop by drop.

The water erodes the mountain, grain by grain.

The predator devours its prey, bite by bite.

Show me your ID.

oxfordadmissionsmicroaggressions

 

References

Ahmed, Sara. “The nonperformativity of antiracism.” Meridians7, no. 1 (2006): 104-126.

Ahmed, Sara. On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Duke University Press, 2012.

Bhambra, Gurminder K., Kerem Nisancioglu, and Dalia Gebrial. Decolonising the University. (2018).

Bhopal, Kalwant, and John Preston, eds. Intersectionality and” race” in Education. Vol. 64. Routledge, 2012.

Bhopal, Kalwant. White privilege: The myth of a post-racial society. Policy Press, 2018.

Brown, Tony N., David R. Williams, James S. Jackson, Harold W. Neighbors, Myriam Torres, Sherrill L. Sellers, and Kendrick T. Brown. ““Being black and feeling blue”: The mental health consequences of racial discrimination.” Race and Society 2, no. 2 (2000): 117-131.

Carter, Robert T. “Racism and psychological and emotional injury: Recognizing and assessing race-based traumatic stress.” The Counseling Psychologist 35, no. 1 (2007): 13-105.

Harper, Shaun R. “Race without racism: How higher education researchers minimize racist institutional norms.” The Review of Higher Education 36, no. 1 (2012): 9-29.

Harwood, Stacy A., Margaret Browne Huntt, Ruby Mendenhall, and Jioni A. Lewis. “Racial microaggressions in the residence halls: Experiences of students of color at a predominantly White university.” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education 5, no. 3 (2012): 159.

Linton, Samara and Walcott, Rianna The Colour of Madness (2018)

Puwar, Nirmal. Space invaders: Race, gender and bodies out of place. Berg, 2004.

Solorzano, Daniel, Miguel Ceja, and Tara Yosso. “Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students.” Journal of Negro Education (2000): 60-73.

 

Shorter version originally published on Epigram’s website.

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African woman, lawyer, teacher, poet and researcher. Singer of songs, writer of words, very occasional dancer of dances. I seek new ways of interpreting the African experience within our consciousness to challenge static ideology.

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