Black Lives Matter
Following the tragic death of George Floyd and the increased amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement, our team has been working to engage with the conversations and materials that will aid us in our journey to becoming an actively anti-racist ally. We have been talking to each other about our experiences and how we can continue to be active allies, sharing resources and encouraging each other to question, learn and act. We would love to share some of our thoughts and resources that we have gathered and learned, which we will be doing over a couple of posts.
To start, we're handing over to Louise...
Louise has been an important part of our Elk & Wolf team for just over a year now. She works part-time in store and also teaches yoga in her local community of Dunbar, as well as virtually. Follow her on Instagram at @lounayoga.
Here is a snippet of my story. I grew up in Bournemouth on the south coast of England, my dad is English and my mum is from Sri Lanka. I'd say I look more like my mum in features but inside I'm more like my dad.
Racism has made me feel like a stranger many times in the country I was born.
I remember the first time someone was racist to me I was 11 years old in my last year of primary school, I'd had a few days off school from being sick and came back and no one was talking to me. A rumour was going around, a few comments were made, I guess I was thinking 'they don't want to play with me because of the colour of my skin ...' It hurt, I felt stuck, ashamed and didn’t tell anyone. I knew I was starting secondary school soon enough so I could make new friends.
Fortunately at secondary school I gravitated to friends who were mixed race, to fit in perhaps. I did get two years of heckling ('go back to your own country', 'you smelly paki', 'get back up your tree', 'go home', 'you don't belong here', 'you smell of curry', 'hairy monkey'), but I learnt then to stick up for myself, I also had a team of powerful girlfriends who stuck up for me and I for them.
I then started working when I was 15. At my job, working at the cash till in Sainsbury's supermarket, almost every person I served used to ask me where are you from? My answer was always the same: Harvey Road, just around the corner. The answer did not satisfy the curiosity of many who then reformulated the question and asked; but where are you really from? A slightly softer way or maybe not to say the colour of your skin does not match the skin of an English person. The constant questioning of people had a massive affect on me to the point that it made me wonder am I English or am I British? A complex I carried for years to come when I was a vulnerable teenager looking for answers. Knowing that much of the population in Bournemouth, 83.8%, describe their ethnicity as 'white British' while other white groups account for a further 8.1% makes me understand why people would ask me where I am from over and over again. I look different to them. I wonder if I chose the clothes I wore, tried to dye my hair, and looked different to just try and fit in. To look less Asian. Now I am wondering, as a kid/teen was I able to fully embrace who I really was, causing a lot of inner conflict with myself. How I felt I had to act and look in this world.
In my home town I would step out with my dad from time to time, us hand in hand or with linked arms looked odd to many people who thought my dad was my partner. I used to have to say 'hey dad, so dad, dad ,dad ,dad'.
I first visited Sri Lanka at the age of 15, I understood a lot about my mum's culture, which is a big part of me and my life. I thought somehow Sri Lanka would feel like home but it didn’t, England also didn’t feel like home.
Soon as I moved to London when I was 19 I felt a huge relief, no more questions and lurking stares.
The more and more I travelled meeting and living with people from all walks of life, fully immersing into different rich cultures I started to become more and more at home in myself, in my skin. Understanding my true nature and vulnerabilities. Of course as I travel I find places that feel more homely to live in, places with less people staring and asking questions, who talk from the heart, care for the environment, equal rights and acceptance.
I feel very happy to live in a special seaside town right now but unfortunately I am still not completely immune to racism. Last summer while I was enjoying my banana on my way to work at the shop someone on the train platform called me out and said 'look here comes the monkey, what next ?' Not only that but all his friends also looked at me while laughing at his joke. I could identify he was from Scotland but not sure he was from the town I live in. At first I felt very hurt but then sorry for his ignorance and poor joke. Not to mention the time warp I found myself in still relentlessly asked by white customers 'where are you from?'.
* Edit: After writing this post I began reading Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch and the following excerpt really resonated with me and I've been blown away by the parallels that have come up.
'If I were to single out the most persistent reminder of that sense of not belonging, it would be The Question. The Question is: where are you from? Although I have lived in five different countries as an adult, nowhere have I been asked The Question more than right here where I started, where I am from, in Britain. It can be difficult to communicate to British people who innocently ask The Question, usually out of a harmless, well-meaning curiosity, what is wrong with it. It's rarely posed out of malice or with any ill will. But being asked where you're from in your own country is a daily ritual of unsettling. This is not to say there is anything wrong with getting to know people and their heritage, of course there isn't. I'm unfailingly curious about people's backgrounds and often draw people into conversations about it; some of the most interesting stories I have heard come from white British people, with Irish, Cornish or Celtic lineages, or Eastern European or Mediterranean immigration, or working-class city traditions that are rooted in places whose history we always live with vaguely, but whose family backgrounds paint a human picture behind the names. But that's different. That is a question, it's not The Question. [...] The more you get asked The Question, the more confused you feel about the answer. I can't be British, can I, if British people keep asking me where I'm from? I must be something else.'
We are all human after all no matter where we are born. We wake up, we work, we eat, we sleep, we poop, we love, we laugh, we cry, we live. We are the same and have the same needs for survival.
I believe that everyone should be treated with equal respect, this movement has given us the chance to start again to re-write the next part of the story, to grow, to stand up for and protect each other through support, education and practise.
Each being on this planet, human and animal, deserves to be here.
We have to confess as individuals, including myself, we have to admit and look back or look inside and see how we are conditioned, programmed, see where our own prejudice is and how that has rubbed off on us until this day. It's super great to go out and protest, but in our day to day we have to be living in our truth and what we are protesting against with each and every action we are taking.
So what does racism mean to me? Racism is a synonym of ignorance to me, a lack of the ability to adapt. Racism is the consequence of people who live in fear and who are ignorant enough to believe they are and will be superior to others. A huge barrier that does not allow individuals to start a relationship on neutral ground based on preconceptions.
- Have conversations with friends and family.
I arranged a ZOOM call recently to meet up with six of my cousins, all girls aging from 19-28 years old, to talk about what racism means to us and how it has affected us growing up and what we can do to change it now.
My heart opened up so much to know they held little or no bitterness considering all of them have been victims of racism in one form or another, instead they had hope for the future that if we all lead by example and continue to listen and learn we will grow together and collectively grow out of racism. One of them stated lets lead by example and show kindness and compassion, be the change. Being overly sensitive I get very sad to think that many of my cousins went through the same experience growing up in Bournemouth being half Asian, I heard heartfelt stories I had never heard before that made me sick to my stomach to hear. We had to hide our family heritage out of being ashamed, embarrassed, a sense of just wanting to fit in and not belonging.
Speaking to all of them though felt like hope for sure that the next generation are pushing forward to rewrite the story, to stand up to not be discriminated against or watch other people be.
- The Blindspots of White Female Entrepreneurship, by Lydia Mack.
A friend shared this article with me, she quoted 'This is an excellent article reminding us to look closer at female entrepreneurship and privilege, and it's not just about pretty Instagram posts. Who do I look up too? Who inspires me? How inclusive am I and am I raising others up around me with less privilege?'.
- Read books.
I have just ordered the book My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma by Resmaa Menakem and joined a book group that will be catching up to discuss the book once we have all read it. Another book on my list is Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad.
Go check out The Next Question to hear the answers to the question: Imagine How Expansive Racial Justice Can Be? The TNQ Show engages leading voices on critical topics of racial justice in America.
- Follow @sharethemicnow.
I have caught a few #sharethemic chats and am catching up on following these inspirational ladies' journeys from this movement. The movement was to magnify Black women and the important work that they’re doing in order to catalyze change. When the world listens to women, it listens to white women. For far too long, Black women’s voices have gone unheard, even though they’ve been using their voices loudly for centuries to enact change. Today, more than ever, it is NECESSARY that we create a unifying action to centre Black women’s lives, stories, and calls to action. We need to listen to Black women.
Black Lives Matter UK gofundme campaign. Black Lives Matter UK (BLM UK) is a coalition of Black activists and organisers across the UK. They've been organising as BLM UK since 2016 for justice in our communities.
The Loveland Foundation. You can go and donate to The Loveland Foundation, Rachel Cargle's organisation providing mental health support for black women and girls.