An Open Letter: Marginalisation in Academia

To whoever wants to understand,

I am so profoundly sad.  As I write, I cry – the kind of tears that feel as though they will never end, the kind that are experienced in times of deep sadness – they are rare and I cry not just for me, but for everyone. People keep asking me what’s wrong, the only way I can express this is through writing – speech fails me at this point.

Nina Simone blares in the background.

I’ve just boiled the kettle.

I’m going to need a lot of green tea//strength//soul to write this.

It begins with the letter M:

Marginalised

I have always been marginalised.

I suppose in many ways this comes hand-in-hand with the territory. I am an out-spoken, quirky, mixed-race female with working class roots from a middle-class background. I come from a predominantly white area in Salford and have attended both private and state schools. Due to my heritage I am connected with countries all over the world, from Jamaica to India, Britain to Canada, to those native to Jamaica – the Arawak Indians. My roots spread from continent to continent; I am firmly grounded in an amalgam of complexity and it is safe to say that because of this my experiences vary immensely from my peers. It is reasonable to say I am often the outsider or the other, and in many ways, which stem from both a conscious and unconscious ignorance, I’ve been treated as such. We live in a society where difference is immediately associated with wrongness and because of this I have experienced marginalisation, prejudice and racism in its many-faced forms, all of which are cruel, vicious and ugly.

I have suffered at the hands of my peers and teachers alike, this was especially problematic the three years I attended private school and I was subjected to horrific torment and verbal abuse. It is these experiences that shaped some of my most important years and they will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is because of this I am aware of a deeply ingrained racism and elitism that is inherent within the world of education. I suppose that is what inspired me to write, a recent situation at university which – as unintentional as it may have been – left me feeling extremely uncomfortable. One of the course texts Three Lives, written by Gertrude Stein, was abhorrently racist and I’m not talking about the kind of racism that makes a piece more interesting, or adds to the historical context, I’m talking down-right blatant racism with no reasonable justification. The story told the lives of three women, two being white and the other girl of mixed-race background, or ‘mulatto’. My mixed heritage made me immediately connect with this character – at what other point am I going to find a mixed-race woman represented on an English Literature course? 

Never.

I read the story only to be met with repugnant words that left me feeling bitter for days; the word ‘nigger’ was used multiple times in both the dialogue and the narrative voice. The mixed-raced girl depicted, Melanthca, was ‘half white’ and had been ‘half made with real white blood’ – it not only drew attention to the fact I was the only mixed-race woman in the room, but the only person of colour too.

It was alienating.

For the first time in many years I felt hyper-aware of my ethnicity. I was the elephant in the room, an imposter – why was I in a room full of white people, studying English literature at highly-rated academic institution??

It has served a purpose, for a long time I shut myself down to any ignorance/racism that went on around me. In school my coping mechanism was to ‘shut up and put up’ but this is not how things change.

Change occurs only when we use our voices.

It has heightened my awareness and perception to such things. I want to reiterate: just because prejudice isn’t overt does not mean it doesn’t exist – it is subtle, it is hidden and it is discreet. But I cannot hide and nor will I.

I’m afraid that I will evoke pity and sympathy. I do not want pity. I do not want sympathy. I want to be understood. I want to be heard. I want change.

Heartfelt regards,

Sad mixed-race girl

Advertisements

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s