The struggle – a phrase often used by many people of Afro-Caribbean decent. I recall hearing this expression and similar ones from weary voices of elders throughout my childhood. Growing up in a borough where the Black and Minority ethnic groups make up a large part of the population, there was always wisdom and advice waiting to be received. The most emphasised being to aspire for excellence and achieve to the best of my ability. As a young person I often grinned and nodded, thanking them all for their offerings. It was exactly what school taught me; work hard and you will be rewarded. It was not until I was in my late teens however, that I discovered the pressure and necessity to achieve.
It was the summer and I had just completed my sixth form education. The pressures of A-levels were over and I had offers to study English Literature at university. My future looked exciting and bright. Fast forward to the end of summer, I had collected my results and was heading for university! However, I felt I was missing something; I decided to take a gap year and discover the world in a new way. Having not made plans for my gap year, it was very intimidating.
Through that gap-year experience I was determined to further challenge myself; shortly after it, I received an interview for a paid training position. My first ever interview and I was terrified, excited and proud. My mother’s eyes were filled with pride, fear and prayer as the big day arrived. She knew like all those other elders from my childhood the struggles I would come across, being Black. She also knew the struggle would be increased, being a Black Muslim Female.
As I entered the interview room the interviewer’s eyes searched me. He examined my appearance, speech, and I could feel him trying to calculate me. It was as though he was searching for an answer to a question I did not know. Looking back I realise he was looking for an explanation, and he would not be the only one. Throughout my experiences in the workforce and university, people are always trying to explain my existing in these spaces. Question’s regarding my identity would make up a large part of my future conversations. They wanted to validate my existence and understand how I came to be where I am. I never heard back from the interviewer.
This has become a source of frustration for many people within the BME population. However, I learnt that what we do with this frustration is important. We should embrace all challenges that we endure; and allow them to shape us into the strong and resilient communities we came from. This is definitely not an excuse for a minority of individuals and many institutions that force BME groups to endure such experiences. However, it is essential to remind ourselves that everything will pass. That experience will become part of your history and it is in your hands to choose what you do with it. Had I allowed myself to be consumed by anger or failure I would not have received the exceptional opportunities that followed.
(Picture source: http://www.awomkenneth.com)