Updated: Jun 18
Around 2 months ago, I became a vegetarian. I do not eat meat at all anymore.
I have managed to keep it to myself around my classmates as my diet did not consist of much meat before I became a vegetarian but recently the majority of my classmates discovered it. A look of shock grazed many faces.
Them: "But you eat chicken right?"
Me: "No I do not eat chicken"
Them: "Then you're not African, you're not Black" Me: "I am African and Black."
Them: "How could you call yourself African if you don't eat chicken"
Me: "You do know my cultural origins do not revolve around chicken right?"
Them: "You still eat jollof rice right?"
Me: "Does jollof rice contain meat?"
Me: "Then no"
And that's when they must've gotten bored of the conversation as they just walked away. The worse thing is, it was not even people who do not have cultural or ancestral origins from West Africa that were saying this. It were people of predominantly West African descent. In my mind all I could think of is, "How could you say that?", "How could you reduce so many cultures around an area that have so many rich traditions to one ingredient of cuisine?" I may have been born and raised in London but I know West African culture is a lot more than chicken and jollof rice.
Then it hit me like a train...
So many of my schoolmates and class mates are oblivious to their internalised racist behaviour.
This was a shock to me as I have heard so many of my classmates proudly claiming their national identity as their own, my assumption was they would know more about their culture than just their national origin and cultural language.
As you can see, the poll data shows that most people of African descent (that I know) do claim they know a lot about their culture (e.g. music, traditions, cuisine) as out of the 31 people asked, 17 said yes. A large number said no but that is a problem for another article. And more importantly, 11 out of the 13 of the same people asked, say they are very proud of their culture. This data comes from people specifically of West African origin who were born in the UK. The result is great objectively. Why shouldn't it be great to know and be proud of a group of cultures that for nearly 400 years was under threat of complete dissolution due to colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. However how can cultural appreciation and the comments about chicken both be in the same thought process?. One could say it just stems from ignorance or lack of exposure to the cuisine of their culture. But I would say internalised racism.
I've noticed that it's not racist language being used directly towards British African & Caribbean students by British African & Caribbean students but the racist undertones in the insults and behaviour used by the students.
In this scenario, Joey (not the real name), is sitting down in the classroom while the teacher is about to play a video for the class to watch. The teacher turns off the lights and the class erupts in "Where's Joey!", "I can't see Joey!" In reference to how dark Joey's skin is. Other insults like this are used like making fun of other students' "big" head length and circumference (including forehead) which is normally associated with the skull shape of African peoples and also the size of their lips (which has been used as a racist caricature of black people in the past). This is in no way the students' fault because these types of undertones are a result of the colonial past of European powers and the caricatures used by the media at the time which have crept their way into society today.
And today's British African and British Caribbean students are completely unaware of the history behind the insults they hurl at each other and ultimately the racism behind it.
My point is that it is hypocritical to be proud of your ancestors in which most were affected by slavery and colonialism while expressing the same attitudes that were used against them. Attitudes of exclusion and discrimination because of their looks and skin colour.
So, my fellow students, as you continue to slap people's heads because it's "big", humiliate people who have darker skin than you, associate their entire culture with chicken and call them names in regards to all of the above just keep in mind that you are drudging up more than a lifetime of racist and colourist attitudes with the words coming out of your mouth.
The mask is off. The blame is on you now.