You are not just a woman, you are Black. That's two more things working against you than a white man. You'll have to work three times as hard to get half as far. That's just the world we live in.

I first heard this at age five from my mother. We were driving home from my new school in rural Wales after moving from London. I remember staring stubbornly out of the window, refusing to believe her and trying not to cry. The consequences of the move were a difficult thing to be made aware of at such a young age: being told, essentially, I would never be good enough, no matter how hard I tried, was hurtful and confusing.

At that age, I knew I was joyful and curious; I wanted to be kind and helpful. But coming to the realisation that I had to be a representative – that I was suddenly visible for a reason I didn’t really understand – was exhausting. It made me feel hyper-aware of my actions and reactions: I was now all these things because I had to be. I was physically marked out as ‘Other’, racialised in the rural Welsh countryside. I felt extremely isolated.

Audre Lorde wrote, ‘Black women on one hand have always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalisation of racism’.

My realisation of my visibility was quick and violent, especially for a child. Even saying the word ‘Black’ was met with disgust and fear. People would whisper it or grimace as they said it like the word was something dirty, something taboo and dangerous. They even went so far as to tell me, when I described people as white or myself as Black that I was racist or that I was being offensive. By pointing out a simple fact, I realised it meant more to these people than it did to me: because pointing out Black people as Other was inherently linked with us being perceived as lesser.

This meant that, as I grew up, I felt I had to develop an opinion on everything. And it had to be concrete. Concrete and extreme. If I wavered in the middle on any given issue, it would give white people the opportunity to question it – question me – and that would inevitably lead into a wider conversation on race, racism and/or white supremacy (although it was never framed as such) with people who themselves benefited from those structures. If I was moderate, I was perceived as unsure, wavering, unreliable – even stupid. I learnt, perhaps wrongly, to come down on either side of an argument and quickly build a defense.

On one hand, having a strongly established foundation on which to base my ideas and retreat to when I couldn’t answer a particularly difficult question made me feel confident in my ability to express my opinions. However, it required me to narrow the scope of my ideas, thoughts and feelings into things I felt I could defend. On the other hand, I now realise I often made these decisions and formed my thoughts based on fear: I was scared of what people would ask of me, and how they would perceive my answers. Would they see me as aggressive? Extreme? Hostile?

As a result, I communicated my thoughts as concrete and unwavering while using diluted language and body language so as to not come across as threatening. My commitment to gender-based social justice (feminism, basically) became a definable part of my character, but I only communicated this in academic spaces rather than social ones.

Another element of this, of course, is that my understanding of feminism at that time was extremely limited. My first introduction to feminist analytical frameworks was through my GCSE English teacher: a white middle-class man. Despite his classroom-based dedication to discussing societal implications of gender within literature, his knowledge was (unsurprisingly) limited to the experience of white, middle-class (and, occasionally working-class) women as portrayed in the classical literature of his choosing. I was surrounded by white people and white feminism, and we spoke about gender as though it existed in a vacuum of its own singular oppression. Although this never sat quite right with me, I mirrored this (mis)conception of feminist theory.

I believed that this was feminism in an academic sense, and the lessons I had received from my mother were just life – they were separate from theories like feminism because I had never seen Black people included in that canon (unless it was in an offensive, derogatory way). Any commentary I had developed on radical considerations of race and feminism combined were purely personal and – in my mind – underdeveloped and irrelevant: no one would want to hear about them.

It was only later, at university and finally in charge of my own research and resource access, did I discover the rich traditions of Black feminism, womanism, trans feminisms and queer theory. Safe to say, I've never looked back.

However, I really appreciate my mother’s advice: it has deeply informed the way I have moved through the world. It’s influenced my relationships, my behaviour, and my philosophy on life. I do not resent her for bringing my attention to such a fundamentally upsetting reality from a young age. I do, however, resent the root causes of the oppressions themselves. In fact, I am deeply enraged by them; and it is exhausting. Although necessary, becoming accutely aware of them from a young age shaped my behaviour and diluted my childhood into something hyper-aware and conscious.

But my mother was only attempting to provide me with the knowledge and the tools to navigate a world stacked against marginalised identities, and she did so to the best of her ability.

Her commitment to making sure I understood my own value - my own abilities and worth - is something that has stayed and stuck with me through the years. She is my biggest, most steadfast supporter and I will be forever grateful for her education. Thinking of her brings to mind a bell hooks quote I love about Black women as teachers outside the classroom,

'They... taught us young Black women to exult and glory in the power of our intellect.'

Writing this makes me think, would I tell my child(ren) the same?

The short answer is, yes.

I would hate it; but I would have to.

Perhaps it is better to be conscious of these structures and the processes behind why we are subject to the pain of racism. It is inevitable they will feel it regardless, therefore shielding them from this knowledge is unhelpful. Maybe even selfish?

I don’t know if I’d be willing to sacrifice my child(ren) to a life of hyper-awareness and inevitable pain. But they will be anyway, whether I chose to tell them or not.


Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

bell hooks, Toward a Revolutionary Feminist Pedagogy