Voices is a student-led campaign, providing a platform for people whose voices might previously have been lost in the noise. A multi-media venture, on and off line, Voices comprises impactful events and prestigious volumes, sharing the raw, authentic experiences of our students.
Trigger Warning This Volume contains language that may be offensive to some readers and references to issues that may be triggering. If you need to talk to someone please reach out to your student support services team or contact the following services; Samaritans: 116123 https://www.stophateuk.org/
VOICE VOLUME THIRTEEN BLACK HISTORY MONTH PT. II OCTOBER 2020
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
BLACK HISTORY MONTH PT. II
It is an honour to be the first black Editor-in-Chief of this magazine. I mention that not as a cue for applause but as a guarantee. A guarantee that this issue will be different. Rather than exploitation and propaganda, as has been accused of us in the past, we will endeavour to truly facilitate conversation and be solely for students. This edition is called Black History Month part two because it is a reflection on Voices' first ever volume, Black History Month. It has been three years since that issue was released and a lot has changed in the world. As it is my first edition as head of the organisation, I felt that it was important to come full circle with this edition. Not only do we amplify the voices of the contributors to this edition but we’ve also not censored them. I urge the reader to cast aside any preconceived notions you may have about what this edition may contain. Above everything, our focal Point has been ‘Black joy’ especially in a time where Black death and suffering is only a tweet/post/meme away. For this volume to have the maximum intended effect one must read both the stories of injustice and inconvenience and take in the beauty and art presented throughout. This issue does not subscribe to “political blackness”, nor do we claim to represent all black experiences on campus. This edition is not for use as proof of diversity on campus. It is the bare minimum of what can occur when we truly prize the thoughts, opinions and well being of “diverse” students.
Albert Duker Editor-In-Chief
FOREWORD Black History Month (BHM) has never been as relevant as it is in 2020. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has swept “blackness” to the heart of political discourse. It is reminiscent of the upsurge of black activism in the 1980’s, and the emergence of a new generation of black activists within the UK. I was born and raised in Tanzania. My Mother is Tanzanian and my Father is British. I am always conscious of my blackness as I have never really had to defend my white side. In hindsight, growing up in Tanzania was one of the best things that have ever happened to me. Being raised there I learnt so much about being respectful to elders and being proud of who I am, and where I’m from. A big part of this was learning my mother tongue Chagga, and Swahili. I have a lot of happy memories of my childhood. I attended international schools in Tanzania and Kenya which constantly celebrated cultural diversity. My primary school in Tanzania had an annual “World Culture Day” where students came dressed in their country’s
clothes and brought in a national dish to share with the rest of the class. In Kenya, secondary school students would dress up but it was more traditional. We would dance to the drums and sing old folk songs. Culture day was always one of the biggest occasions because it was a great way for us to embrace our heritage at such a young age. We would always be intrigued to learn about everyone’s culture. Moving to the UK was a huge culture shock to me because I had to start again from scratch. I moved in with my aunt who lived in Peckham, South-East London. School was very different in London, everyone kept to themselves and it was a disconcerting experience for me as I am a social butterfly. I have never had any problems when it came to making friends but being in a South-East London College made it difficult for me. People only wanted to be your friend whenever they needed something from you, whether it was either for coursework or your snacks! It was such a toxic environment for me at first, then I came across
a BHM poster. I was keen to know what it was about. Sadly, despite coming from African and Caribbean backgrounds, most of the students in school never engaged in any of the BHM events. I then decided to propose events to the school, but this failed because nobody ever attended. I would meet up with my Tanzanian friends who were studying in other UK universities and were part of East African societies that occasionally held events and parties to celebrate BHM. As I started to attend these events, I started to gain insight and the thought of celebrating blackness in the UK. I was so amused and loved every bit of the idea of it. I thought moving to the UK was a culture shock until I moved to Cornwall. First year was a smooth ride. I am all about culture, I never discriminate. I knew what I would expect moving into university here. I ensured I shared as much information as I could about where I was coming from, with all the friends I made. A lot
of people never knew where Tanzania was, in fact some never knew a country like that existed unless I mentioned Zanzibar or the Serengeti. Fast forward to second year, I am now the African-Carribean Society (ACS) president. Being the ACS president has been a dream come true, I have so many visions and ideas on how we can keep embracing African and Caribbean cultures on campus. I sat down with my committee and I said we need to throw a Culture Day Ball for the campus regardless of the attendance. This is something that had to be done. It has never been done before and it would be something different on campus. We organised several other BHM events collaborating with different societies having outstanding conversations, spreading awareness across our social media handles, but most of all its being who we really are as an ethnic minority society in Cornwall. BHM to me is about celebrating the fullness of blackness; the wide variety of cultures, the often-forgotten stories,
and showcasing the world-changing achievements of black people throughout history. Black History is about showing off who you really are as a black individual. Celebrating my blackness is something I am proud of everyday. I love it when people praise my braids, my African clothes that I would flaunt in such a stylish way. Create awareness and support black businesses and this is what being black is all about embracing the inner you and your heritage. BHM is an opportunity to celebrate and commemorate the individuals and events that have shaped African and Caribbean communities, as well as our collective history. It also provides space for Black students to explore and articulate their own experiences, and a focus for the whole University community to discuss and address the on-going challenges facing Black communities in Britain and around the world. Don’t just “celebrate” BHM, confront past and present injustices. Keep spreading awareness. So much is happening around the world right now and mainly black communities are affected. Do not forget who you are and keep appreciating and embracing your culture because that is what celebrating blackness is all about. One of my favourite quotes is from Olympian, Jesse Owens: “Find the good. It’s all around you. Find it, showcase it and you’ll start believing in it.” Lily-Mary Cox ACS President
What drew you towards your course? I study popular music and honestly, I can’t see myself doing anything other than music. I spent most of my life being told I should do something else, but it got to the point where I was like, I don’t think I know anything else! So I’m going to stick with what I know, basically. I like to dabble in a bit of everything, but my go-to styles are rap and R&B. My course is very accommodating to let you explore different things. I get put with people I might not usually expect to work with, and I feel like that is because of what I’m into, I’m very different to everybody else. As cocky as it sounds, I feel like I’m giving everybody else an opportunity to work with something that’s not what they’re used to. Falmouth as a university is pretty small. Cornwall is not the most diverse place, either. Is that something you thought about when you chose to come here? To be honest, I didn’t expect to see as many Black people as I did when I first arrived. I thought there were going to be absolutely none. But, through the ACS (Afro-Carribean Society) I actually got to meet a few people who were just the same as me. I really didn’t expect to see anyone else who was Black. I don’t think that was something that really went into my decision making though. I thought, if I’m going to get a good education, it’s up to me to get that education. Obviously, there’s people here that I can relate to as well, and that’s great! But at the end of the day, I’m working for myself more than for anyone else. You mentioned ACS, are you largely involved with them? I was on the committee last year, as the social media manager. I made sure events were being advertised, messages replied to, that sort of thing. I did a weekly story during Black History Month, too, that was really cool. This year they asked me to come back and host one of their big chat events. We got to meet people from the Exeter University Streatham Campus because we were collaborating with them. It was a big discussion on diaspora, which is an experience that describes a loss of location.
Is that something you feel you personally experience? Not really, luckily. My parents are very tapped into their cultures and have instilled it into me. I’m not afraid to say where I’m from, and I’m not afraid to talk about where I’m from. It’s what makes me, me. I’m London born myself; I’m a first generation immigrant. My mum and dad moved to England about five or six years before I was born, My dad is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My mum is Portuguese, but she was born in Guinea-Bissau which was one of the colonies at the time. She’s also part Cape Verdean on her mum’s side, but she’s very African. She refuses to be called anything else, even though she is Portuguese. When I was born, because of how African my mum is, I used to believe that I wasn’t mixed-race. I used to think that I was Black and only Black. I learnt about my mum’s lineage and came to find out that I was mixed-race. It wasn’t too much of a shock; it was quite nice, to be honest! It was nice to know there was more to me. You mentioned before you’ve been told throughout your life not to pursue music. Are your parents supportive of your chosen path? Yeah, that came mainly from them. I think first it was “Become a doctor”, then I wasn’t looking great in science, so then it was “Become a banker”, and then I wasn’t looking so great in maths, so it became “Become a lawyer”. It was during the lawyer stage that I started to try to tell them, “Look, I think I might want to do music”. I spent many years talking to them about it and going through it with them. I showed them what I was doing, and they realised that if I was willing to work that hard for it, then I should be able to go for it. That might not be the experience that everyone with African parents has, but I was lucky enough that it was mine. It’s not a bad thing that they encouraged me to do so many different things, I think it comes from a place of wanting to support their kids in a way that they couldn’t support themselves when they first came to the country. My parents both went back to university, my mum just before my brother and I were born and my dad afterwards. They both understand what my brother and I are
now going through, and they understand how hard it is to do something that you don’t want to do, especially at university. In the end, they were both quite supportive of the fact I wanted to do music. If you could go back in time and meet your younger self, what would you say to him? I would say be proud of your hair and your eye colour. For some reason, I grew up wanting green eyes and straight ginger hair… Which was really weird, but it was what I strived for as a kid. I don’t know why. I look back at it now and I’m just like, what made me think that being the way I was so wrong? I think it was a by-product of growing up in a white-centric society. I used to watch TV, and all the kids that won at the end of the day were white kids, all the kids that were seen as the heroes were the white kids. Maybe it just got ingrained in my brain, and I didn’t realise it. There are still quite a lot of white people on my mum’s side of the family. My mum is very clearly
mixed race, whereas her sister is very fair skinned, ginger, and has hazel eyes. Growing up, I mostly only met my mum’s family, I didn’t meet much of my dad’s family until I was already grown up. My mum’s side of the family were all more fair skinned than me, had less curly hair than me, so I wanted to emulate that. Both my brothers are quite fair skinned as well. Because I was the darkest, they used to make jokes about it when we were growing up, and I hated it. I have coily hair, whereas my brothers have wavy hair, and they say I have the biggest nose, the thickest eyebrows. It was little things like that when I was younger that made me think “Oh, I didn’t think those things were bad, but now I’m starting to think they’re bad.” Do you feel proud of these things now? Yes! I literally haven’t cut my hair for the past two years. I’ve been letting it grow out and it’s amazing, to be honest. I think my hair is amazing. Coming to a university like Falmouth, and peo-
ple see your afro hair, they want to touch it. People kept asking to touch it. At first I was like, “I don’t know if I like this or not”. But at the same time, they had never seen that before. For some of the people I lived with in first year, I was the first Black person they had ever been around. In that year, I felt like it was more racist to ask if something was racist than to just be racist flat out. There would be times when they would say the smallest of things like, “Jonathan, is it racist to call you Black?” and I would be like, “Well, I’m Black, what else are you going to call me?” Being the only Black person in my entire block, let alone my entire flat, was really weird. I remember we had a Sunday roast, where the whole block worked together to make it, and it was really weird because it wasn’t something that I was used to. I’d never made a Sunday roast or had it like a ‘family’ meal.
one country, obviously they must have been together at some point. They must have just been driven apart. It is nice to think there’s a larger community than just a “I’m from this country, you’re from that country” sort of thing. Something bigger.
Interviewed and transcribed by Charlie Todd Halfhide
What does Black History Month mean to you? On a personal level, I like to use Black History Month as a time to tap into what’s going on back home, in terms of my parent’s respective homes. I like to look at the country’s histories pre-colonialism, because once you look past that point, the only thing that is Black history is the Slave Trade. This might seem like a weird thing to say, but not every Black person was captured and taken into the slave trade. For example, on my dad’s side, all my ancestors are from Africa and were never involved with the slave trade. On my mum’s side, being from Cape Verde, that was literally at the forefront of it, it was literally the slave port. So obviously on both sides there is quite a lot of tension. As much as I like to learn about the Slave Trade, I feel like it’s all we get taught, so I try to find out things outside of that that are to do with Black history. It's not “Black people were slaves, and now they’re humans.” We were always humans. We’re just put into that one box from that one point in our history. My mum puts a lot of emphasis about learning about tribes from the West, where she was born. A lot of the time, the tribes that she talks about I’ll find have a presence in other African countries. They’ll be in the West and North and East of Africa as well - they all share tribes. That means at one point they were more than just countries, they were all one place of living, because if there's the same tribe in more than one
Introduce yourself! I’m a third-year history student at Exeter University, and this is the first time I’ve been interviewed - for anything! Why did you choose Exeter, speciﬁcally Penryn? I don’t know really. I think growing up in London, I’ve just wanted to get away, I guess. I’ve been to Cornwall a lot, like, my parents always encouraged us to do ‘home holidays’ as well as abroad holidays, so during the summer we’d do a week away, and then like a week in Cornwall or like Devon, or Dorset, so I knew I’d be comfortable here anyway, and yeah! It’s been great since I've met some great people! I looked at the other campus originally and it was nice, and everything, but I don’t know. I guess, now I can say I definitely couldn’t have seen myself there, like, I have nothing against anyone who goes there or anything! But I feel like my personality, and I guess just me as a person, wouldn’t have really fit a mould that they have. Um, I probably would have felt like I was being a fake version of myself to fit in. Um, but yeah. I think I’ve found myself a lot more down here as well. Like, I’ve felt more comfortable pursuing things, like my own hobbies and interests without the judgement of like “Let's go out drinking all the time”, so yeah. It’s a nice little “Home away from home”. When you came to Cornwall to study, did you feel out of place in any aspect? Uhm. Not straight away I don't think. Like first year it was kind of like weird that like - well it's not “funny” - but I found it a little bit funny that on my course of like 80-plus people, there were only three black people, if you counted me, and then 7 or 8 actual people of colour, uhm, and like, I guess when you’re comfortable in yourself it doesn’t seem as much of a task to overcome so many other different boundaries, but say I had come from a school where I wasn’t so confident in my abilities, and it would be really intimidating having to come in and make your mark in the first few weeks so that you’re taken seriously, because it’s not just intelligence as well. Like this is just me thinking back to when I was at school and stuff. You always kind of have to ‘adapt’ rather than be accepted, and for this
course that wasn’t something that I felt I had to specifically do, but I know that because of the way I speak, the way I dress, my mannerisms, it is quite often possible for me to white-pass. Obviously not fully because of my complexion, but often I am accepted - I don’t know the best way to describe it - but I don’t have to try so hard because I guess people are like “You’re well-spoken”, like most of the time I straighten my hair, so I don’t really embrace my black side in public. Only because of what I’ve experienced in the past.
Like there was one experience in the past, near the end of first year when I went out, and I was with a couple of friends from my course, and there was like only two of us who were people of colour, and the other was an Indian guy. The story was that a guy came up to me first and was like “Where are you from?” and I said London, he goes “Well where are your parents from?” and I said England, because my dad was born in Sussex and my mum was born in Wolverhampton… and he goes “Yeah but you’re brown!” and so I go “... I know.” And then he goes, “Oh yeah I’ve been to west Africa a lot, I think it’s super interesting.” And I’m not even from Africa… I’m half Jamaican! And then he went up to my friend and asked the same thing to him. He asks “Where are you from?” and he says “Birmingham”, and he goes “But you’re brown?”, and my friend is like “Yeah?” so he carries on like “Yeah I’ve been to Angola
a lot of times and it’s all really interesting”. And we were both just looking at each other like… “What?” Just basically like, there was no form of initiation for you to have to come up and speak to us anyways, and I think that was like my first incident. But before when my parents came down and see me, because my mum’s black, I’ve seen it a lot more; locals staring at her, or like, when she speaks they’re like “Wow, you’re really well-spoken”, and she’s like “I don’t know what you expected me to sound like, I have an English accent, I was born and raised in England, I don’t really know what you want”. I think a lot of the time people are really taken aback, especially now that I don’t feel afraid to stand up for myself and say yes I am mixed race, yes I can white-pass but I can also embrace that I am different and that’s fine and okay, and what I do is really none of your business at the end of the day. But yeah. Do you think the university is doing a good job at decolonising the curriculum? Uhm, I think it’s still a bit of a struggle to see, because, I think last year we were actually doing a black history month thing within the department, and my friend was saying that there had been a new lecturer in the department who specialised in colonial and Caribbean history, and automatically I was like cool we’re gonna get a black lecturer, and he wasn’t. And I was like okay… that's fine, if that's your interest then that's great, but then he ended up saying that he didn't want to partake in our black history event because he felt uncomfortable, and I was like, no offence, but you’ve chosen for that to be your discipline, that is your specialty, you can’t then turn around and say that you’re uncomfortable talking about it if you’re dedicating your research to it. It just didn’t make sense to me. At the end of the day, you don’t see a lot of people of colour in the department, I think every lecturer I’ve had since first year has been white. They say (and I’m not saying this is fake or anything like that) but they say that they’re trying to decolonise their research, and some lecturers you can really see that they are. I have one, for example, who is really passionate about making a change to how we view, Early-Modern history because that's her discipline, about how we
view the “History from below” as more than just the white rural farmer and how there was more to the landscape than just that type of thing. But personally I don't feel like I've seen a lot at the moment, but at the same time I don’t think a movement like this should have had to trigger it, it really should have been something that has always been around I guess. My boyfriend does politics, and they have more people of colour within their department who are also trying to bring in more scopes of political discussion rather than just British policy and they’re just doing so much more and it’s been that way for a much longer time. You would think that because everything is rooted in history it would have happened sooner so it’s just “Why not sooner”? There's such an extensive history and reason behind what it has become. With one of my current modules, we have been talking about what heritage means for us, and I was saying that growing up around west London with my mum, she grew up with Notting Hill Carnival, and that was to celebrate the Windrush Generation coming and settling in the UK, and you’ve just seen it over the decade, and no one remembers that. They go to have fun because it's fun to drink and smoke or be with your friends and be out on the streets of London, but no one remembers what it was originally. What does Black History Month mean to you? I don’t know, personally. I think being mixed race, every day is a celebration of yourself, or that's how it always should be. Black History Month is great because it brings an educational platform for people to be able to engage in such a topic, but at the same time, it's difficult to get people to engage in something that is still just seen as “Fun” and different and cultural. This is the first year that I’ve seen people be like “Oh yeah, we really need to push for seminars and talks and literature reviews and events”. I know ACS, obviously they’ve been doing it for years, but even last year or the year before, it was people just going for a fun time - they weren't really going to appreciate it but I definitely do not want to say that they were doing it to be appropriate, that's a really big distinction to make. You can really see that there are people who like the culture because it's fun and different, but it's more
than that. There's such an extensive history and reason behind what it has become. With one of my current modules, we have been talking about what heritage means for us, and I was saying that growing up around west London with my mum, she grew up with Notting Hill Carnival, and that was to celebrate the Windrush Generation coming and settling in the UK, and you've just seen it over the decade, and no one remembers that. They go to have fun because it's fun to drink and smoke or be with your friends and be out on the streets of London, but no one remembers what it was originally. My mum has never discouraged us from celebrating our identity, but that's kind of a celebration she wants to move away from because of how gentrified and commodified it has become, and that's the same with Black History Month. It is upsetting that it can hold so much more, but it doesn't, and people kind of miss the mark at the end of the day. I feel that within the university going forward there needs to be more steps taken rather than just “We’re extending our research”, there needs to be a lot more opportunities. I’m not saying just fit a quota and bring in black researchers and black lecturers, but if they want to expand their department, then do it from those who hold the gaze. If someone is just as qualified and a person of colour, then hire them instead. It's hard to engage in a setting where you don't see yourself a lot of the time. I know I’ve said I’ve felt more comfortable here, but there are still a lot of people coming from areas that aren't as open to diversity, or it's only their little group or hub, and it's hard to make that transition when you don't have a point of reference to feel like yourself. Interviewed and transcribed by Kira Orchard
Why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter in Penryn? Studying at the University of Exeter in Penryn was not my original plan. I applied to Exeter as my insurance choice and on results day I received the offer from Penryn. At first, I was a bit reluctant to take the offer because, I mean, it wasn’t something that I had planned or chosen at first. I did apply to the Streatham campus, and the Penryn Campus was new to me, I had not been to Cornwall before coming to study here. I visited the campus before I accepted the offer and I really liked it. One thing I was worried about though was it being a small campus. From growing up in a town just outside of the city I feel like you meet people from a lot of diverse cultures and I just thought that it would be really strange and quiet being down here. I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest, but upon visiting the campus I really liked it and I thought it would be cool to have a change of scenario anyway from the usual city life. So yeah, that was why I ended up accepting the offer. I really liked the University of Exeter when I visited it on open days and the course generally. I really wanted to do history and I am really interested in the study of history ever since I took it for GCSE. I was excited to be able to specialise in a field of history that particularly interested me.
ronment like that so I wasn’t overly worried. I love meeting different people from different cultures and places, so I think that was just important to me. Do you think the university is doing well in taking steps to decolonise the curriculum? Joining in first year, I was quite surprised that one of my modules, I was quite happy in a sense, that my lecturer spoke about how history is usually written in a Eurocentric perspective. She used that to challenge history books that we often read or use to research when we do GCSE or A-Level history so I thought that was quite a good start. I felt like maybe at uni I would be
When you came to study in Cornwall, did you feel out of place? Yeah, one of the main factors when applying to the University of Exeter in general was I was really worried about there not being a lot of diversity. At the time, I had read things about the Streatham campus and it really worried me to join there.I felt like I wouldn’t feel welcome or I might receive some racist remarks or something. However, I spoke to another girl who is also like myself, has an African heritage and she told me that although it may not seem like it, there is quite a bit of diversity. It’s not the best but she hasn’t really faced any problems or anything when she moved to Exeter, so I was feeling kind of hopeful. In terms of feeling out of place, it wasn’t a huge worry for me because growing up, I attended secondary schools and my sixth form where in most cases I was the only black girl in my class, or at one point in the whole school. I was kind of used to being in an envi-
able to learn about all kinds of history and like, African studies, or studies that weren’t necessarily British or American because obviously when it came to studying about black history, to put it that way, at sixth form and secondary school it was usually slavery and things and obviously that is not a true representation. So I was kind of happy that she spoke about that. I feel like the university has taken some measures and even module convenors themselves are trying to include readings that are not just written from a Eurocentric perspective and trying to be more inclusive and having like more female historians or historians that have an ethnic background and readings that they try to include. I think that those measures are very good but we do have a long way to go in increasing the variety of module choices that there are. I do believe that the university is heading in the right direction but more does need to be done. Whether it is having more diverse lecturers or more diverse module selections. Do you have any plans for your future career? In the future, once I have graduated, I am hoping to do a law conversion course and to work in the legal industry. A figure in the legal industry who has been quite important to me is David Lammy. As a fellow black individual, I feel like it is really inspiring to see a figure like him in the legal industry because the statistics are quite shocking in terms of the percentage of women. Let’s say looking at a law firm, it is very small. Most cases it is around twenty per cent or even less. Even when looking at BAME – I hate the term BAME – the amount of ethnic minorities that are working at a law firm is very small and so to look at a figure like David Lammy as a role model is really important to me because I feel like it is very inspiring. You mentioned that you hate the term BAME, why do you think it is problematic? I feel like the term BAME (Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities) is such a lazy way to just clump all “non-white” people together under one single umbrella or grouping and it dismisses the different inequalities and issues the individual groups face separately. I don’t know, to me it is just like “white” and everyone else is BAME. Like white is the “standard” race. Does that make sense?
What does Black History Month mean to you? To me, Black History Month is a celebration of the achievements and successes of people from the African and Caribbean community or celebrating the contributions and challenges that they have put forward in the British community. I also feel like it is an opportunity for the African community to try to gain an agency and to try and rewrite and reclaim a narrative within history as opposed to history just being told from a Eurocentric perspective. Whether it is looking at individuals like Paul Stephenson who led the Bristol bus boycott or celebrating athletes and prominent black leaders like Martin Luther King. I feel like it is such an important month because I feel like British society is not fully educated or informed about black history and I feel like this is a time where people can gain the opportunity to question or do more research or to be better informed about those successes and achievements of the ethnic minority community. Also, it allows a lot of other black individuals like myself to feel proud to be black and also hear stories of other individuals in our community that have done great things to push society forward or done great things in their life. I feel like society is very limited and history is very limited to that Eurocentric perspective that I keep mentioning! I believe that Black History Month is not just an important event for the black community but it is also important for the British community, or even the world in its entirety because it is good to look at shared histories and tell the untold stories of individuals that in the past would not have had an agency. By providing this month to celebrate black voices and black individuals, their achievements and successes, we are able to drive history into a more holistic profile and to look at history in a greater perspective as opposed to the narrow Eurocentric perspective in the past. I also think that we can look at humanity universally and the things that different cultures have in common and how our histories compare. Interviewed and transcribed by Jack Wilkins
didn't choose Penryn, it chose me. I was at Queen Mary for a year, studying linguistics. I didn't enjoy the course, and I called Exeter to see if they would accept me on a transfer and they said â€˜look, you do not have the grades for main campusâ€™ but I could study the same course in Cornwall. I really had one question; whether it would say Cornwall [penryn camous] or just University of Exeter on my degree, they said it just says University of Exeter, and that was it, I was happy to go. The biggest difference between universities in Cornwall and London is diversity. At Queen Mary especially, the amount of South asian and black students and the international student presence is on a much bigger scale than in penryn. When people ask me where I'm from I usually reply with ... well it depends on who's asking the question. If it's a black person or another ethnic minority person, I always assume that they can tell by my name or something that I am not 'indigenous' to the UK, so maybe they're trying to find out what part of the country I'm from. But when speaking to a white person, especially by the way they ask you, they want to know where your family originates from. It really depends on the race of the person that asks. To be honest that question doesn't really offend me. Let 's not kid ourselves in thinking that black people are 'indiginous' to the UK, it's clear that we're not. The only time I get really offended is when it's phrased as "where are you really from", that's when I take offence. 'Really' implies that I'm not an authentic british person. The general question doesn't offend me though. I do see myself as British, I have obviously lived here my entire life, I have dual nationality and have both a British and Nigerian passport, so technically im British-Nigerian. At the same time I'm aware that all the times i've gone to Nigeria, which are 4 separate occasions, only total up to 5 weeks spent in Nigeria overall, so as much as I acknowledge my Nigerian heritage and background, I think it's normal for me to feel a bit more british than I do nigerian. My parents are fully nigerian but I've only spent, in total, more than a month in nigeria. I'm semi proficient in french but I don't speak any native Nigerian languages, but I understand some of them but can't reply.
I've known that Cornwall was quite rural, but I hadn't heard any stories of the 'backwardness' of some of the locals before I set foot here. The first time I came to Cornwall was literally the day I moved into first-year accommodation, so I didn't really know what to expect. Being in Cornwall I've had one major racist experience. I was on a rugby social and me and the rugby captain of that year, went into Mangos [a Falmouth club], and he had moved through a line to get out the club and he was like "Can you let my friend through" and this group of locals looked back at me and said "what's he doing in here, does he know where he is" and that sparked a brawl in Mangos, because the captain punched one of the guys that said it. I was trying to de-escelate the situation and another one of the guys came out of nowhere and punched me in the side of the head. It became a big brawl that had to be separated by the bouncers. That was a major experience for me, and possibly the first time, although there were no racial slurs thrown, I had been racially profiled in my life. It was an alarming experience. I was very upset when it happened, I'm not ashamed to say I was quite shook up, and I was crying at the time, with anger more so than just being upset. And the rugby captain, was as well. The one silver lining of the situation was that afterwards, in Mangos, the bouncers escorted me outside, and some of the locals that had witnessed what had happened, came out and apologised to me saying "not everyone in Cornwall was like that" and there were quite a few people who came to say that. Definitely a horrific experience.
Joshua Ordu Peters
We did report it to the University, I think charges were pressed, but I'm not actually sure anything ever came of the case, but they did ask me whether I wanted to make it public. At the time I didn't really want to make it public, I sort of felt... I'm not really sure what i felt. I just didn't want to make it public at the university. I wanted to privately press charges. Mangos said that they had taken notes of these guys I.Ds and that they would receive a life time ban, so I wouldn't have to worry about seeing them again, I don't know how well that's been enforced, I couldn't recognise them if I saw them on the streets of Falmouth. This was last year just
before ‘Bottle’, early January to February, in my 1st year. I'll be honest, I don't think the uni handled it great. After the first initial contact with the university, I didn't really hear anything after that. After the case was brought to the police, I didn't hear anything from the police, I didn't have to make any statements. I think the 'brawl' was caught on footage so maybe they didn't need my statement. No aftercare was given after that situation. Looking back I don't think it was handled in the best way. I didn't mind at the time that it wasn't brought to my attention but retrospectively it wasn't handled in the best way.
black people as ‘blick’. Looking back at that, it was really problematic. But what was even more problematic is that the white students were also doing it too. It's shameful looking back at it, calling someone ‘blick’ or ‘burnt’ and not realising how damaging that can be to a person going into adulthood. It's colourism, whether you like it or not, to say that about a darker skinned person. It's funny because with the older generation, they don't really see anything wrong with what they're saying, but it's little stuff, like a parent seeing you on facetime and being like "stop going out in the sun too much, you're getting too dark."
At GCSE level, there was some slight institutional discrimination. Teachers don't really push the ethnic minority students as much as they did the whites students, for example when it came to deciding who sat double or triple science and higher or foundation level papers. When it came to picking A levels I found out I couldn't do biology, because in year 10 they submitted me for the foundation paper, so the highest I could get was a C. So when it came to picking sciences and they are asking for a B, you're not able to do that. I asked my teachers why I wasn't given proper guidance. There was never that information given to me. That could be down to the quality of the school or the teaching, or it could be more insidious and could be to do with institutional racism whereby the teachers do not push the black students hard enough. But that's really the only institutional barrier that I could think of.
'End SARS' for me kind of came out of nowhere. Scrolling on Twitter one day, and seeing the hashtag, I didn't even realise it was about Nigeria at first. I went on snapchat and saw my cousin posting pictures of protests, that's kind of how I got my information about the police brutality taking place there. I'm proud of the way Nigerians have managed to make it such a global movement. I was watching Formula 1 and seeing Lewis Hamilton wearing a #EndSARS t-shirt. For a long time my opinion has been that Nigerians take a lot of mistreatment from our government without repercussions. You see other african countries, and how quick they are to rebel and cause upheaval. I felt Nigerians were a bit docile in that respect, so I felt proud seeing the mass mobilisation, and the nation coming together to protest this.
I went to a state school in Luton, and the general makeup was pretty much white. There were roughly 280 students in my year group and I think about maybe less than 40 black kids. I didn't really see it as an issue as I'd been to a primary school where there were 3 black people in my entire class, and I'd never faced anything [racist]. Until I went to Queen Mary, where it's largely ethnic minorities, you don't really notice how different you were brought up, being in the severe minority. Obviously now at Exeter, it's back to how it was for me in primary and secondary. In a politics lecture, there's only two other black people in a lecture. One major thing I had to unlearn growing up like that was the idea of reffering to darker skinned
I'll be honest I didn't vote in the last election. But if I was to vote now, it would be Labor. I'm not ashamed to admit I don't support them really. My ideal party is the Lib Dems, that's where I fit ideologically. I'm not ashamed to say my parents are conservatives. To go even deeper, if this was back when Cameron was leader, I could be inclined to vote conservative as well. But there is no way I would vote conservative now or for the foreseeable future, although I consider myself very centre-right on the political spectrum. I used to be proud of seeing a black MP, whatever party they were part of, especially a Nigerian-British one. But now I don't see how you can be a black Conservative MP, when your leader, Boris Johnson, has said such racist things. It's embarrassing. One of the conservative nigerian Mp's constituency is near my home. I could't be
a part of the same party as a man that's called black people "pickaninnies", "watermelon smiles" are all of this crazy stuff. It's different when he wasn't PM but now that's your leader. I sometimes have the feeling that whenever I'm in a majority white place that, and it's subconsciously, I have to be on my best 'behaviour' and that I'm a representative for my race to these people who may never/have come across black people that often. I feel like I have to be the model example of what a black person is. It's problematic, but it's internalised, because you see public perception of what an individual does and were all painted with the same brush. It even little stuff, you'll be at a party [pre-corona] talking to someone and they'll be like "do you like Skepta, do you like Giggs", of course I do but some part of me wants to say no, so whatever image they have of black people all liking the same stuff is diminished. British people love to say there is no racism here, but I found it almost ironic how we were one of the only countries to have anti-black lives matter protests. I think that is a clear sign that we have a problem here. British racism is more snide and insidious. A lot of white British people try to suggest it's actually a class issue, which I find a little offensive as it suggests all black people are lower working class, and detracts from the real issue at hand. Interviewed and transcribed by Albert Duker
biemwense Aimiuwu was aware of Voices, and the transformative nature of sharing “the raw, authentic experiences of students” years ago. She had contributed to Volume One - Black History Month published in December of 2017, when she was 19 years old. She was among the youngest to contribute to the magazine at the time. She has, since then, experienced an evolution in her understanding of her own identity. She acknowledges a transformation in thought between her 19 year old self, and her now 22 year old self. The academic year of 2019, through to 2020, saw Abiemwense disappear into the fabric of Milan, Italy, which she defines as both “fantastic” and “beautiful”, yet within that, she comprehends that her experience was “racialised”. Her first contribution to Voices saw her talk on racial “microaggressions”, which is a term coined by Harvard professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe “the insults and dismissals he witnessed non-black Americans inflicting on African Americans”. The racial microaggression on the surface seemed harmless; “you’re pretty, for a black girl”, but now with a few more years under her belt, Abiemwense tells me that such statements are harmful, and
that certain environments can be inhospitable for Black women. Abiemwense had started her night out with an aperitivo (a pre-meal drink); a tradition born in Milan. Basking in the freedom and unknowingness of being a twenty-one year old woman, surrounded by friends, in a city known for its fashion, its food, and its frivolity. Abiemwense made her way to an event being hosted in one of the better known clubs for students. In the midst of laughs, and chatter, an olive-skinned, bearded man approached Abiemwense. She knew that in Milan she would be “fetishised”. However, she never envisioned that this man would make her the subject of his gaze, marvel at her form, and inquire “quanto costa”. The direct translation is “how much”, how much for her! She was alarmed. She spoke removed and remote, when she shared that prior to arriving, she knew that being “fetishised” was something that would be a footnote in her “study abroad experience”. The racial reality was not subtle in this case, it is one we cannot fail to acknowledge is sinister: especially, with the deeply saddening truth of Nigerian women being “victims of sex trafficking into Italy”. Abiemwense is a “British-born Nigerian woman”, who found this man patriorising her for a sex act: demanding her time, her body and placing a price on her. His actions perpetuate the constraints of sexuality, and how as a Black woman, her sexuality was “defined by another person".
It is an othering act, it is an act of erasure: he “removed my autonomy and the feeling of empowerment over my appearance” and by doing so, “robbed me of my agency”, and consequently, she says he “degraded me”. It is important to note that this is not to discredit or marginalise sex workers, who are doing their job, but this is to recognise that Abiemwense was existing as a Black woman, and her “agency” and “autonomy” over her body was stripped from her. Abiemwense encourages others to not view this as a “compliment”, to understand that this subjugation disguised as attraction is “inherently rooted in racism”. She admits that she felt being fetished was better than someone being overtly racist; now, she has come to terms with “racism and fetishation being one in the same”. She ends by rejecting being imagined as a “second-class citizen”. Black women fall outside of society’s standards of desirable, and in the same breath, are seen as an option to be tried and tested. She encourages a process of unlearning, unlearning preconceived notions of beauty and desire. Learning that one has agency, and control over their own desire: one is desirable when they desire themselves, this is empowering. Defining for yourself, your own attraction, sexuality, and subsequently, desire. Chiamaka Okafor
Introduce yourself! I’m Jo, I study English and History, and yeah. I went through a bit of a tremulous year, so I think I may be redoing my second year - we don’t know yet if I’m going into third and continuing with my modules or redoing the year again, so yeah. Thats me! Do you know what sort of career you are hoping to go into? Uhhm, no. I believe in like, activism and changing; improving society, but I also feel like disabled people need more representation in power. I wasn’t interested in politics until I kind of realised that a lot of people are making laws, but they’re not actually disabled so they haven’t had the experience, and there’s a lot of people who don’t really care about like - I don’t want to say they have that ableist mentality, but it’s like, they park in disabled spots when they don’t need it or don’t understand why it’s there, they don’t care why it’s there, and there’s just certain things - like even in architecture when you’re building buildings in 2020 and they still have steps. Why is that a mentality? I feel like our society is meant for people who can walk and not for people who can’t, and I feel like you can fit into a society if you have two legs, and I feel like that’s the bare minimum. So I feel I want to go into something that changes that perspective, but also activism - so maybe the United Nations but also, I think things need to change politically. So I don’t know! But those are my interests. Why did you choose Exeter, specifically Penryn? I actually didn’t. So my story’s not - well I think a lot of people didn’t actually. I didn’t choose Exeter. I chose the course English and History, I didn’t realise it was at the Penryn campus until results day, and also Exeter was my insurance choice. So I was supposed to go to a different university, and then on results day I obviously got to come to Exeter University instead. Looking back knowing what you know now about your course, would you have outright chosen this course and university? I think the course, yes. The location? No, because in a wheelchair it’s really hard to live in Cornwall, so now it’s online it’s a bit easier, uhm, but I don’t think I would’ve chosen it, and chosen another location because of, yeah, accessibility. Where are you from? Originally I’m from Manchester, so quite far away from Cornwall! When you came to Cornwall to study, did you feel out of place in any aspect? Yeah, the actual interesting thing is, when I did come
to Cornwall, I was so overwhelmed with the lack of accessibility that I didn’t really notice a lot until I went back home and I was like, “Woah, everyone’s like me! Nobody in Cornwall is like me!” It kind of hit me afterwards, and, uhm, for me, it was when I saw - I don’t know how strange this is - but I saw a mixed race person, and like, I’m mixed race, but I saw them and I was like “Wait, we exist!” and it was a thing. Because you don’t see it everyday, so it’s such a shock when you do. And then I thought, well why did that shock me so much, because that’s my norm, this is my norm. So I think it was when I left Cornwall and came back that I was like “Oh it’s different”. You mentioned you were mixed race. Has this presented any prejudice because of your race? Not really no - so when I say mixed race, I mean, so, it’s more like my grandparents are mixed. So my dad’s side of the family are Cuban and my mum’s side is Jamaican, so it’s mixed in that way, not between white and black, not like the “standard one”. Not “standard”, but well, you know, the one people tend to know, so I don’t really think I’ve had that, but I think the lack of things I’ve had is more things like people who engage in both parts of the cultures, so people who are like Latin, or Cuban, because I don’t really know much about that side of my heritage. And the Carribean also. There is, like, some things this year, but the Carribean - that side of the culture isn’t really present in Cornwall, that I know of. Has the lack of accessibility and diversity within Cornwall affected you in an academic setting? Yes. So in my first year, they put me in places, or like, tables where I couldn’t see the screen, so I was very isolated, because I couldn’t get up the steps to sit with everyone else, and I couldn’t see the screen, so I missed a lot. I was alone a lot. So I feel like it did change, and I did have a step back. When I say I had a difficult year, I tried to move to a different uni, had the same problem - it was really messy. And I just realised that, I feel like academically they don’t really, I don’t want to say don’t care, but I feel like they don’t care. They don’t care that it’s inclusive, that it’s accessible, that people can access it. It’s more just that it’s like this is the curriculum. This is what you read. This is the essay you’re supposed to write, and a lot of the learning I did was, like, on my own, so I passed, but because I had to do it on my own, it doesn’t really do anything. So I think my academics was. I used to think that university was the gate opener to the world, and that it was like, going to give me so many opportunities, and give me a step up in the world, but I kind of don’t believe that anymore. I kind of don’t believe it, and don’t think it’s worth it.
The only thing I think uni is good for is, uhm, having the opportunity to, I guess, engage in a different voice. I did a module on the history of nature and the environment, and we looked at how throughout history our interpretations and views of nature affected the environment, and that kind of made me think that, you know, it’s history from a different perspective, and I think that is what I am grateful for. That different perspective. But everything else, I’m just like, eh. Yeah…
One time, they had a history ball, and I bought a ticket, but I couldn’t actually go in because of the steps. So I guess that’s isolating as well, because you can’t even join your peers because of accessibility. And a lot of places would say, “We’re an old building so we’re not allowed to build or change the building”, and that is what I found hard, so what I actually used to do when I was in Cornwall, because I had an adapted car, so I’d just drive around Cornwall and find the beaches, and just watch nature. There’s a lot of things that people don’t really think about, they don’t really care about, and that’s just, yeah, the way it is.
“Black history to me now feels like it means representing the voices, representing the inventions, the literature, the activism that happened”
What accessibility issues have you faced? What’s wrong? Yeah, so, when I first moved into my accommodation, it was into Glasney, and uhm, I had written an email to say that I need it to be accessible - that I need this and this. In Manchester, a lot of things are accessible, like I’ve never had problems in college, or anything like that in regards to accessibility, so I assumed that saying ‘I’m in a wheelchair, this is what I need’ would be enough. I then went to move in earlier, so I would miss the rush of people, and I went to my flat and it wasn’t accessible at all. It didn’t have any rails in the bathroom, all of the things were too high, the doors weren’t automatic. And my mum was like, “What’s going on?” So we left - we drove from Manchester to Cornwall and we left, and I wrote another email saying like, “Look, it’s not accessible, the room is not okay, blah blah”.
And then I got an email to say they were going to fix it, so I decided not to come for freshers, and to come like, the weekend of the first week of term, and they hadn’t even changed anything. So my room was made accessible, retrospective to my arrival. I, uhm, it’s actually embarrassing because I couldn’t access the showering facilities for two weeks, and the only reason they solved that was because I was like, can you just give me the rails. My local council had to get involved and be like ‘it’s the law that you need to make it accessible, it needs to be accessible for her’. And just the fact that you can see I’m in a wheelchair, like it’s actually like I need it; it’s not a want, it’s a need, and that wasn’t provided. So I guess that kind of affected... It kind of affects your value of yourself. I never had something happen like that before, so it kind of affected me. Uhm, and then I guess when you ask “What’s wrong”, even in societies and things, they would have events, but they would have events up steps that I couldn’t get to and get into.
What does Black History Month mean to you? Okay. I’m quite into changing the voice on this, because I feel like a lot of black history is like “Slavery happened and then slavery ended!” but it’s not really showing what black people have done and achieved, and it kind of, uhm, well, black history didn’t start with slavery, like thats not the thing, that was colonisation, that was something else; that is not the history. And I feel like black history to me now feels like it means representing the voices, representing the inventions, the literature, the activism that happened, and I also feel like now it should be more than just a month. I feel like a month is good, but it needs to be in the curriculum, it needs to be. People need to know what happened, where we are, and yeah. That’s how I kind of feel about it. Do you think the university is doing a good job at ‘decolonising the curriculum’? I do actually. For certain modules, like the “World History” module where you’re learning about history from a world perspective, I think that was really helpful. And the telling of other people’s stories - I also think that is helpful. So I do think they’ve done a good job of that, but I also feel like more could be done. Does that make sense? I can only speak from a History perspective because that’s where I’ve found it, so I don’t know about English or other courses, and I feel like, well, I don’t know how it would work with other courses, but I feel like there could be more to be done. Interviewed and transcribed by Kira Orchard
Fatuma Mohamud I
t is Thursday 29th October 2020 and the world is ill: “we know racism is a public health emergency”, Fatuma asserts. This summer, Fatuma and I were talking about race. I realised with each passing minute I sat with her across the phone line, change was bubbling. Fatuma recalls the week she took to the streets protesting alongside thousands: “Bristol made me emotional”. I remember asking her the same question over and over again like a broken record: What was it like? How did it feel seeing the statue of Edward Colston, a man who made his fortune through human suffering, how was it seeing the statue of a slave trader underwater? Her response was the preface of a book, and the best way to describe this response is freeing. The statue that plagued the city far before COVID 19 was torn down, on Sunday 7 June 2020. From the bounce and steadiness of her response, I gathered that what she felt was pride, and she affirms this assumption: “Bristol made me proud, proud to be from a city that wanted to make a real transformational change”. That first week of June will be characterised by the pulling down of that statue in Bristol. Fatuma was born in Bristol: witnessing since her youth the reverence rewarded to Colston; “Colston is celebrated across the city; from schools, to monuments, his name is written on just about anything you can touch or see”. Her city was the heart of the Transatlantic slave trade, she says, her city was “built on the backs of slaves”, yet it was only in adulthood that she became increasingly more aware of this brutal history. She owes this awareness to education. She had seen women who looked like her “fighting for years to remove [Colston’s] statue and to contextualise the statue by placing it in a museum’’; these requests were ignored, and ignored for “far too long”. The tearing down of that statute solidified but one thing for Fatuma. She declares, to herself, and to anyone around who may be hearing that “we need to continue to do the work, we need to continue to fight for justice, we must continue to raise awareness around the topic of racism”. And how does she suggest doing this? Through education.
When she returned to the silent, slithering streets of Penryn, Cornwall, Fatuma carried with her the “sheer amount of emotion that came down with pulling down the statue of Colston”. I asked her how she had spent the rest of her summer, she turned to me and she said: “I was privileged enough to be part of a departmental review that looked at the question of knowledge production and construction and how the Politics department at Penryn could decolonise its literature”. Words. Words can hold you delicately. Words can liberate you. Words can radicalise you. Fatuma laughs, she recalls her teen-self in her first year of University, flippantly saying across a table of peers: “we just need to decolonise this entire University, starting with its literature”. She is inquisitive, her more preferred letter in the alphabet must be the letter “Y” because she asks questions, many of them, constantly. In the poorly-lit basement of the British Museum, Fatuma meanders through, asking why. Why is it that “the British Museum sees itself as the cosmopolitan hub of the world?” … “where do these artefacts come from?” … “why are they here… in this base
ment, in the Bloomsbury area of London?”... “What is the intention of keeping these artefacts here, away from countries that are asking for them back?” … “Why is it assumed that the global South are incapable of preserving and protecting their own histories” … “Why are certain histories being erased, forgotten, removed, and remaining unacknowledged”. For Fatuma, this was the first time that she had undergone the process of dissecting and interrogating the West. She finds herself coming back to the topic of education; and the lack thereof. She denies a superiority in forms of knowledge production, and prefers to look at “Western forms of knowledge” as being “one form of knowledge production”, not a superior form, “just another form”. She believes that students can be “co-producers of knowledge”. Fatuma came to University and realised the vast histories that she had grown up hearing about in the confines of her home were “erased in our curriculum”. She was not the only student who felt this erasure. BAME students declared that residing outside the boundaries of academia, being underrepresented made them feel “undervalued” and this began to have a “negative impact on their university experience”. The purpose of the departmental review was to “instigate change”, to provide BAME students that will study at the Politics department of the University of Exeter, Penryn a “space and opportunity for their voices to be centred”.
where people assume a voyeuristic position, viewing lifeless bodies in a pornographic manner, these hurtful realities are not random … they are not coincidental, they are not stand alone events, they are a direct result of a long history of police brutality, of marginalisation, of oppression, and racism towards black people in the United States, and the United Kingdom. Systemic racism does not happen overnight and it cannot be extinguished overnight”. Her message is clear, with no room for misinterpretation: “as black people we are conscious of our marginalisation, of our proximity to death. Read and embody that body of work, make it a lifestyle choice: do the real work, be anti-racist!”. Her voice once stern, softens. There is now a vulnerability to it when she says: “for the first time, there was a lot of pressure to talk about race, and I did not prepare myself for that type of open dialogue”. She finds herself seeing Instagram stories of “SoYouWantToTalkAbout Anti-Racism” being shared by the same people that would dismiss her when she would talk about how racism and misogynoir plays out in society and in her own personal life. Misogynoir is a term coined by queer black feminist Moya Bailey that explains the “misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play a role in bias”. I asked Fatuma whether she could give me an example, and she left me with this statistic: “In 2017, Diane Abbott, first Black woman to be an elected MP, received almost half of all the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the run up to the general election”; we “have to make sure that we speak up about these issues” she concludes.
“Words. Words can hold you delicately. Words can liberate you.”
Books carry in their pages words that inform us, words that educate us, words that preserve us, words that propel us. For Fatuma, the books that she keeps close to hand include Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch, Natives by Akala, Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and Slay In Your Lane by Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke. These books teach her, they teach us all. She dares us all to embody the body of text. Fatuma’s tone is stern now, she says, “it’s not enough to just read, you can read about white supremacy and white privilege all you want, you can read as much as you want around how to be an ally, how to be anti-racist, but thats not real work”. She takes a breath and continues; “if you are not carrying out what you have learnt in your everyday life, if you are not continuously working towards cultivating an anti-racist society through your day-to-day actions, then you are not doing the work, just reading is not good enough”. I find myself thinking back to that conversation over the phone in the summer that I had with Fatuma, following the death of George Floyd, she says: “the traumatic events that happen to black people,
As a black woman, a Politics student with dreams of working in diplomacy, the makeup of society is daunting for her: we “live through traumatic, turbulent climates”, yet, we owe it to ourselves to carve out moments of joy: to “seek the things that make us happy”. She ends with a love letter to Black women: “Dear Black women, You are important. You are enough. The myth of the “strong black woman” needs to be dismantled. Yes, we are black and women but we are human. We deserve to be met with compassion. Please find joy in the small things. We are privileged enough to live by the sea, go on a wak. Do the things that make you feel grounded, that draw you closer to nature. Find people that share your vision, people that you can talk to, cry to, rant to, speak to. Know your emotions are valid. Please take time out for yourselves. Your peace of mind and wellbeing is so important: please be aware of that. Fatuma x” Chiamaka Okafor
What do you study? I study BSc Business with the year in industry with Exeter, and this is my first year in my undergraduate degree. Why did you choose Exeter, specifically Penryn? Uh I felt that it was because it has quite a reputation for being one of the best in terms of business, and in terms of graduates. And in the country, I believe it was first from the list I saw, first in terms of business and first in terms of, like, graduate outcomes; so either finding better jobs or so either after they’ve finished or even pursuing a higher degree, like going into a masters. I saw the statistics were quite good when backing this up. I initially thought that, uhm, that the Penryn campus was within Exeter itself. It took a few months into lockdown for me to realise that it was located in Cornwall.
Where are you from? I’m from Zambia. So I lived there and came here in 2016 for boarding school, so I did the GCSE exams and did A-levels. Obviously I didn’t actually do those because of coronavirus, but yes I did do A-levels here, so I’m now an undergrad. I’ve actually lived in three places. I’ve lived in Zambia, Zimbabwe and then I moved back to Zambia, I did my primary education there and the early parts of my education, then in 2016 I moved here to a boarding school for four years.
How are you finding the online learning, considering this is your first year? Uhh it has it’s benefits and it’s drawbacks - I actually feel it has a lot more benefits than drawbacks, but say especially like, for example like you can record sessions and if you feel like you’ve missed something
you can just go back and like just look at it again, so I thought that was very good for revision and clarity as well. But obviously, you do want - because my whole life has been face-to-face teaching interactions - so you do sort of miss that clarity when you’re talking to someone so you can see them face-to-face, see their expression, rather than just seeing them in another location, through a screen. It hinders that a bit, but so far I’ve been managing and adapting to it, but I know it’s for the best in the end. When you came to Cornwall to study, did you feel out of place in any aspect? I did notice that there was a lack of diversity to a large extent, compared to where I came from, because I was coming from London, which is literally just like a melting pot of diversity. And even from that, coming from Zambia, where you see everyone who looks like you, so
coming here was like, not a shock per se, because in a way I had in the back of my mind that I sort of expected to find not that many black people, because we’re in such an obscure part of England. The southernmost tip of the country. So I did come with that at the back of my head, ‘how do I just prepare myself, get used to not seeing as many, you know, minorities or people of colour within this area.’ Especially because I heard a bit of the negative stories in terms of racism, not like attacks but verbal attacks of the few minorities that are here. Hearing those stories, were you worried about that before you came here? I felt it wouldn’t affect my academic work, but I thought it would in terms of, like, social wellbeing. Obviously you’re going to want to hang out with people who, uhm,
get you, who look like you, who you can relate to a lot more, because I for one am someone who has always thrived in diversity; not just being amongst black people, but for example people from Asia, South America, North America as well, so I’ve really thrived within diversity. That was a huge thing for me. So I’d say it was more on the social side, not on an academic side because I can still knuckle down, do my work properly, but when it comes to just like, you know, socialising and interacting with people, yeah, I’d say it did - I was worried it was going to affect me a bit, that I was going to be somewhat lonely in a way. Do you feel settled? How are you feeling with your bedroom slowly becoming your education space? So there’s seven of us in the flat. I feel I’ve settled quite well, I really get on with my flatmates, they’re really lovely people. Obviously coming here I knew there weren’t, or well, there was a lack of diversity, but everyone I’ve met, not just in my flat but around Glasney in general has been really nice. Even people on my course have been very lovely people, so I really do enjoy it. It’s just nice to learn from like, you know, them. And it’s not like they specifically all come from Cornwall, but they all do, like, come from the South West area, but they’re all unique individuals. I also have one flatmate who is from Italy but he’s from Hong Kong as well, so we do have a mixed bag which I really enjoy and they’re nice people.
Have you experienced any barriers within your education? I’d say that being here for four years has really changed my perception of how certain people interact with you based on where you’re from or your skin colour because obviously, coming from Zambia no one’s going to judge you for being like, you know, Zambian, because everyone else is Zambian, but coming here was quite a little bit of a challenge, especially adapting to how standard English people interact, because obviously the way that I talk, my influences are very different from their experiences, and I feel that because they didn’t really understand where I came from and why I talked the way I talked it sort of led to, you know, I wouldn’t say bullying but sort of small comments here and there, jokingly mocking or mockery I’d say. It really did cause me some self-esteem issues thinking that there was something wrong with the way that I was, with the way I look. Living in an African country, you’re not as prone to seeing racism, per se, for a young person like me, so I’ve come here where its predominantly white - especially because I went to a boarding school in Hertfordshire - so it was predominantly white and it was, it was challenging for me to try and adapt to fit their narrative for how I should act around them. At
the time that really did make me feel like I wasn’t good enough, like I was treated differently and excluded from different things because I wasn’t invited to parties, to get togethers. It was very hard to meet people - I only made like about three or four proper white English friends from my college, because I would usually just spend my time with other international students, with other boarders, because that’s where I felt we most got on. It wasn’t just me, there were other international boarders felt as well; that there was a sort of divide between day students, or you know British students, and like, international borders. We often felt that it wasn’t even always the students themselves, but the teachers and like the staff as well. They would always ask day students and then boarders as well, and we always thought, ‘well why do you have to separate us? We’re all in the same year at the end of the day so you don’t have to treat us as if we’re like different people’. I did just have to like, grind down, knuckle down and persevere through all of that. If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self? Would you change anything? I would tell him that life will throw any obstacles and challenges at you, but whatever happens, happens.
What’s important is that you muscle through them, you grind it out and overcome those challenges, because looking back you will wonder why it was so hard in the first place. What sort of career are you hoping to go into? I’m looking into doing more in terms of, like, finance, and that in itself encompasses various different things like insurance, wealth management, accounting, just trying to look more into the finance side. I’d just like to look into how money is made? Where is it stored? How is it grown? How it can be lost as well. Just in terms of managing money, because I’m always told the importance of being financially intelligent, managing your money efficiently and effectively. What does Black History Month mean to you? I feel like Black History Month is sort of like, a period of time to show Black people that the Africans that bore us as I like say, because we all originated from Africa, that our history hasn’t always been one of struggle and pain, that we have persevered, that we are innovators, we’re trendsetters. We are successful individuals. That we have had our pain in the past, but we have had many successes in the past. How we have changed, how our ideas, our inventions have changed the world. How people adopt those ideas, and use them in everyday life, just to show that in ourselves we have also shaped history and changed the course of time. I just wanted to show that we shouldn’t be ashamed of who we are; we should be proud, we should be within our skin colour. Interviewed and transcribed by Kira Orchard
COVID-19 has armoured us with an array of ways to communicate: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Facetime, the list is endless. Ayana tells me in and amongst a ten-minute long Whatsapp voice note that prior to her time at University, she had “never connected to herself as a black woman”. She takes me back to where she had been before: in white spaces, with no real true grasp of the implications and demands on her as a Black woman in a white world. I met Ayana Douglas for the first time at an African and Carribean Society event hosted sometime around the clock turning back, and the sun leaving us sooner, maybe sometime in early October, 2017. Here, we were all being reintroduced and introduced to faces we had seen around campus, and faces we had never seen before. There was jollof rice, fried rice, jerk chicken, singing, dancing, and here Ayana tells me that she had found herself in a room, in the civil parish and town, in West Cornwall, that reminded her of home; reminded her of “multicultural London”. From 2019-2020, home for Ayana was Grenoble, in the southeastern part of France, that sits at the foot of mountains, Ayana found herself studying and living. She expressed gratitude for the fortunate position that she found herself in: “there was an undertone of racism, but not regular blatant incidences of racism towards me”. It is important for me to know how society responds to me, she said, in order to relay how my experience differs from other people of colour. Her proximity to Britishness, coupled with her “lighter skin” meant that her treatment in the country was not as violent, “disgusting” and “filled with malice” than some of her peers. When Coronavirus arrived, she had been in Grenoble with her partner, a “young, Filipino-British male”. On a journey with her partner, the pair embraced in the intimacy of togetherness, young boys
spat racialised insults at her partner: “Ching-chong, Ching-chong, Ching-chong, China-man China-man China-man”. Ayana with a slightly more raised tone, laughs, angrily at the absurdity of this violent ignorance. She is confused, dumb-founded, and disarrayed at the evil inhereted by these children, I - don’t I - just don’t understand, she says through the phone. She denies centring herself, even when sharing her own account of racism in Grenoble. She knows that the absence of racism in her own life does not mean that racism simply ceases to exist, because “it does, that is a fact… it just is”. Ayana’s experience in Grenoble had been filled with an ease for the most part: her friendship group were predominantly international students. She did find herself one evening listening to a boy who asked whether the group wanted to hear a “racist joke”; the boy in question was Spanish. She strings together this joke told by this Spanish male, and the punchline is violence towards darker skinned Black people. Here, she talks with this authority and understanding of her identity. As a lighter skinned woman, and one with a British accent that became much stronger once in Grenoble, she simply put, “did not face as much violence and aggression as a darker skinned Black person would”. Ayana defines colourism. Then acknowledges how she benefits from it. Racism exists: it is degrading, demoralising, debilitating, destabilising, dirty. We know this. We fail ourselves when we pretend it does not. Even though she had not experienced much overt racism (covert racism is still racism), she was around people from the colonies who were treated like they were sub-human. Ayana developed a friendship with a man from the Democractic Republic of Congo - when travelling to meet up with a friend, this man was stopped for an hour
and a half by officers. His documents were checked, checked, and then checked again. He was then told to phone the friend he was meeting up with to confirm the reason for his travel. The officers antagonised this man, and threw his documents to the floor - as if they were unimportant, as if HE were unimportant. He was a target because of his dark skin, and his African accent. For Ayana, who spent some years of her life in Canada, most years in the United Kingdom, she found that she was clinging onto her British sounding voice because that in and of itself was some form of protection. Almost as if the country was telling her, you sound British, so you are British, therefore, you are welcome, welcome to stay! However, Britishness and her light skin meant that although she experienced less instances of overt racism, this did not remove her from experiencing an instant with racism that
brought her to tears. A sea of white women flooded the toilets of a Grenoble nightclub: these women did not pay to use the toilet. Ayana followed the wave of women, on her quest to find a free cubicle and was stopped. She was accused of “trying to use the club toilets without paying”. Outside the club with her partner, she cried. A Black woman said to her “do not get upset about the things that you cannot change, this is what you must expect from the country”. She had been living in Grenoble for longer than Ayana, and so survival for her looked like accepting the “unchangeable”. This Black woman gave this advice knowing that racism can easily ruin your night, but suggested that she must try to not let racism rob her of her own joy. Ayana recalls this experience and relays to me that “as a Black person, a Black woman, people examine your worth to them based on fixed, reasoned conditions: wealth, beauty, accent, origin, it’s not right”.
“As a Black person, a Black woman, people examine your worth to them based on fixed, reasoned conditions: wealth, beauty, accent, origin, it’s not right”
She learns of her race and identity through the limitations, expectations and assumptions people imposed on her. Ending where we started: Ayana is back in a room, with members of ACS turned friends. Here and now, she is surrounded by individuals who affirm her, people who “look at you for you”, people who do not “expect you to be feisty or sassy”, people who know how “emotionally taxing and exhausting being hyper-aware of your identity can be”. In the final few moments of the last eight minute voice note, she acknowledges that the world views her as “a light skinned Black woman”, and “the way she views herself as a human has changed” since Secondary School. She “understands” how other people see her and is “yet to find out” whether this self-surveillance is “a good or a bad thing”. These final words rang in my ears for moments after the voicenote ended: “A good or a bad thing”, I muttered to myself. Ayana expresses a continuation. Her inquiry into her identity and self did not end when the voicenote did. She moves forward in her understanding of self, creeping diligently towards the unknown. Chiamaka Okafor
Why a History degree specifically? I kind of blame it on my A-Level teachers, to be honest. I always liked History, and so I did it for my A-Level, and I did really well in my AS exam. They were all like “Ooh, yeah, this History stuff, you’re really good at it” so I was like, “Yeah, you know what, since you guys think I’m so good at it.” It’s a subject that gives you a lot of options career-wise. I’m thinking of doing law after graduation. Funnily enough, History didn’t even end up being my best grade! But I like it here, my lecturers are really good, I’m glad I came here.
tional student. Sometimes that surprises people, but mostly I think people can tell that I am international. They usually say my accent is just slightly off. I don’t sound 100% British all the time, so I tell them where I’m from, and they’re like “Ah, that makes sense.” What does Black History Month mean to you? I guess, for most of my life, it didn’t really mean much. In Africa, nobody talks about it because it’s everyone’s history. When I was in boarding school and we had Black History Month, I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” I think it is more important for people of colour in the West, like here and in the US. I find people here are ignorant, but that they are not really malicious, so it’s good for them to hear about it. It’s important to recognise that the Black experience can be really hard, and getting people to talk about it.
“Our generation is really
standing up for what they believe in, and it is a really awesome thing to see.”
Cornwall isn’t the most diverse place in the world. Is that something that bothers you? I mean, it never really phased me. I live in Nigeria when I’m not at school or university, but I’ve spent a long time in England. I had been to boarding school here for five years before I started university, since I was thirteen. In my boarding school, there was a little diversity but it was still seventy-five per cent white, so not a crazy amount. I am used to it now, it’s like, whatever. I kind of expected a lack of diversity moving down here. Something that did surprise me is that I expected
more international people, not necessarily more Black people, but more non-British people. There is only one other international student on my course. You mentioned you live in Nigeria outside of term time. Were you born there? I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and lived there all my life until we moved to the capital about four years ago. I still say that I live there, I consider that my home. Even though I sound British, I am still an interna-
If you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would you say? I was way too proud of myself as a child. I would tell him, “Some stuff happens, it’s not the end of the world, you just continue.” And I’d tell him to read up more, I
used to do that a lot, and I don’t anymore! But yeah, I would say “Dude, you’ve got to keep educating yourself, you’ve got a lot to learn.” I would tell him to speak up more, stand up for himself more. When I came here, I was really timid. God, I was so weird. But that is what I’d tell him.
Black African person. It has been the year of a virus, but it’s also been a year of protests. My brother goes to university in America, and he has been in America this whole time. And I have been worrying about him with the Black Lives Matter protests going on. I really support that cause, because even though Nigeria was a British colony, our culture is very influenced by America. We have quite a federalist system. I had been to England a lot growing up, but as a kid I was like, “Woah, America is sick!” - so seeing what they’ve been going through this year has been really hard. I try to stay on-top of learning about it, because when it comes up in conversation, I feel like as a person of colour I have to be the advocate for it. I know people are going to ask me, “How do you feel about it?” So I try to educate them on it, show them why it’s important. As a Nigerian, looking at the SARS protests going on back home now has been really hard too. I want to highlight that, because for me, it has been crazy, actually insane. When you are in Nigeria you don’t really think about things, you just accept police corruption as the norm. You are like “Oh, it just happens”, you know? But now people are talking about it like “Wow, that’s crazy, that’s not right” and people in Nigeria are starting to go “You are right, that is crazy.” This is why stuff like this is so important, because this year has been hard. For everybody, yeah, but especially people of colour. It is why I support these protests, they’re so important. It must be incredibly stressful to be watching, from the UK, things happening at home to places and people you know. Yeah, it has been weird watching from afar. When I was watching the US protests, I related, but not to the same level I do now watching it happen at home. These are places I know and places I have been to. I really understand what is happening because, if you ask any Nigerian kid if they’ve been stopped by the police, they’ll tell you yeah. It’s weird because it’s happening to my generation, my peers it’s happening to. But I am glad that we’re standing up, that we’re doing something about it. People speaking up are so super brave. I really admire them. Our generation is really standing up for what they believe in, and it is a really awesome thing to see. I think that is going to be our generational mark on the wall. We are a very angry generation, but we have the right to be angry. Interviewed and transcribed by Charlie Todd Halfhide
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about? I want to talk about this year. I think this year has been especially turbulent, especially experiencing it as a
AFTERWORD Blackness is real. It’s rare. It’s been through struggle, pain, and turmoil. Discrimination, abuse, and hate. Yet it’s beautiful, resilient, and special. The colour of our skin is nothing to be afraid of or have preconceptions of. Rather, the colour of our skin should be celebrated and accepted. There’s so much to celebrate black people for. Our intellect, contributions to the music and entertainment industry, tasty food, and just great vibes. Hence, Black History Month is a time to celebrate African diaspora. A time to come together and say we are proud of who we are as a people. A reminder of our duty to be great. It reminds us of the struggles we’ve overcome, and highlights struggles we still have to conquer. To recognise heroes that look exactly like me: Mary Seacole Malcom X Martin Luther King Oprah Winfrey Rosa Parks Charles Drew Lewis Latimer Our Black medical practitioners who sacrificed and worked tirelessly to see this nation healthy throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. You are now part of our Black History we will never forget and always be beholden for. And many more of our Black Heroes who are hidden away from the public sphere and are not acknowledged for their achievements and how they contributed towards society today. Let us get to know our Black Heroes and give them the credit they so rightfully deserve.
This year has shown us what being black really means, it has forced many to see the reality of racism in all its guises. From Black people dying disproportionately in the pandemic, to the horrific murder of George Floyd and no justice for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency medical worker killed by police in her own home. This has meant many people have gone into Black History Month, more mindful and open to knowing what our forefathers went through to get us here today, which is a significant improvement from what we have seen in previous years. Black History Month is also a time to reflect on how we can create more justice in our daily lives and institutions. How can we help schools become places in which all the students we serve, especially Black British students, thrive? How can we make sure that all families, especially those from African backgrounds, feel welcome in our classrooms and buildings? How can we support educators from all racial backgrounds in developing their personal knowledge and awareness of the contributions of Black Britons so that they can teach the diverse students they serve more accurately? How can we create office environments in which every employee regardless of race their contributions are valued? How can we ensure our curriculum encompasses history and perspectives which have come from the Global South rather than always acknowledging western and Eurocentric perspectives? These questions are important because the success of higher education and the strength of our democracy depends on it being as diverse as it can be. More of these questions are getting answered. This has been evident in the student led ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ Project which took place this year. It focussed on examining the ways in which the Politics Course, at the University of Exeter (Cornwall), could be decolonised. This includes acknowledging the curriculum is overwhelmingly Eurocentric and dominated by white scholarship leading to the potential exclusion of BAME students on account of their race, background, and experience. Additionally, the Politics Department even went the extra mile by dedicating our first week back at university to talking about how ‘We Can Build and Anti – Racist Classroom’. This involved; learning about Identity and Diversity In Cornwall, Black Lives Activism in Cornwall, ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ Policies and Initiatives at the University of Exeter as well as having thought provoking discussions on white privilege and equality in the classroom. These discussions challenge our biases, stereotypes, and relationships across racial differences.
This is what Black History Month is about, to have difficult conversations, to break the barriers and the
cycle of anxiously talking about race. Having these conversations more often so it no longer becomes an uncomfortable experience. Asking more questions and educating oneself, so the leaders of tomorrow can create a society in which equity, inclusion, and social justice are at the forefront. As a black woman, Black history month reinforces that I can do, I can be, and I can achieve anything that I put my mind to, just like our ancestors did and just as the people after me will do. Black History month will always remain relevant to British society because a lot of British society is composed of culture, food and music which have come from black people. When you cut out the negative stereotypes that have been put on black people and view us as imperfect individuals and not by colour, just as anyone else, we are taking a step forward to justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. said “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” So let’s keep thriving, keep celebrating, keep educated, keep loving and keep going because better days are coming. Sharlene Asmah
Chiamaka Okafor Charlie Todd Halfhide Kira Orchard Jack Wilkins Albert Duker
Lead Graphic Designer
Graphic Designers Photographer
Diana Florea Kai Greet ÂŠ Julia Wrzesinska / ÂŠ Mayn Creative
Thank you to all the following for their essential contribution to this Volume: Lily Mary-Cox Jonathan Pontes-Betu Leanne Dennis Sharon Opare Joshua Ordu Peters Abiemwense Aimiuwu Jo Anderson Fatuma Mohamud Chikoye Kasolo Ayana Douglas Hambali Dikko Sharlene Asmah Special thank you to the Falmouth & Exeter ACS, and Mayn Creative. Without their support and advice, this issue would not be possible. Please check out our Podcast and other Media which can be found on: Instagram: @su.voices Facebook: SUVoices www.thesu.org.uk/organisation/voices/
Voices Thirteenth edition and first of the academic year. Themes explored include, black joy, wellbeing and living in places with little div...
Published on Nov 21, 2020
Voices Thirteenth edition and first of the academic year. Themes explored include, black joy, wellbeing and living in places with little div...