A powerful, first-person account of what it's like growing up black in an institutionally racist society


By Hope Leslie / 9 June 2020


Illustration by @periclesarts

I’ve always had to stand up for myself, from the day I was born.

In primary school, a boy told me the colour of my skin looked like poo. I marched myself over to the Headmistress’s office - alone.

In secondary school, I had to educate my friend on why she couldn’t refer to me as ‘half-caste’.

In sixth form, someone called me a ‘slave’. I had to repeatedly email and pester the heads of the school to do something - anything! My white peers' ‘outrage’ extended as far as their sympathy could take them.

There have been times where I’ve remained silent because sometimes it is exhausting to be the only one who speaks, who educates, who advocates.

I remained silent after I politely asked a boy to not sing the N-word, to which he responded by obnoxiously screeching the word in my face. I remained silent because, according to my friends, 'he can say stupid things sometimes, but he’s actually a good guy'.

I remained silent when I would wear my natural hair, and people would approach me and touch it because it is so ‘puffy’.

I remained silent at a gathering with the white side of my family, when a family member joked that my mum had ‘jungle fever’ due to her taste in men.

I remained silent when my mum stated that she ‘cannot provide me with the tools to help me cope with my colour because it’s not something she has experienced.’

Throughout my life, I have learnt that if I don't bring up ‘race’ in a room full of white people, no one will.

I have also learnt that you can’t bring it up too many times because it makes them "uncomfortable". I have learnt that when you do bring it up, you need to be prepared to give a full history lesson to get white people up to speed. And I have learnt, the hard way, that the moment you open your mouth you become tokenised. A speaker for all black people across the globe. A stereotype - an angry black woman.

Growing up in a predominantly white area, attending an extremely white private school and belonging to a white family, I have observed and lived in a world that doesn’t feel the need to acknowledge race, and why would it? Why would you feel the need to discuss your own racial privilege when there are only white people in your social circles? Why would you feel the need to question the way you teach the curriculum to your white pupils? Why would you feel the need to have an honest conversation about race, when everyone in the room is white?

This is the definition of white privilege. When you don’t have to engage with race because it doesn’t directly affect you or impact your life. This is why people in this country choose to ignore or deny racism in the UK because you have the privilege of ‘choosing’ whether or not to engage in the first place. For me, I did not choose to engage in the conversation. I was forced into it the moment I realised my skin was different from everyone else's.


I am writing this on the 7th of June 2020. I have been protesting during a pandemic. I look on social media, and race is trending. I am exhausted, and up until today, I have felt completely numb.

People I went to school with, whose obliviousness to race caused me to feel uncomfortable in my own skin, are posting black squares on their Instagram and quotes about white privilege. A selfish part of me thinks ‘where was this attitude when I needed it?’ I think this is just my reaction to what feels like genuine change. When you spend years shouting and screaming to people who won’t listen, it is a surreal moment when they finally do. Like when everyone starts liking a band, but you knew them before they were famous. Petty, I know.

I know that white people aren’t going to revolutionise their perspective on race due to the micro aggressions I have experienced. However, the situation in America has entered onto a global consciousness and rightly so. The problem of police brutality in the US is a violation of basic human rights, and it should outrage everyone.

The BLM protests taking place in the UK are a show of solidarity with the protestors in the US. It is imperative that we acknowledge that this is a protest against racism in the UK. The UK is not innocent. Please, everyone, do your research. There are countless documentaries available on Netflix, there are books you can read, podcasts you can listen to - there really is no excuse.

I am anxious that when this all ‘blows over’ that white people will disengage from the conversation, because, like I said, when race isn’t in your face, do you really feel the need to discuss it?

I hope that I’m proved wrong. 2020 has finally awoken the world to that fact that it is not enough to not be racist, you have to be anti-racist. I urge white people to advocate for black people. I urge white people to educate your family members. Remaining silent will only perpetuate the racist issues we have in our society, you must speak out and use your voice - white silence is violence.

Illustration by


Words by

Share this article