The Only One in the Room
Hi I’m Renée, I am 23 years old and I live in Manchester. I work as a secondary school teacher at an all-girls school teaching social science and humanities. I was so honoured when I was approached by Wedzera to write this think piece; I am a teacher but by no means a writer, nevertheless I hope whoever reads this, whether you are white or BAME, finds some clarity, further understanding and/ or relatability in my thoughts.
When I was 14 years old, my mum took me into her hairdressers and asked if they would be able to do my hair, they sat me down, touched my hair and looked at it as if it was some foreign entity that they had never come across. “I’m not going to be able to do this; you’d have to get an appointment with the person who knows how to do your sort of hair.” I felt so out of place, so embarrassed; I felt guilty, almost stupid in thinking that a high-end hairdresser would be able to do my type of hair that’s a stupid statement in itself right? Growing up in a predominantly white area, made me feel as though I was always an inconvenience, that I had to apologise for the colour of my skin and that I had to “blend in” as much as possible. My mum is White British, and my Dad is Black Caribbean; but there have been countless times where I feel that only one half of my heritage is truly represented, truly accepted and truly considered to be “normal.” I have very few black friends, which equates to very few people understanding how I feel. “You’re so white Renée!”, “you don’t act like a black person”, “I forget you’re black sometimes”, “can you tan?” All comments brushed off with a shaky laugh or a simple answer because God forbid you mention that you are offended. For years I apologised for being the only black person in the room, I ignored the looks of shock on people’s faces when I shouted “mummy” and a white woman responded; I ignored the stares my family and I would get when we walked down the streets of our white neighbourhood and I started to convince myself that I needed to look and act “whiter” in order to be accepted into society.
So, what changed?
On May 25th, 2020, the world witnessed yet another brutal killing of a human being because of the colour of his skin; this triggered something in all of us and I, along with so many others said enough is enough, this ends now. My silence no longer exists because I now know what it truly feels like to fight for something you believe in so fiercely; the fear of being judged, being ignored, being ridiculed, it completely vanishes, because you know deep down that what you are fighting for is the right thing. To my white friends who are making a conscious effort to educate themselves and speak out in support of the cause, I thank you, you are actively becoming a part of the change. To my other “friends” who remain silent, who have not done something as small as texting me to say “hey girl I hope you’re okay,” I hope this encourages you to take the time to quietly educate yourselves on the BLM movement because it isn’t too late. I know that we have a long way to go, I know that I will continue to face micro-aggressions on a daily basis and that racism, something that is so deeply rooted in our society will most definitely not disappear overnight. But if we keep the conversation going, if we listen to people’s experiences and struggles and continue to educate ourselves, change will come, change must come. I think back to that 14-year-old girl in the hairdresser’s chair and I tell her that she is perfect and that she will become so proud to be a person of colour. I know I will continue to remain one of the only black people in the room, but I am proud to be in this skin and I will never apologise for being so.
– Renée Leach
- Name: Renée Leach
- Age: 23
- Location: Manchester, UK
- Industry: Education
- Heritage: Caribbean and White British
- What does being Black mean to you? It means that I am unapologetically proud of the skin I am in; it means total self-love and keeping my afro kinky little head held high!