27th October 2021

Under the shadow of privilege

This study has been specifically written to coincide with Black History Month and relates Maureen’s personal experiences of being a black person in the UK and her hopes for the future.

Living under the shadow of someone else’s privilege: someone compared this to being a left- handed person in a right-handed world that neither sees nor caters for your needs.

Growing up in Britain as a black child I recall my dad telling me of his housing struggles when he first came to this country and my mother telling me how, when she worked as a nurse, some patients refused to have assistance from her because of the colour of her skin.

I recall watching programmes on television that didn’t feature people who looked like me. If a black person did appear in a film we always knew, as a family, that he’d be the first to die (he always was). Adverts for products didn’t cater for my complexion or hair type. I was subjected to phrases about ‘skin colour’ bras that were ‘pink’, ‘white-knuckle rides’, and ‘blushes’, terms that bore no resemblance to me. I was invisible, hidden in plain view. The actress Bo Derek was said to be the first woman to wear braids, when black women were the originators way before Bo was born.

How I was perceived at school was revealed when I was accused of taking a white girl’s 2p piece. The white teacher gave my money to the other girl, only returning it when she learnt the pupil had lied. I hadn’t been listened to.

I loved art at school and one day, when I was 8 years old, I brought in my drawing of the Lord’s supper. My white teacher didn’t believe I had drawn it. I was taken to the Head, and he didn’t believe me either. I was given a large piece of paper, sat in the middle of the massive school hall, visible to everyone, and told to draw it again. I did, proving the first one was mine. I don’t recall getting an apology.

When shopping I felt I sometimes had a bodyguard; in reality it was security profiling me. Imagine constantly trying to make it obvious your intentions are legitimate. A college memory that stands out was when a teacher lowered my mark on a writing piece claiming it sounded like a book she’d read by some author. Imagine that, not being fully credited for having written your own work.

I lost a job as a bar supervisor after highlighting issues, to the white manager, of unhygienic practices in the preparation of sandwiches. In his eyes I had overstepped my position – it reminded me of the movie The King and I, when the king of Siam entered the room and all his subjects had to bow, and none could be higher than he was.  

How have I survived? Maya Angelou, poet and civil rights activist, talks about wearing a mask that hides pains, frustrations, and scars endured through life. Many black people have worn masks in the hope that someone would care enough to look behind; when the mask is lifted we pray that this is the time to truly breathe.

I long for all people to be what the younger generation term ‘woke’: a state of mind that is aware and discerning. I yearn to see a mind shift.

Here’s my shopping list:-

White people learning about black people’s contribution to British history.
White people really listening, mingling and socialising with black people.
White people watching black movies.
White people familiarising themselves with the struggle of a black person without trying to justify, excuse or trivialise it as something easy to get over.
Empathy and compassion to be not just stated, but genuinely felt.

I praise God that my life experience has enabled me to focus on being better, not bitter. I can’t clean up other people’s mess, only my own, in the hope that they, like me, are fully invested in a better, more spiritual life, now and in the future.

Study by Maureen Watson

About the writer:
Maureen Watson is a Minister in the Birmingham congregation of Grace Communion International, and also serves on
the Pastoral Council.

Local congregation:
Gracecom Birmingham
All Saints Church
George Road
B23 7QB

Meeting time:
Saturday 1:00pm

Local congregational contact:
David Gibbs
Email: birmingham@gracecom.church

Word of Life contact: