[Bryony Wharfe | Contributing Writer]
The kids shout her name as she enters the classroom and they all run over stroking her braids. I’m in a small village near the Andes in Peru with some University of Hertfordshire students on a volunteering trip, and the children are all in love with this one girl, Vicky, a black girl. They ask about her braids and why she’s got black skin in Spanish, and our translator explains to us that they’ve probably rarely or never seen a person of black skin. Vicky laughs and explains her origins, and it’s reported back in Spanish with the children listening carefully.
They probably don’t know about the slavery of Africans from 1619-1865 in a country above them, or that #BlackLivesMatter has become something people are dying for. They’re just children, children who haven’t been poisoned to think what children in the United States or Britain think. Their attitude isn’t clouded by their peers; they’re pure and innocent.
This wasn’t the first time we saw a different kind of approach towards Vicky in Peru, as soon as we landed in Lima before we set off for the little village, people were staring at her walking down the street. Not the kind of staring that may go down between the policemen and black people of the US, the complete opposite. It was as if she was the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen, men, women and children all gazed as if she was famous. Some men would walk by and say “chocolate” (pronounced chocola-tay) towards her in some sexual way, but the whole experience was funny and relaxing more than creepy.
Imagine living your life where racism is expressed towards you because of the colour of your skin, where undertones of adverts and in between the lines of jokes are aimed to bring you down and create you to be less of a person than someone with lighter skin. Then to travel to a county where that type of fear and hate doesn’t exist, where you’re worshipped more than surrounded by racial slurs.
These children and adults didn’t view her as a stereotype, or view the white people, including me, and any other skin colours in our group as anything negative either.
In their eyes, we were just a bunch of stupid tourists who didn’t speak any Spanish. What this showed to us, more than any book, TV programme or news show, Tumblr or even Facebook post could show us, is that you’re not born with racism built inside of you. It’s not an innate thing you grow up to feed and unleash onto everyone you meet. It’s taught. By parents, friends, the media and society.
In Britain, we are fed these undertones in everything we see. A black man will rob a bank and his picture on the front of the newspaper will look menacing, and will comment on how he’s been convicted 11 times before. A white man will rob a bank, and his picture will be a nice facebook smile, and how he was a popular boy at school who was top of his class in athletics. Then we’re fed this over and over again until we have this stereotype carved into our brains that “black people are worse than white people.” You can stand there and say “I’m not racist,” but I assure you that nine out of ten people who say that will be more scared of a black man coming towards you than a white.
It’s not only for men either; black women also have this stereotype and with the lack of sexual equality for females, imagine being feared and hated because of your gender and the colour of your skin.
A paper published in the 2013 Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience studied whether racism was natural or learnt in children. What they found was that race isn’t even present in childhood, to the children they studied, someone with friends saw their friends as just that, friends. Only those around the age of 14 would see any difference and show any racism. It also correlated these results alongside the children having a wide and narrow diversity of friends, and their parents’ influence. All leading to the same result that racism is a learnt thing.
The main point that I’m trying to get across is that we can do better. All the hate towards a person’s skin colour, where they’re born, what religion they follow or just who they are, is taught and can be untaught. You’ve just got to want to change it. You’ve got to look past the lies that you’re fed and say “no”. “No, I don’t want to be apart of this anymore.” Be like the children in Peru and children all over the world and stop seeing race as something negative. In fact, stop seeing race altogether. We are all human, and that’s all we need to be.