No matter how ‘woke’ your friends are they’re still ignorant and they can’t help it (you’re probably ignorant too and that’s okay).
Now let’s make this clear, I’m not attempting to romanticise or glamourize ignorance, but rather suggest that we have all been ignorant and we will all continue to be ignorant. Don’t worry, it isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s something to be aware of – acknowledge and rectify. So, slow down to those of you who think this will in anyway absolve your soiled ways of thinking which you allow to remain unchanged.
So, let’s start it off, have you ever had an awkward encounter with your pals and realised for the first time that your blackness or ‘otherness’ made them feel uncomfortable? Not overtly uncomfortable, but uncomfortable in a nuanced way – a way that highlights itself in different upbringings, cultures and customs. Something that seems so familiar to you, something that has been moulded into the fabric of your identity appears so absurd to them – yet their reality is also familiar to you. This double consciousness resulting in an assimilation into a culture you don’t necessarily align with, but identity with in order to fit in. It’s upsetting at first because you realise that their ‘wokeness’ isn’t as holistic as you thought, it doesn’t include conflicting cultural upbringings. If your answer is yes, to that I say welcome to the world of ignorance! Enter it with open arms and anticipation.
This culture clash became ever the more apparent to me when I entered the world of the university. The world where experience was appropriated, the working-class experience and the experience of young black boys in inner city London. The world where the topic of race was being dominated by white class mates. The world where talks regarding trans identification were being dominated by white men and where narratives pertaining to black life were being shaped by non-black people. The clash is difficult when your voice isn’t loud enough in comparison to the majority and being the only person of colour makes you an automatic representative. This is overwhelming when you realise the significance of your voice in communicating the perspectives of those who look like you, what if you say the wrong thing and potentially misrepresent your community? Is there a space for you and people who look like you to be ignorant, to not know? I don’t have the answer to this question.
I came from this liberal bubble in London and thought that moving to Brighton would be more or less the same but I was wrong, so so wrong. From various encounters during my first term I realised that simply existing required a lot of active energy which was exhausting. At first, I thought I could pretend and ignore the absurd comments that drunk people made on nights out, but I soon realised that ignoring the clash wouldn’t help and would only increase the depth of ignorance some people had (a surprising amount might I say). I worried though that to mention this clash would create this awkward, uneasy fragrance which would perhaps linger during all future encounters. They would become more cautious – not due to sensitivity but rather a fear of falling out of line – a fear that this pretence of political correctness, a performance, might just be exposed.
I don’t have any answers, but I realise that self-reflection is probably a good way to start. I think we can firstly start by addressing this concept of political correctness – it assumes that you know everything, never fall out of line, never have any missteps. It acts as a performative way of speaking and thinking, it becomes this perfect façade that no one is able to adhere to. To those who think I’m slating political correctness, again this isn’t for you. Political correctness is significant in acknowledging those who are often marginalised and holding those who abuse their power to account, but I think it fails to see that ignorance is innate and isn’t always a bad thing. It often arises from sets of unique individual experiences and limited encounters; however, the beauty is that we can learn!
Think about your encounters, could they have left someone feeling like an outsider for simply being who they are – a culmination of a unique history, shaped by culture, heritage, age, environment and so forth. If there is even the slightest possibility that this answer is yes rectify your behaviour, stance or even attitude. Don’t jump down people’s throats if their life experience differs ever so slightly from yours, remember that there is a world that exists outside of our narrow life experiences. So to put it simply if you spot ignorance, check it.
Written by Gloria Olajide