DON’T FORGET TO SMILE

I am about 13/14 year old. The photo was from 2007/08, and I had the distinct feeling when I posted it that was someone was to see through the fun, friendly caption I had put on it and see the deep, deep, sadness on my face. My little brown face is amongst a crowd of around twenty others. It’s not just the colour of my skin that separates me, but I can see now as I could feel on the day I didn’t really know how to smile. I had forgotten how to smile. I have posted about it before, but that was the first time I had begun to experience real, brutal racism at the hands of my peers. Around the time that photo was taken, I used to go to the ‘Gondor Steps’, which was in Wigan Park. Every Saturday and Sunday, ‘scene kids’ would gather there and drink vodkat with a fizzy drink or cider from the bottle. It was hilarious! And people seemed to like me and find me funny. They liked my clothes, liked my hair. I think at one point, I had begun to become too well known – I had become conspicuous – and that had attracted the wrong attention. I was walking a friend called Nathalie up the steps and going along a path covered by trees to join some friends. A group of kids began to sing a song. The song went like this: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, YOU BLACK BASTARD.” Nathalie and I weren’t deaf and had both heard it, but what did we do? The chill settled in our stomachs and we smiled and carried on our conversation, as though nothing had happened. We never spoke about it. The racism I experienced was never a topic of conversation, and it was an unspoken rule. As I mentioned, I had a lot of friends, and loved running up to them and giving them hugs. I saw a friend arrive in the park one Sunday and ran down to meet them. The patter of my Converse shoes slapping on the concrete was accented with a boy shouting “RUN NIGGER, RUN NIGGER, RUN!” The chill came, and I carried on running, smiling and hugged my friend, like nothing had happened. There was a boy who was mean to me, and I didn’t really know why. One time later in the day, he asked me to come over. I bounced over to him unassumingly, excited to find out why he’d called me over. He said he wanted to give me a hug, so I lent over and hugged him. He pulled my jeans down and laughed, asking: “Am I white trash?” I didn’t know what else to say to him other than: “Why are you being so mean to me?” but inside, I was comforted he’d chosen not to call me a nigger and he’d used an insulting term to describe himself. One memory that jumps out as I’m typing this is going down the escalators in the GA shopping centre, and a boy I had never spoken to before going the opposite way shouting in my face: “NIGGER!” I think in this school photo, I had forgotten to smile because I didn’t think I deserved to smile. I was a nigger, an ugly nigger. Of course I was ugly, otherwise why would the say it? I’d look on MySpace and the look of the time was to have pale skin and black, straightened hair. I couldn’t have that, and felt terminally culpable for it. On visits to my grandma’s house, I’d go into her makeup basket and steal her foundation and concealer, patting it into my skin so I could be white. I remember going into my dad’s room when he was watching Omega Man. The lead actress had an afro, and I felt pang of shame that I had the same hair as her. That I was as black as her. That I was a nigger, like her.

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