Rejecting Racism: 'English is my first language’

Check in on your friends of colour, make sure they are OK, that their mental health is alright, says UCC student IMASHA COSTA, Arts and Literature Editor of the University Express, as she contributes to our Rejecting Racism series
Rejecting Racism: 'English is my first language’

Imasha Costa Arts and Literature Editor at University Express. She is going into 2nd year of Arts, studying English and French at UCC.

THERE is something that bothers me personally when I have to hear people — especially those who are white — go on about how they should stand up for what is actually right, be an ally to a person of colour, to those who are not ‘fortunate’ enough to be light-skinned.

Growing up in a country where thousands of expatriates lived, worked, or studied, I still had to worry about the colour of my skin, that I was different, that maybe I was not as beautiful as those who were light skinned. It consumed me every day, the fact that I was different, that I was not the same, that I was not equal.

It bothers me that no matter how many people put up shared infographics on their stories on Instagram or Facebook, it does not cover how people of colour actually feel.

Ever since I moved to Ireland, moved to Cork city, I always get asked one question that leads to a series of exhausting, time-consuming questions. This not only happens when I have conversations with customers at work, but also when I go for a night out with the girls in a pub.

˜How is your English so good?”

“English is my first language; I went to a British curriculum- led school.”

“But how did it get really good?”

“English is not the only language I have to practice in, I spoke two other languages at home as well, Sinhalese and Hindi, but I am happy that you think I speak really good English, thank you.”

“You’ve only been in Cork for a year? You’ve picked up the language so well!”

“Like I said, English is my first language.”

I do not have to answer the questions that one may think are curious, but to myself, are offensive. However, I choose to answer them so that I can educate one that not only English-speaking countries have the ability to speak good English.

It bothers me that one would think that we, people of colour, are inadequate.

It bothers me that people, on a daily basis post on their Instagram stories about racism, and how to educate others as well as yourself to be better. As a person of colour, I find it hard to come across it on my stories every single day. I understand that they are only trying to help, but it is a constant reminder to show us that racism is still there in this world, that in the 21st century it has not stopped.

It has gotten to a point where I have stopped putting them up on my stories, and stopped going onto my socials as they consume my mental health most of the time. I understand that they are trying to help, but it is a constant reminder for myself, personally.

I have had my few shares of racist encounters, where people treat you as a specimen, something exotic that they have never seen before. I recall instances when I have been at pubs, sessions, where people keep calling me “exotic”, “beautiful for a brown girl”, treating me as if I was a caged animal in a zoo, something that they could taunt and stare at constantly. I hate how I could not defend myself in those moments and that I had to wait for someone who was white to stand up for me and say, “you can talk about anything except her race”. I hate how terrified I get every time because I do not know what to do. I hate that I freeze up and am unable to stand up for my own skin colour, my own race and have to wait and see if someone holding that “white privilege” would stand up for me.

It took the cruel murder of George Floyd to spark up the movement, of the realisation that BlackLivesMatter — that every single person of colour should be treated equally, like any other regular human being. It took these protests to highlight the racism that is happening here in Ireland, due to the ignorance of the people. It is still happening, it may be dying down to the recognition of ignorance within those who understood that they had the wrong ideology, but racism is still happening.

Check in on your friends of colour, make sure that they are doing OK, make sure that they are keeping well; check on their mental health, after all it is them that are being affected at the end of the day.

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