Words by Adina Savannah
What lies beneath the promise of an elite education, small class sizes and highbrow class mates is the plight of the black child in those spaces. Due to social economic realities, a private education is not always accessible to a more diverse clientele, namely, the black parent. Yes, I am thankful for my parents sacrifice and the fruits of that educational experience, but I felt that I was thrust into an institution that mimicked corporate white London at the age of 11. From the first house tour at a peers house to the uncomfortable inquest into why I didn’t sound black enough, I felt on display.
My private school was in the heart of multi-cultural South West London, where private schools were few and far between. To that effect, we remained a mystery, us private school children. Any functions I ventured to on the weekends in my area, I felt ashamed. Ashamed at the mention of my schools name, there was a look of confusion, then a chime “it’s that private school” from a voice in the back. To which I was greeted by an onslaught of questions around whether I had my own horse. This usually preempted questions around why I talk so white and therefore want to be a white woman. That feeling of not being black enough was in direct conjunction with my black celebrity status at school. I was the black insider, in possession of all the latest black knowledge, trends and of course dance routines. At their functions, I was accepted, as somewhat of a cool asset, again a rap lyricist, executive Nicki Minaj at Halloween and weed contact.
Amongst the white friends that I made, I remained somewhat of an outsider. Although I could be involved, grow friendships, they always seemed to lack a want to understand the complexities of my position there. I was constantly in all white spaces for their events, but at the mention of Notting Hill Carnival, I was greeted with suspicion and a debilitating fear of being “the only white girl there”. I was the funny black girl, undesirable to the white private school boys we would hang around with, but my reality was invisible. I was in complete confusion, I was always uncomfortable, but were feelings were not valued enough to indulge me on this one occasion.
I believe that my experience in the private education system was invaluable to my progression as a young woman. It was juvenile of me to focus, at times, on my difference as a minority. As I was not considering the matter eclectically. I believe that as black parents and student we should embrace these more traditional white spaces and learn to navigate them from these early ages. This is the system we must operate in within this country and our comfort-ability with that is important.
The opportunities a paid education leaves you privy to cannot be denied and helps equip you with many of the skills of a coherent professional in whatever you want to do. We, myself included cannot expect full social inclusion and a wealth of understanding without a strong presence and rising voice in these institutions. I learned that blackness cannot be proven, should not be tested and cannot be defined by criteria. Especially that of how you have been educated, how you speak or where you are from. None of these things are indicative of what you stand for as a person who is proud of their heritage.
You are an individual before any category society has imposed on us to dictate social order. My white counterparts do not debate and prove their whiteness and what constitutes it. Ownership of my difference in school was life-changing and an honest representation of where we are in some aspects of society. In Britain, even the melting pot London is, as a second generation Jamaican immigrant, I am in the minority
That is a power, but not everything I am, or want to be. Ignorance goes both ways and by educating ourselves of other walks of life within every race society can only improve. By doing so, our presence can grow in all institutions. The constant scramble to qualify who you are within racial confides erodes the growth and acceptance we all want.