Between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, I did a lot of stuff that keeps my brain beating itself up over to this day. I used homophobic, racist, ableist and overall offensive words and phrases, trying to be as outrageous as possible for the sake of what I would’ve called, then, “humour”. I would go online in chat rooms and throw the slurs around without care or thought, excited by the attention it gave me when others responded in shocked response. It wasn’t the history or the pain attached to these words that were relevant to me. It was the audience and attention it garnered that I was so hungry for. I was friends with people who encouraged it; people who, now looking back, found it all seriously hilarious. I was egged on, and pushed my vocabulary to vile extremes in pathetic attempts to impress these people. That is not me shifting blame. I accept full responsibility of my irresponsibility and I am totally disgusted by it. I apologise to anyone hurt or offended by my past behaviour. I now see that it isn’t just ‘childish fun’ when people do things like this. It contributes to a larger conversation of using derogatory and deeply hurtful language in a flippant manner just for shits and giggles, bypassing the rich and evil histories that have created the atmosphere of xenophobia and racism that we are still fighting against today. A white person’s cute, little racist phase is not cute nor little. Intention is important, but the intention you put into what you put out, isn’t necessarily the intention that it stays with. Every white, country-bumpkin that types out the N-word and reaps in the glory of the attention they get from it, directly spits the term into the face of any young black person realising that the people around them aren’t as open and welcoming to equality as they may have thought. I know this now. Back then I didn’t. I wasn’t educated in social justice and I wasn’t in an environment where someone would call me out on my behaviour, having grown up in a predominantly white and English-stock town in rural East Anglia. My mother is an immigrant and my passport isn’t British. But that didn’t mean my habitat was rich in diversity.
This is what it is like for a child when they say something they shouldn’t: “Oh, lightning hasn’t struck? God hasn’t smite me down? Well then, I can get away with this! Okay, I’ve said it a few times now and the world hasn’t come at me with pitchforks and prepped fists. It must mean it’s not actually that big of a deal to say. Let me carry on.” Whether it’s a word as simple as ‘fuck’ or as offensive as a racial slur, children aren’t thinking about repercussions or the future. They are thinking about getting away with it in the moment. That’s what I was like. Whether it was drinking, saying things I shouldn’t have been saying, doing things far too grownup for my age, I wanted to rebel and unfortunately that was sometimes at the expense of groups of people who already have the world against them.
I felt so grown up back then. I thought I had everything figured out and was one step away from womanhood. I know now that wasn’t the case. I was a kid. I was immature and so tiny, not thinking about serious things or reflecting on my behaviour. Maybe if I had, this post wouldn’t be being made. But, I did do all of these things. I had to face the fact that I said and did so much stuff that if I saw someone else doing them now, I would take huge issue with. I can’t change my past, but I can ensure that my present and my future are set in foundations of respect, equality and love. I have been feeding these factors for years, starving off the childish behaviours of my youth. That I can promise.
I left school at fourteen and before I turned sixteen I cut ties with the people who partook in this behaviour with me. I started following Instagram accounts dedicated to intersectional feminism, reading about racial politics and looking into POC thoughts, feelings, opinions, and most importantly, listening to voices directly effected by prejudice. I started to realise the world was much bigger than my small town, much bigger than me and my life and my experiences. I learnt about colonisation, and I was horrified. The Holocaust was the only example I knew about of such monstrosity growing up. I learnt how marginalised communities face harsher penalties and reputations than privileged bodies for the same acts. learnt about the unlawful killings of so many brown and black people by hands of authority, and my stomach was turned. The realisation that people were still struggling to live peacefully was dawning on me in rapid and full effect. I educated myself on what terms were appreciated by certain communities, and which terms only bought upset. I didn’t want to upset anybody anymore. That included myself.
I understood that thoughts are nothing without action. I dedicated the effort to learn, I empathised that it would take time for me to fully grasp these points, and I ensured that my vocabulary and my behaviour never crossed those lines again. They haven’t.
Each week I see a new young person exposed for behaving in similar ways that I did in my young adolescence. People dig through their old posts online, discover archived videos or messages, past friends reveal what seemingly kind and innocent people have done to them. On one hand, I join the outrage. It shouldn’t be the case that so many white people get to have their ‘racist phase’; get to flush all their insensitivity out before learning to be better people, as POC are expected to do nothing wrong or else be penalised to a further extent than their pale counterparts. On my other five fingers, I sympathise with the accused, or exposed. I too did all this shit out of ignorance, out of juvenile misunderstanding and lack of social-education, not considering the future or who would end up seeing or hearing what I was writing or saying. Not anticipating the world to see the fuck-ups of my past. It can feel frustrating, especially if you have seriously changed and acknowledge that the behaviour was wrong. Some of the people put on blast are fairly being held to accountability as they haven’t exhibited any signs of change. Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson are a couple examples I can currently think of who are rightfully meeting their public demise. But those who are good citizens, who support the movements and adhere to the ideology of positive social changes for marginalised communities, who get called racist for an insensitive joke they made when they were fifteen, I can understand their frustration.
It is humiliating. It is infuriating to be told you haven’t changed, and are just attending protests or marches, or using certain terminology to keep in trend or avoid opposition. This is not always the case. Haven’t we all done something we have regretted? Learnt how to behave better, followed that route and followed the upward trajectory of positive progression? That’s what I have been doing for the last five years. I realised my wrong doing, I seriously understood it, then educated myself on how to be a better ally to POC, and never turned my back on being that person.
I don’t want to be applauded for not being racist. That is ridiculous. But I don’t want to be seen as a racist for what I did when I was younger. I’ve done a few iffy things in my life, that hit me in remembrance and tamper with a good day, but those thing’s grip I can often shake out of. But the language I used and the actions I committed at thirteen, fourteen and fifteen as described above, sink my heart and hurt my head daily. I’m not asking for sympathy. They should’ve never happened, full stop. But the journey to forgive myself for those things seems to be a cyclical repeat of guilt and shame resurfacing daily. It is making me ill. I don’t know how to accept the past and move on. I struggle to see any good in myself some days. I worry I’m that same lost, offensive and ignorant little girl and my attempts to be better are futile. But how could they ever be? All we are is what we are right now. It is easier to write that in this post, than to remember the sentiment of it when I’m feeling rough. I’m excited by anyone willing to change their ideology, their belief systems and their actions once they recognise the negative impact it has on others. I need to start regarding myself in that category, unashamedly. If we don’t encourage change, and only attack people for past action, where does that lead? I love the lyric in The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony: “I’m a million different people from one day to the next”. I really resonate with it. Exploration is healthy, questioning is healthier. I’ve learnt to follow my heart, supporting causes I feel are necessary to connect humans and preserve peace. Eating a vegan diet to help the animals and the environment, not shopping in places that use sweatshops or slave labour, trying to support small businesses on platforms like Etsy rather than big brands whose pockets are already full enough, listening, reading and watching material to broaden my understanding of different people and different countries so I don’t spend my time on earth hurting others. Mother Teresa said: “if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each another”. Division and hatred is rife right now, so the more steps we take to truly unite and understand each other, with empathy, patience, and most importantly love, we will start to see serious changes.
I was raised on the internet. My generation started using iPhones before most got their periods. I have unfortunately documented my growing up online. From Facebook onto Instagram then onto Twitter and Snapchat, it seems almost everything I’ve done has been posted for the world to see. I deleted social media last summer. It is liberating. But how much can really be erased? And how much of what is put online is a true representation of who we are as humans?
I’ve watched hours of Catfish, and each episode I’m shocked all over again by the stories on there. People tricked by their cousins for years. People thinking they are engaged to a celebrity. Angry exes messing around with partners they feel wronged by. And not even one FaceTime call. Or the rise of photoshop and apps like Facetune, with profiles becoming more cartoonish by the day. Individuals shrinking their waists and not caring about the bendy lines behind them giving it all away, because they know the outrageous images will garner an audience anyway. Or troll accounts sending death threats and rape threats to whoever’s profile they can get their mitts on. It can be a scary and dangerous place, with restrictions available but not always capable of stopping the digital violence. Is this all really an accurate depiction of humanity? I don’t think so. Stepping away from social media and into the ‘real’ world, you will see and find so much goodness, so much kindness, so much charity, care and love. It’s very easy to become something you aren’t online, like me when I was younger. In my real interactions I was polite, kind and cared about protecting people from the harshness of life, but online I was reckless and offensive. The people who didn’t see what I was up to on the internet would be shocked to learn about it. So, which face matters most? The one we put on for attention online, no matter how benign or aggresive it is, or the one that we move through life with? I would argue the latter. But each day that passes, the more the two merge and the more they become hard to decipher between. So I suppose my entire argument is to ensure that no matter where you are, or what platform you’re on, that you come from a place of love and understanding, so you don’t have to defend your actions or words, but that you share them with confidence because you know they aren’t intended to cause harm or upset.
I worry about young people being exposed to so much online. I certainly saw and read things I didn’t need to at such a young age. I worry that they will repeat the mistakes I did; posting things they will only regret. But on the flip side, I learnt a lot online that I would never have had access to. Like the social justice posts and the information about what is going on in the world that often you miss in your sheltered bubble. You don’t always have to go looking for certain things on the internet as algorithms and recommended posts and profiles pop up on their own. This can lead to more young and old people discovering new ways to think, feel and to act. I think that is fantastic. For music you need silence, for positive posts you need negative. But maybe the more hearts touched by this stuff and the more brains being encouraged to dissect and think about things they’ve always considered universal truth then maybe the more people we will see breaking out of the chains of tradition and stepping into a space of liberated cognitive exploration and empathy for others.
Perhaps there are ‘new phenomenons’ that baffle you. Gender neutrality is a topic that sparks much debate. People question how it can be possible for someone to not feel male nor female, or to swing along the spectrum of either. They are confused about using they/them/their pronouns, saying it’s unnatural in speech and they just can’t get their tongue or brain around it all. If you feel this way, my question for you is, why does it matter so much? We will call friends by nicknames, or loved ones by pet names, or undefinable strangers by the term ‘they’. If we shut our ears to new terms or words, we may as well never learn anything again. You will look up the meaning to a foreign adjective, to expand your knowledge of it and add it to your vocabulary. The same can be done here. So many people have struggled for years to understand their own bodies and feelings, plagued with gender dysphoria and self hatred, and they have finally found a term and a space that they resonate with. It is not logic we need here, it is empathy. You don’t have to understand someone to respect them. Don’t think about the shallow struggle you may go through to understand it, think about what that individual has gone through and the courage they have to come out with their truth. If you slip up with their name or preferred pronoun, apologise and move on. Emphasis on apologise. There is no need to throw a fit about how others choose to live their life. I am not gender neutral. I am not trying to speak on the topic over those who are. But I am part of the group who isn’t, and many in that group don’t understand it, which also can benefit from some empathy. So maybe hearing from someone on their ‘team’ will help them mellow in their confusion and animosity.
We can all be intimidated by change. We have seen it with the British royal family introducing a black, divorced, American woman into the mix. Many English people were outraged by the ‘breaking of the chain’, resulting in a lot of nasty, racist bullshit. It should’ve just been considered as a young man and woman lucky enough to fall in love. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less about the royals and find their relevancy in modern life redundant enough as it is, but the reaction to Meghan marrying Harry wasn’t just about the monarchy. It was a revealing of the attitudes of many English people that still crave a ‘pure’ country. That voted for Brexit not in thought of our economy or political independence, but because they want all the muslims shipped out. Because they want to go back to the good ol’ days of white Britain. Because they see the statues of colonialists torn down and feel it a personal attack on their history, without really knowing that history at all. The bloodshed, the horror and the evil committed by Britannia’s hands is nothing, they just want the past to carry on into the present and they reject progressivism because they are afraid they will lose what they have. They will not lose what they have. But it may mean humans who have not had the same opportunities are finally getting the chance to flourish without fear or exclusion.
Of course you may drive through Ilford and think, wow, it’s like little India here. But it’s how you react to that thought that matters. If you just think fair enough, and move on, who is hurt? It’s just an observation then. But if you flurry up in flustered outrage that your homeland is being invaded, just because there’s a few Gurdwaras or turbaned heads or foreign shops then sit in that anger, it not only destroys you, but it also segregates you from huge groups of people doing exactly what you’re doing. Working, trying to provide for their families, hanging out with friends, worshipping whoever they worship, contributing to society, living, breathing, being human. Again, it comes back to empathy. We are all connected, because we are all humans. Skin colour, creed, religion – they are all superficial at the bone of it. What matters is that we are all here, right now, with each other. That is our true power.
I feel these things are important to talk about. I don’t want to be defined by labels, but I do understand how for some people they are very important. Labels create spaces, safe spaces, for like-minded humans to connect with each other and explore whatever it is they are feeling or going through. Having community is so important. We are a community-orientated group of living beings. How about we collect in our shared space of earth, with our shared qualities of being human? Then everyone’s included!
I understand the anger people feel as their plight for equality is either being dismissed, ignored, or fought against. It is frustrating that the times we’re in still present a lot of difficulties for POC, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people. And I am so proud to see more privileged bodies taking part in the mission of coequality. It is truly inspiring to watch the work of people at the frontline. I want to use my voice for this. I want to use my platform online, on this website, my voice in my poetry and my writing and my real-life interactions to contribute to this. I am no longer that little girl. I am a woman who wants an egalitarian society for my friends, loved ones, enemies, acquaintances, teachers, strangers, animals and earth to thrive in.
Once again, I want to apologise for my past behaviour. I recognised it was wrong, and I changed it. Everyday I work to recognise wrong behaviour and change it. I want my actions to be the representation of my progress, not just my words. And I feel they exemplify the better me that I realised needed to replace the one I was in my early adolescence. I hope young people can read my words and understand it isn’t funny or kind to be so abusive with your language. Communication is how we primarily share with each other, and if we are not careful and caring with our words, what have we got left? I also want people to understand that who you were is not who you are, and who you are is not necessarily what you’re going to become. We should all be allowed to make mistakes, but they should be followed by an understanding of why it was wrong to do or say what we did, and to positively expand our knowledge on the subject and enforce that we are going to become better people from those mistakes.
We need to stop blaming each other for what is wrong with the world. These systems of division were well established before we were even born, and the more we push against our fellow humans the more we play into it. No, David Attenborough isn’t correct. It wasn’t us who have destroyed the earth, and he can go fuck himself with his elitist, blame-pushing bullshit and carry on holding hands with all his mates that are really in charge of the shit-show. It is us who will change things, maintain things and create a future for our children, and their children and their children, that is all we would ever dream of. Stop feeling shocked by the good of humanity. There is so much of it. Start feeling excited by even the little acts of kindness, they really are everywhere. It isn’t about directly destroying negativity, that will never work, it is about replacing it, little by little, with positive things, until the whole landscape is sprouting from the seeds that we are planting right now.
WIAEA (What I Am Excited About):
Song: People’s Face by Kae Tempest – who else to recommend when speaking on topics like this? Kae’s song from their 2019 album The Book of Traps and Lessons is a beautiful piece, talking about finding love and inspiration in humanity. Spot on, as always.
Book: On Connection by Kae Tempest – it is no secret that Kae Tempest is my biggest inspiration in life. Their music, poetry, and writing, as well as their attitude and deep love for humanity and want to connect us, has changed my life. They continue to influence me to work hard, look after myself and others, and cherish the creativity in the world that we are so lucky to experience. Their new book, released last year, titled On Connection, has once again made my thinking do a three-sixty. I feel it is an essential read in these times.