I love being black, and I love being an English Literature student at Surrey university. Yes, in this context, I am part of a minority (from the perspective of living in the UK, not the world). Growing up, I was always encouraged to never allow this to diminish my voice or sense of worth; be it if I was a minority in a workplace, education or even at a party. If anything, I have learnt how this shines light on areas where my voice is necessary - especially when discussing race. I have always felt it is my obligation to participate in these discussions, to help us educate one another and call out overt or covert prejudice regardless of good intentions.
It is difficult then, when throughout my education, the curriculum and subject reading lists depict the black community through one trope: the classic master-slave, where black characters are aggressive and sexualised. You know the ones, The Colour Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird and Beloved to name a few. Whilst these texts have their place in the curriculum and are important narratives not to be ignored, it appears to be the only association with blackness in a subject area that is dominated by white voices. This in itself is highly problematic, as it provides the assumptions that only pain, and anguish makes up black identity.
So, during my placement year, I made it my mission to read novels by black authors that celebrate our achievements and diversity instead, such as Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, a novel about three intelligent African-American women who work at NASA and are the brains behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn, and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, a humorous coming-of-age story which discusses love, family and friendship.
I think people fail to understand how imperative the arts are in shaping perspectives on race. Be it music, novels, or films - culture is our creative outlet depicting our day-to-day lives and history, so it's important to see yourself reflected in this; be it through watching the first black woman win the Booker Prize to the first black artist play Coachella. We can be celebrated and recognised for all of our qualities, talents, and values - not just for the amount of pigment in our skin, 'desirable' physical assets, or current and historical oppression.
It's not just through literature that the curriculum has failed. Like many of my peers, our history lessons lacked insight into black history, and even now we are only educated about slavery in America. What about The British Empire and British Imperialism? We need to understand our own history and how this has shaped our current society. If you are curious about this, I recommend reading Natives by Akala, who has taught me more about UK history than my core education did, which was all about Henry VIII's marital affairs.
That being said, it is easy to shift the blame onto the education system, which largely reflects the interest of those in power. Until that changes, we must recognise that we are capable human beings with the ability to educate ourselves, especially with the Internet at our fingertips - it's only a matter of putting in the effort and caring enough.
I find it sad that the black experience has to be taught through reading and researching. I wish everyone was in touch with their morality and humanity, which can then help to shape and better our future generations.