Challenging Racial ‘Norms’, by Elizabeth Opiyo

Jul 23, 2020

Hi, my name’s Elizabeth and I’m an apprentice management consultant at a company called Arcadis. Arcadis is the leading global natural and built asset design & consultancy firm. I am currently completing a level 4 data analysis apprenticeship.

Isn’t it crazy to think that something you have absolutely no control over can have the ability to influence almost every aspect of your life? From the career opportunities available to you, to your relationships, to the way that you’re treated by society - it goes without saying that race plays a huge part in them all. But why is this?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always known that I was black. And by that, I don’t just mean I knew that I had black skin. What I mean by this is that I always knew that I was part of a group within society that was viewed and treated very differently and that, because of this, I would have to work twice as hard to get to where I wanted to be. As a very young child, this manifested in the form of things such as feeling the need to change my image (i.e. my hair texture or the way I dressed) or the way I behaved, in order to fit in with the children around me. And as an adult, funnily enough, it turns out that the exact same thing applies. The only difference is that, rather than it being just popularity on the line, the way I look, dress and behave can be the difference between employment and unemployment. Or, worst of all, the difference between life and death.

As much as I have always understood the fact that my race was something other people were going to judge, it’s never been and never will be something that I’ll fully come to accept. After all, why should it be normalised for people to be ostracized for the pigment in their skin? Why should a child have to come to terms with the fact that being verbally abused for their race at school is just a ‘part of life’, or a teenage boy have to get used to being wrongfully stopped and searched, or accused of theft? Why should it be normalised for a black women to have to tirelessly straighten and chemically process their hair just to be deemed as professional? Or for a black person to have to fear for his or her life in the hands of the police - the very people who are supposed to be out protecting them? I truly believe that each and every one of these societal ‘norms’ are not only non-progressive, but destructive to the black community. These aren’t things that we should grow to accept, but rather things that we should actively challenge in our day-to-day lives.

Some of the ways in which I have personally taken action to stand up for the black community include; signing petitions to gain justice for black people who have lost their lives in the hands of the police and civilians, openly speaking out against racism and colourism through social media and in my day-to-day life and, most recently, attending a Black Lives Matter Protest. During this protest, we marched all the way from Parliament Square to Vauxhall and back, standing up for what we believe in, and it was honestly one of the most surreal and empowering experiences I’ve had in my entire life. Seeing everyone come together to share their stories, speak their truth and fight for the same cause was not only liberating, but an eye-opening experience for me. However, as beautiful as it was, the reality of the situation is that we were marching, not for luxuries, but for basic human rights. This is the 21st century, and it broke my heart to think that we even had to do it - which this is exactly why we need change.

This blog post isn’t to suggest that you must take action in the exact same ways that I have. It’s just to say that discrimination, violence and societal ‘norms’ aren’t things that, as a community - whether black or not, we have to just sit back and accept. Every little helps. Take whatever steps you feel comfortable with to educate yourself, challenge societal norms in your day-to-day life and speak up for what you believe in. That is the only way that we will begin to make a difference. A good website for suggestions on ways in which you can help the Black Lives Matter movement is:

Please visit the site and take action in whatever way resonates with you most.

Thank you for reading.

Elizabeth Opiyo

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