Updated: Feb 19
When we are nice, we always expect others to be nice to us, right?
So my father sent me to high school in England when I was 16. I was excited to adventure out of Uganda on my own and off I went. He consulted with someone he found had kids there. I remember when I first looked at the catalogs for the school I was elated. It was like 'wow I am going to be studying with white people. In September 1991, I was off with my mom and my older brother. They dropped me off in the hills of Great Malvern UK at a school called Lawnside High. It was a fairly small private school with about 60 students. Tucked away in the countryside in an environment serene enough for a 16-yr old high school girl.
I showed up with excitement. A lot of curiosity. And hoping to make many friends on day one. Coming from Africa, I had no idea how different I could be perceived. I quickly found out that my accent was different and sometimes I wasn't understood when I spoke. I quickly found out that my preference for food was different. Even taking a bath/shower was different.
Being teenagers, my fellow students made me an easy target.
One day while having biscuits (cookies for Americans) at breakfast, with disgust they'd say "whaat aare you eeaating?" It was almost criminal not to have salty buttered toast for breakfast. Salty toast was new to me. Bread was supposed to be sweet as far as I knew!!
One day I was coming out of the shower and the Head Girl (yeah 'Head Girl'...ancient term for student leader/president) said to me,
"Are you taking long in the shower to scrub yourself 'white' to look like us?"
One girl called me a 'Paki' (A racial slur). I dealt with it by always laughing it off like it didn't bother me.
While working in the school sweet shop, a bunch of girls slowly walked up to me with curiosity to ask if we have houses in Africa. But by now I was gaining a little muscle so I decided to have a little fun. I said
"No, we do not have houses, in fact, we live in trees. When you need to get around you just call on your elephant, jump down onto it from the tree and it'll take you anywhere. And we have snakes for security guards".
Seriously. That was my story. I mean at this point I was thinking "you know what I am not dying in this movie"!!! No!!
But before I gained that muscle, one day two girls mocked my breakfast. Again!!! Oooh I was livid!!! I went to my business studies class in near tears. The teacher noticed. She held me back after class and the minute she asked what was wrong, I couldn't hold the tears any longer. All the suppressing of emotions I had done for months came up like a beach ball being forced underwater.
Needless to say, the girls got in trouble. And after being cautioned by the deputy headteacher for bullying, they came at me calling me a snitch. Now my muscle was all built!! Guess what I did. I chased one down the dormitory hallway for a fistfight. I wasn't going down like that anymore. I had enough. Thank goodness the other girls broke up the fight as I grabbed her hair. Long story short...I earned some serious respect. And friends. After that incident, I think they were afraid of the African beat down.
Although, what I do not like about the outcome is how I earned my respect.
Many of us are raised to be nice to people. And we are raised to expect the same from others. But when our expectations are not met, we do not know how to act. We do not know what to do with our unmet needs because we expect someone else to fulfill them. We are not taught how to fill that cup ourselves.
See, when the girls did what they did, it should've been okay. Seriously. I should have known that they are choosing to act that way because that's what they know how to do. I should've been okay with it and even laughed hysterically and in fact be curious about their actions. My responses should've been something like;
"I am sorry you feel that way. Go say a little prayer for help."
"The biscuits/cookies are damn tasty at breakfast, you should try them?"
"No thank you. I don't want to be white. Black suits me just fine."
I shouldn't have let their behavior take over how I felt. I shouldn't have given that power away. Many of us live in this state throughout our adult life not knowing that we are fully responsible for how we feel. Your child, your friend, your spouse, your brother, your mother are not responsible for how you feel. When I learned how much power I have over my emotions. It is amazing how freeing it felt.
It is for this reason that I enjoy working with women who would like to take their power back. I teach them how to have control over their emotions, no matter the circumstances while maintaining meaningful relationships. If your happiness is at someone else's mercy then you need to take your power back. I feel your pain. It is never too late. You got this!!