Just over a month ago, I published an article called: “A letter to my fresher self: Surviving Cambridge as a black girl” and it received an unprecedented amount of traction. It was retweeted over 2000 times, culled by the i paper and referred to by David Lammy MP as one of “the most beautiful, powerful and defiant pieces of writing” he’s read in a long time. Articles like mine gain the traction they do because they strike a chord, because there is a plethora of black girls and black students more broadly across the country who can identify with my experience. They don’t scare students off. They remind students who are going through this that they aren’t alone, that there are support systems for them and that the problems of systematic and institutional racism are bigger than just us. It is unfair, silencing and offensive to invalidate the very real experiences of people of colour at Cambridge and beyond who do feel like their time at university has been defined by their race, simply because someone has been lucky enough to transcend these racial barriers and fit in in spite of them.
As President of the African Caribbean Society (ACS), I have spent a lot of my time trying to change conceptions of what people see as quintessentially Cambridge. We still get messages from students, parents and teachers simply to thank us for the positive representation that our #BlackMenofCambridgeUniversity campaign stood for. We held our own Access Conference where we ran workshops for 60 black year 12 students from across the country. We run our own mentoring scheme and work with two independent mentoring schemes. I mentor black girls in my own time and 3 of them have just been given Cambridge offers. While I appreciate that the activism goes beyond just Cambridge, if you are so keen to be a positive outreach to black kids – where are you when we’re putting in the work?
Black men face challenges of their own, something I will never be able to fully understand. However, I often take issue with the fact that when we need black men to help us with the work that we do, I can’t seem to find them – for example, 9 out of 10 of the ACS committee members are female for the second year in a row. Very often, black men can conveniently buy into ‘lad culture’ in ways that allows people to momentarily ignore that you’re black for a hot second. You can benefit from the ‘cool’ factor that comes with being a black man in ways that black women rarely can. Being a black man in Cambridge comes with its privileges, especially a mixed-race man, and I wish that this video had gone some way to even acknowledging that.
One black person managing to make Cambridge work for them does not and should not negate the fact that there are thousands of people across the country with whom my reality resonates. Messages like these validate the voices of white people who try and use the fact that one black person is enjoying Cambridge, as a means to silence us. The idea that articles like mine might scare people off is again meant to discourage us from writing. I won’t stop though, and I hope that people of colour never stop sharing the realities of their experiences here. The message we seek to share is much more complex and nuanced than whether or not black people are having a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ time here.
In reference to articles like mine, the video talks about ‘the damage it does to young kids’, but selling them dreams is equally as damaging. I am happy for the black people who have had a great time here and don’t share my discomforts. I will always, despite my grievances, continue to mentor and encourage black people to come here because we are the only ones who can change the story. I wish that people would support the work that people like the ACS are constantly doing to try and change the narrative, and make Cambridge a more welcoming place for all black people, instead of clapping back in freestyles about how they’re doing just fine.