Growing Up First-Generation Somali in Britain
My name is Sumeya, and I'm a 17-year-old Social Media Manager.
Born and raised in London and of Somali ethnic origin.
As a first-generation British Somali and as a refugee daughter, I was taught to be proud of who I am and where I come from at a young age. Pride itself has always been important in Somali culture. Growing up, I remember my mother's recollections of her experience as a 12-year-old refugee in Britain with her cousins. A group of white girls was constantly harassing both my mother and aunt. These girls didn't know that my mum could not be bullied and shamed for something (her ethnic origin) that she held in such high esteem. Although both of them did not speak English, they still managed to flip the situation where the white girls in their school became scared of them instead. When these bullies attempted to hit my aunt, she flushed their heads down the toilets. (Crazy, I know, but badass too, haha) I remember listening to this story while my mother was feeding me rice as a child and squealing in amusement and admiration!
Although it might sound odd to others, I found these stories to be the blueprint to how I approach my identity, protect my pride from people who see it and decide I don't deserve to be proud of who I am. It taught me to be unapologetically me and not take any BS from anyone. This was a mindset I had to carry growing up in a primary school where I was the only black girl and a secondary school where black girls in my year group were scarce enough to be only one friendship group.
Being the only black girl in my primary school established some self-esteem issues. I recall, vaguely, going into my parent's bedroom aged four and looking in the mirror aggressively, pulling down at my curls, trying to make them straight. All the other girls in my class had long straight hair, my favorite tv characters, my favorite teachers, my favorite doll. It's pretty strange how big of a deal it was to me back then that my hair was so straight. But really, it isn't so strange at all. Black children growing up are constantly reminded that our features aren't what society deems as desirable, and it is incredibly damaging.
Being a Black Muslim woman living in the UK, every single thing I do is political: Going to University, Going to school, Putting my hijab on every morning, Which I guess is why although I don't have to be, I have always been interested in Politics and situations of social injustice as a whole.
I founded a 'Diversity' club in my school after a racist incident occurred to a younger student. The responses and lack of accountability we got from our teachers were upsetting, with one teacher redirecting the conversation to themselves accusing us of calling him a racist when all we had done was demand something is done about the incident! And another teacher accused my friend of being aggressive when she was just upset - and understandably so!
We are in the process of implementing guidelines that I have drafted for racist conduct, as there had before this been no clear set of rules that we were aware of- which is a testament to how little attention racism is given in schools. Hopefully, my ability to impact change and take action against any form of injustice will blossom as I enter my new University this year. I will be studying International Relations and World philosophies at a campus well known for its Politically active students.
Growing up, I've observed society's obsession with humbling black women. Our passion is viewed as aggression, our well-spoken manner labeled "whitewashed," and our pain seen as exaggerated and unimportant, not taken seriously by medical institutions.
The greatest act of rebellion in a society like this is demanding, taking up space, not making ourselves small to be more digestible to society, to carry ourselves with pride.