I haven't posted on any of my social media channels to announce my return from Mexico because I honestly haven't known what to say. It's 3am in the U.K and I'm struggling to sleep as it's on my mind, so, I am going to give this a go.

 

I like to share as honestly as possible online as I believe that vulnerability and openness are nothing to be ashamed of. So, in that vein, I thought it appropriate to post that...

I've been avoiding posting.

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Mexico was unbelievable. It is a beautiful place where the people are living at an intensity and with a level of commitment to their art that is inspiring. Everyone at Circuito Nacional Poetry Slam MX created a home for me. Karlos, Cynthia, Comikk and Edmée invited me to be a poet in residence at Refugio Nomada and while I was there... I found a home.

 

Photo Credit: Kris Saar

Photo Credit: Kris Saar

For that, I will always be grateful.

My leaving lunch - Cynthia Franco and Karloz Atl. 

My leaving lunch - Cynthia Franco and Karloz Atl. 

Hearing warm words about a friend and poet, (Joelle Taylor - I was given gifts from DF for you!), learning how to use a loop station, doing interviews and performances, getting an earnest introduction to traditional Mexican culture, debating and discussing important issues, participating in ceremonies and much more. Thank you so much for embracing all my shapes 🙏🏾 I won't forget it.

 

 

The reason I have been avoiding posting is because I didn't know how to say all of the above without sharing what happened at the airport on my arrival. My family and friends know that when faced with injustice I will fight because that is how my mother raised me. The thing is, just because I'm shouting it does not mean that I'm not... hurting, you know?

 

Bravado is exhausting.

 

The truth is that I experienced racial discrimination and assault at Heathrow airport. I am not going to go into great detail about either of them because this post is not about the specifics but something larger. To put it succinctly, I was racially profiled without due reason or cause (except for what I will refer to as BWB - breathing while black). 

I made sure it was known to anyone within earshot that this was what was happening.

 

I asked, "Can you legally stop me from passing, with my official U.K. Passport, through the E-Passport gates? Is there somewhere you need to take me or someone I need to speak to? Can you explain the specific reason that you have stopped me? I know my rights and if you do not have cause then I do not have to justify my existence to you."

 

Silence. 

 

No. No, I did not think so.

 

I proceeded to walk through the gates, silently (actually, no, vocally) fuming. I wanted to tell every white person and bystander in the terminal that when you see someone who is being oppressed or discriminated against do not stand there with your back turned. Hear it.

 

As I arrived at the baggage claim area, a white male passenger began to say to me, repeatedly,

"Shut up. Shut up. You're back in the U.K now. Shut up." 

I asked him to stop telling me to shut up because I was not going to hide and box my oppression into a shape that he found palatable. 

He continued saying, "shut up", and finally struck me on the side of my arm. I told him not to touch me. Then, he stood in front of me, chest puffed out like a proud stag and pressed his furrowed forehead against my own. I stared into this man's eyes, millimetres from mine, and told him to step away from me. I could not believe the forthright bigotry I was experiencing minutes after landing. I felt his skin on my skin and honestly, I was scared. I was scared not for my safety but because I could see that he believed he had the right to touch me and to be in my space. A special, entitled, and unapologetic breed of prejudice.

This was his land, you see.

Not mine.

Some passengers shouted at me, "How were we supposed to know what was going on? How could we know that you weren't in the wrong?" 

Two of the easiest questions for me to answer:

 

Listen.

Ask.

Act. 

 

In the light of this climate of terror propaganda, fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric, the face of discrimination feels unashamed. We are living in a time during which racism in the U.K (and globally) has been given permission to tear people of colour down in public and then return home unscathed.

 

So I say this to you: It is not enough. If we can ever be brothers and sisters, united, in this impossible and frustrating world,  you cannot stand with me when it suits you. You cannot hold my hand whilst we march but also walk past me crying to an officer in the street.  It does not and will not work like that. 

 

When speaking to the Terminal Manager to report the two incidents, he had a jaded but sympathetic look. 

"No one thinks it is their problem." He said.

"I know. That's the problem." I replied. 

 

We cannot only be aware of injustices that invade and disturb our individual reality.

These are all of our problems.  

 

 

All. 

 

 

Stand with me. Fight with me. 

And, (words from my Mexican friends), 

"RESIST WITH PEACE, LOVE AND DIGNITY"

 

- @RachelShapes