“You’re not black!”
These words were uttered to me by a fellow person of colour at my school when I was 12 years-old. I am half African, half Caribbean, and went to a school that was very diverse, and so I felt shocked by his statement - and lonely, even in a room full of children who looked like me.
I often think back to this moment and ask myself, “What does it mean to be black, and how has this impacted my life?”
Throughout history, there have been stereotypes around what it means to be a person of colour - especially a young black man. And yes, sadly many of these stereotypes are negative. Now, as an adult, I think back to this person’s statement and think that he meant that I did not embody the stereotypical image of a black male.
When I was a child, I was lucky enough not to be exposed to the media’s negative perspective on what it means to be a black male. I didn’t watch a lot of television or listen to rap music, because those things were not really of interest to me.
My diverse community exposed me to great people from all different shades of life. I did not care about what they looked like. Instead, I was just inspired any the fantastic things they did, which in turn pushed me to understand and respect the process of being the best person I can be.Daniel Tuitt, Consultant, Capco
In my 20s, I realised that I needed my own identity. Not just as a young black man but as a person of distinction. Growing up, there were a lot of sporting and music icons for people to look up to. However, you would never see me on the pitch. Creative arts, engineering, maths, and science was my idea of lifting the World Cup.
Yet in my neighbourhood, there was a lack of local STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) role models. Indeed, we were brought up to praise the physical might of champions such as Mike Tyson, rather than marvel at the scientific genius of people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson had on the world. I think this is changing though.
Although you don’t always hear about them, there are many black pioneers working across many different industries. When I began my career in technology and consulting, there weren’t and still aren’t many black people. While I do not feel this has held me back in my career, I do feel that representation is still very important. Young people need confidence that they can succeed, and being able to relate to others who look like them, and come from their communities, is part of that. This is why I have supported BlackTechUK, Blackgirlscode and Foundervine. These organisations are not only helping young people to network and build new skills, but they are also gradually shifting the common perceptions of what it means to be a person of colour today.
But we need more people to support these initiatives, as that will help unite the BAME community to achieve bigger and better things - and quicken the pace of change in society. So, I ask you, as we reflect on this year’s Black History Month: will you be the hero they need?