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Acceptable Traumas or How We Measure (A) Violence

A poem by Foluke Adebisi for Epigram​'s #WhatsMicroaggression campaign

By Dr. Foluke Adebisi, Lecturer of Law at the University of Bristol

A poem by Foluke Adebisi for Epigram's #WhatsMicroaggression campaign

‘We need to stop framing racism as offense and start to frame it as abuse. This really is not about hurt feelings. This is about health, psychological and economic abuse. We need to move away from the feelings discourse. Abuse is violence. Abuse has long terms consequences. Offence is short lived. Offence is about sensibilities. Racism is not, it is about our right to health and mental health. It is about our right to safety and dignity. It is about our right to freedom from psychological violence.’ - Guilaine Kinouani


We stand in the aftermath, watching as she drags her broken body… home.
The first question we ask is, ‘Did she jump… or was she pushed?’
The EDI specialists, a kind of university CSI, investigates, they say:
‘The evidence shows us, no significant violence happened in her time here.’
Nothing of significance. No mighty trauma… so… she must have jumped…
There was nobody there… nobody to push her.
Nobody. No bodies. No bodies to push her.
But there were voices… Voices that had been with her before she got here.
Voices with her every day. In classes. In the halls. In the corridors. In the city.
Morning till night. Smiling voices. Friendly faces. Nice clothes. Educated tones.
So many voices.
Where are you from? I know you say Coventry, but where are you really from?
Where are your parents from? What is your ‘background’?
Show me your ID.
I hear you have an accent? No, I don’t have an accent? You sound different from me, so you have an accent. I don’t. I can’t.
Where is your name from?
I can’t pronounce your name. It’s lovely, but I can’t pronounce it. Yes, I know it has only two syllables, but I can’t pronounce it.
Can I call you Lily? I can’t pronounce your name.
Show me your ID.
Can I touch your hair? It looks like sheep wool. It is so exotic! Can I touch it?
Why are you so sensitive? I just want to touch your hair. Dig my fingers into it.
Your hair. I want to touch it.
Show me your ID.
Can I use the n-word? Why can’t I use the n-word?
Did you get in because of diversity?
They let in all sorts of people now.
Show me your ID.
How come you scored higher than me on that test?
Everything is so politically correct now!
Show me your ID.
Can I wear your skin as a costume for Halloween?
Why are you so sensitive?
Why can’t I use the theft of your ancestors’ bodies and land as a theme for my party?
When did we get so sensitive?
Lighten up.
Show me your ID.
These marks are surprising.
I didn’t expect you to score this high.
Racism is over now.
I am sure they did not mean to be racist.
Think of it as a compliment.
Can we get your opinion as a person of colour? The only one in this class?
Please speak for your race…
Show me your ID.
Voices… In classes. In the halls. In the corridors. In the city.

And all she hears is:
You do not belong here
You are not welcome here
This place was not made for you
We have no place for you
Your history has no place here
No place in our books, on our walls, on our statues
Your body does not belong here
Your name has no place here
Your culture has no place here
Your emotion does not belong here
Your knowledge is not acknowledged
Your voice should be silent
The way you appear is violence
I have a right to your person
You are less than a person
Show me your ID.
And so… she did.

Each voice
Drew blood.
Each word
Took apart her soul,
Broke her heart.
To survive, to live, she left.

So how do we measure a violence?...
We measure a violence, not to diminish its impact,
We measure a violence to soothe the soul of its source.
It is nothing.
Micro. Aggressions.
Violence. But just enough. To be acceptable. Just below the threshold. Of significance.
The sea swallows the land, drop by drop.
The water erodes the mountain, grain by grain.
The predator devours its prey, bite by bite.
Show me your ID.

Explore more contributions from our #WhatsMicroaggression campaign here.

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