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A Black British-Ghanaian Living in US Realizes Her Accent Won’t Protect Her From Police Abuse and Stereotyping

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I’m a Black British-Ghanaian, and I’ve often wondered what would the police do to me if they believed I was a threat? The answer is they would kill me and leave me lying in the street for hours. My lifeless body with blood falling from bullet holes would leave onlookers traumatized by the horrific scene played out in real time. This is the reality faced by African-Americans who are unlucky enough to encounter police in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Most of those murdered by police were unarmed: 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and left lying in the street for four hours leaving locals horrified; 28-year-old Akai Gurley was shot dead by a rookie officer, showing that merely existing in a Black body can put one’s life in danger; 19-year-old Tony Terrell Robinson was killed by police at a time when what he really needed was help; 43-year-old Charley Leundeu Keunang, originally from Cameroon, was shot dead by LAPD officers. In addition, 50-year-old Walter Scott was shot while running away from an officer. The officer then handcuffed him while he lay face down, dying.

Pre-existing stereotypes rooted in the minds of members of law enforcement categorize Black people as “dangerous,” “threatening” or “criminal.” These stereotypes precipitate inexcusable violence against Black men and women. Individuals in law enforcement act in accordance with false beliefs often without conscious awareness. Consequently, police officers are dangerous puppets who function as pieces in a chess game. In this game, the “white” pieces always win.

As a Black British-Ghanaian, my heritage ensures that my features are conspicuously Afrocentric: I have full lips, a broad nose, dark eyes and dark skin. My features evoke negative stereotypes, which during an encounter with police, would result in my automatic assignment to the “criminal” category within their faulty belief systems.

Clearly, Black women do not escape the wrath of police: Marlene Pinnock, 51, sustained head injuries after being beaten by a California Highway Patrol officer; 21-year-old London Colvin was attacked by a police dog while police held her down, and 19-year-old Kenisha Gray had her teeth knocked out by police.

I’m categorized as African-American until I start speaking. When I speak it’s apparent that I’m an immigrant, but not the toilet-cleaning-ice-cream-selling kind of immigrant. I’m different, and because of this I disrupt the predetermined order of the universe: my accent, coming from my Black face, creates an unsettling chaos that causes ripples of confusion to spread across a roomful of white strangers. People tend to look twice as if they’ve been propelled into a Twilight Zone, battling with a need to make meaning of the person in front of them.

In some instances, my accent has helped me transcend the confines imposed by class. It has also allowed me to secure professional experiences that are different than the experiences of an African-American who grew up in a comparable level of poverty — as I move up the ranks serving students with disabilities in the private sector, the number of Black people who move with me diminishes.

My English accent not only makes me an exciting novelty, but it serves as protective coating, which allows one to listen or indeed assume my intelligence without really questioning the validity of my assertions. I am given a distinct level of privilege, which is akin to white privilege. With privilege comes a level of social acceptance that is topographically different from the degree of acceptance given to African-Americans. But this privilege has its limits. After all, I’m still Black.

In light of my experiences, I can only imagine the magnitude of opportunities given to white British expats living in America. I also wonder how my life would be different had I been born in America. For one thing, I would not have enjoyed the social supports that led to the full payment of my tuition by the government, and my subsequent education at a leading university.

According to my reconstructed inner dialogue, being Black and articulate are two pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together. When I listen to influential Black speakers, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis, I realize they possessed a mighty command of speech that threw listeners into a state of disequilibrium. They triumphed in the center of this chaos, enshrouded in the denseness of self-love. And it is through the thickness of self-love that I proclaim that Black lives matter. The senseless deaths must end.

Since I have a comfortable life, it would make sense for me to keep quiet, and reject the Black Lives Matter movement, but I cannot ignore my resemblance to many of the Black and brown men and women murdered because of racial discrimination. The majority of these unarmed men, who are now permanently six feet under, could easily fit into my life as my husband, brother or son.

Back in 2007 when I decided to move to America, some of my liberal British friends were horrified. They wondered why I would decide to make a life in a country that didn’t look after its own. I was ignorant to what they were saying, and had my mind set on the American Dream. Sadly, through the deaths of unarmed men — and the indifference to these deaths by many in the white majority — my ignorance has been washed away. I now perceive the murder and criminalization of Black men and women as confirmation of the existence of an American Nightmare. Therefore, it is my duty — by using the privilege associated with my English education — to expose the human rights abuses presently occurring in America.

Here in America, racism dances in the shadow of freedom and gives rise to anything but a post-racial America.

Here in America, my English accent may help advance my career or provide me with a certain degree of privilege, but it will not save me from police brutality. If perceived as a threat, I would be shot dead just like the other unarmed Black people.

Jacqueline Bediako is a writer, teacher and activist currently living in Brooklyn, New York. She describes herself as a Black British-Ghanaian, and has called New York City home for the past seven years. Jacqueline’s work focuses on race, politics, immigration, and the education of students with disabilities. Follow her @jb2721.

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16 thoughts on “A Black British-Ghanaian Living in US Realizes Her Accent Won’t Protect Her From Police Abuse and Stereotyping

  1. William Reed says:

    Irrational. You cant tell how someone or a group will behave based on skin color.

  2. Evadne Smith says:

    This may be the case, the whites are suffering from inferiority complex, therefore blacks are threading on dangerous ground. let me hasten to say, not all white people are like that, there are wonder white people in the world. in all nation we have good and bad.even relatives dislike each other at times.

  3. Please. She can dream on if she wants to, because the hatred of Black people has to do with racism against BLACK people; so as long as she is Black she is potentially a target of the exact same racism African Americans face. Evidently, she hasn't read much African American history of much about the racist police brutality and LYNCHINGS of Black people in America, or she would see that it has nothing to do with whether or not a Black person is "well-spoken" or "articulate"; it has everything to do with racism against Black people/the Black Race and a racist seizing an opportunity to inflict harm on a Black person with impunity, like while wearing a police uniform. Let her run into the right racist, with a blood-lust and the belief that whatever they do will go unpunished, and I can assure you that her "accent" or "articulation" will mean 'jack' to a racist troglodyte. She is mistaking the fact that on average, it is usually the Black male, and not as often the Black female, that racists have such a vile vendetta against, so she is mistaking her "accent" and/or "articulation" with her not being a "target" when in fact, it is her gender that is her saving grace, at least, until it isn't.

  4. Of course everything you said is true, that's why we, as a group have to focus on the ones who are not, and are out there lying in wait to ambush unarmed Black people in America because they know that America's racism or a police badge will guarantee them impunity regardless to what they do to anyone Black.

  5. This is for the Sister from the other side of The Atlantic……..

    Thinking of you and your family almost every hour on the hour that I am awake and keeping loving peaceful thoughts but including strength of The Creator to overcome any and all obstacles before you and your family….My heart aches with the realization that there has been a undercover war on the black man….. woman…and family since the civil war…. and an overt war on the day we saw them coming to our shores and during our time in slavery and now it is definite that an end to this nightmare is on its way and we will have balance….It will be difficult as others continue to slumber in the nightmare…we pray all are awakened to a definite new existence for the future….

  6. This is one of those Black foreigners who really has no understanding of race in the U.S. It's funny because I work with a Ghanian British guy and all he talks about is the racism and discrimination he faces here. He has a very British Accent, went to boarding schools in England, and was educated at some of the top universities here.

  7. This has nothing to do with being "educated" or "well spoken"

  8. I don't think you fully read the article, you should.

  9. I read the entire article. Africans who come here are not "privileged." They only make you believe that to keep conflict going with Black Americans. My Ghanian colleague is always talking about how he is treated here. And, believe me he has a very "well-spoken British accent." So, stop with this notion that you are somewhat better off than us in this country. There are just as many of us living a "privileged" life in spite of racism–reality check.

  10. Melissa Seah says:

    Good article but I must agree with Bridget P. Nikki, we have well educated Black Americans from the African Diaspora and we are treated the same. So don't think because you have a British accent that you are somewhat privileged if what you are doing in your profession and you are not the BEST OF BEST someoe other than someone that looked and sounded like you would have the position – believe that.

  11. Melissa Seah says:

    Darlington Ahiale Akogo She read it just as I did, the problem is that the author implied that she had some form of privlege because of her British accent and she understood if she didn't open her mouth this privilege would not be received. And what we are saying is that is in her head that she has any privilege any America being Black.

  12. I don't know many Black Brits who want to live in the USA. That's not to say that Black Brits are weak, but we are not used to the type of horrific treatment which Blacks in the USA endure. I admire the mental strength which so many Black Americans have. To be able to live and endure this hate on a daily basis, is very distressing for even the strongest of hearts. I think it would be naive for any Black person in America to believe that somehow, their accent, profesisonal status etc exempts them from the hate, racism and violence of White America and Government. I do understand where the writer is coming from when she talks about being treated diffently to Black Americans because of her accent. I can attest to this, and I removed myself from the situation. Because if you will not befriend my fellow Blacks because they're Black Americans, then don't try to befriend me. This happened to me in Corporate America years ago where some of the Whites at work wanted to befriend me because of my accent – afterall, I wasn't Black American hence to them, I was different. I refused to be used as anybody's Black friend, so I retreated! Please understand that Black Brits, Black Africans, Black Carribeans etc are not saying that they're better than Black Americans, it's just that many White Americans try to use the divide and conquer tactics by trying to separate us from Black Americans. Most of us do not fall for those types of tactics. Understand where the writer is coming from instead of trying to belittle her experiences!!!

  13. They dont see your eduction or diction when they top you.

  14. This is who they are. We need to start believing it

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