"To those who still deny that racism is an issue at Cambridge, I implore you – to first get your facts straight, then challenge them at your leisure"NOELLA CHYE

Last Friday I was verbally racially assaulted in the smoking area of the Cambridge nightclub Vinyl. I use the word ‘assaulted’ because that’s exactly what it was. Being called a ‘nigger’ repeatedly in the club by a white female reinforced the insidious sexual stereotype of the black male, and reduced us to an objectivised monolith. The fact that racial expletives could be used so brazenly in a public space truly shocked me, and showed that Cambridge is not as progressive as we like to think.

Over the past week, I have been subject to many people (including friends) belittling my abuse, telling me to ‘brush it off’ or ‘just move on’. Racial abuse just doesn’t resonate powerfully enough with people who cannot be subject to it, but this week has made me feel a great deal of anger, upset, embarrassment and isolation.

“I have been told “not to hold a scalpel like a shank – this isn’t South London””

My perpetrator was a student who used sexual stereotypes embellished with racial pejoratives to try and get my attention in the club. Racial fetishism is a serious problem. Having a ‘thing for black guys’ is not a compliment – we are not objects for your sexual gratification. By using these ideas, black males are reduced to offensive Jim Crow-era stereotypes. Some people ask, “what is wrong with people thinking you’re well-endowed?” or “what’s wrong with people thinking you are sexually assertive?” To this I say – how would you like your identity to be constantly assumed by strangers who have no knowledge of you? To have all your experiences and opinions ignored? To have your magnum opus reduced down to a single line? That is exactly what happens when my individuality is supplanted by these one-dimensional stereotypes.

This reduction of identity is something black men have tried so hard to abolish. By using racial stereotypes, we are taking two steps backwards, even if you think them ‘flattering’.

Like most people, I worked extremely hard to earn my place at Cambridge. In my hometown, I was told by many that I was only accepted to Cambridge because of affirmative action.

Being in Cambridge, I carry around the idea that I was fundamentally unable to gain entry based on my own merit every day. The fact that I am still addressed with some preconceived notions of my character based on my blackness – in an environment I previously thought of as ‘safe’ – is just another sign that tells me, ‘you will be tolerated, but not accepted’. It serves as a reminder that for some people, no matter what I achieve, the colour of my skin will always define me. That I will never enjoy the privileges of true individuality others possess. That my life is one to fulfil people’s expectations of me and not to create my own narrative. I was once told that “when you’re white the sky’s the limit, and when you’re black the limit is the sky” – never have these words rung truer in my mind.

What is just as disconcerting as racial abuse in Cambridge are people’s reactions to it. My abuse came as these things often do, like a gunshot on a quiet street. After small reverberations, the problem is forgotten and almost leaves people’s reality. But reality doesn’t just disappear when you stop believing in it – and something that seems small to you doesn’t mean it’s ever forgotten by the victim. The amount of people who have tried to justify her actions has astonished me. Being drunk is no excuse for sexual or physical abuse, and nor is it for racial abuse. Being thick-skinned is not synonymous with accepting abuse and, as much as I appreciate the need to highlight the positive steps Cambridge are taking with respect to access work and inclusion, we cannot overshadow the experiences of those who still undergo discrimination.


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Being black or of any ethnic minority is quite a different experience. To those who still deny that racism is an issue at Cambridge, I implore you – to first get your facts straight, then challenge them at your leisure. In Cambridge I have been singled-out for identification on numerous occasions, I have been told that I “don’t look like a medic” and I have been told “not to hold a scalpel like a shank – this isn’t South London”. Walking around with a label of ‘potential threat’ and to have people judge me based on stereotypes that evolved decades before I had any influence on this Earth saddens me.

Just because you don’t observe racism with your own eyes doesn’t mean it isn’t something black and ethnic minority students experience on a weekly basis. Be it explicit or implicit, intentional or done through ignorance, any form of racism affects the subject much more than you realise. The fight for racial equality is achievable but can feel somewhat Sisyphean. To my abuser, if you’re reading this, I hope you understand the enormity of what you said: no amount of goodwill can be a panacea for the pestilence of hate crimes experienced by BME students. I hope this will help you understand the isolating and dehumanising effect words can have, and how they play into a wider narrative of racism in the student body.

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