Becoming a Shy Radical


We all have defining memories in our childhoods where we look back and see our identities being formed. For me, my experience as a black woman with race, gender and social class led me on my way to becoming a radical. I am not just any radical though. I am a shy radical.


According to Cambridge dictionary, a person who is shy is someone who is "nervous and uncomfortable with other people".  This is a somewhat accurate description of me, though “shy” is a label I would often reject. During school parent’s evenings, teacher after teacher would tell my mother, “Chloe is a good student, but she needs to break out of her shell”.  Being shy is something I disliked about myself. I hated the way my heart would beat like a drum during class presentations. I hated being the center of attention.    


There is an assumption that power is derived from the person who can shout the loudest. But that is not always true. There is power in my personality. When I do speak, it is always something worth hearing. The media perpetuates a caricature of black women as loud and aggressive. Despite my social awkwardness challenging this representation, I came to realise my intelligence and willingness to speak my mind made still people around me feel threatened.


With graduation around the corner, I can loudly say that university played a huge role in who I am today. Even when I was patient and took time to explain myself, it seemed as if everyone was determined to misunderstand. The worst perpetrators were those I did not expect, with white progressives demanding I engage in every emotionally draining debate, to the BME left who perpetuated anti-blackness.


In that moment, I realised I am not a moderate, a liberal or a member of any mainstream left-wing identity. In being vocal, in constantly speaking about race and my experiences I was too “extreme”. There was no space for me in these groups. My experience as a black woman, was being tolerated but not heard.


Being naïve I wished to be accepted by everyone. I did not want to be feared by my white peers. As a shy and awkward person, it was already hard fitting in and making friends. Being one of only two black girls on my course, this took a toll on me. This was my start of loving myself and accepting the labels of “Shy” and “Radical” which once felt like attacks on my identity. Change will not come if you are comfortable. It did not matter whether I was patient and sympathetic with every view that came my way. I would always be seen as an angry black woman.


The word “Radical” is often used with a negative intent, to demonise the actions of those who demand justice. To me being “radical” means actively challenging inequality. As a black radical, justice is not something that can be negotiated. It is something we must demand. I am socially awkward, but that does not make any less able to speak for my community.