BBC News

'I changed my name because it sounded foreign'

By Claire Gilbody-Dickerson
BBC News

image copyrightAndrew Butler
image captionAaliyah Harris wants black history to be mandatory in schools after she was teased because of her name sounding foreign

A mixed race woman teased by classmates because of her foreign name, has called for black history to be mandatory in schools.

Aaliyah Harris, 22, who is based in London, said her "whole childhood" in Exeter, Devon, was impacted by racism.

She said classmates would make fun of her and call her 'liar' instead of 'Aaliyah' (pronounced Ah-lee-ya).

The government said the current curriculum already teaches children about black history.

"A big issue was that teachers and kids would mispronounce my name and wouldn't take the time to learn it," the City University journalism graduate told the BBC.

"In secondary school I just changed my name to Lia because I didn't want to experience what I experienced in primary school."

Aaliyah, whose family is Jamaican, said children would see her relatives and ask: "Are they not from here?"

image copyrightAndrew Butler
image captionThe 22-year-old City University graduate called for mandatory black history education

"When you're at a young age it can feel quite isolating because it makes you stand out as the weird one."

Calling on the government to impose mandatory black history in curriculums and teacher training, she said: "There are a lot of different people across the UK and I don't think education in school has fostered in those elements," she said.

"It has stayed the same and if it has changed it's been only the bare minimum that they can do."

'I don't need sympathy'

Aaliyah has also called on people to join Black Lives Matter (BLM) activism.

"Rather than feeling sorry it's about changing things so people can have better experiences in the future.

"That is much more useful than giving your sympathy because it means you are learning and can pass that on to people."

The Department for Education (DfE) said in a statement: "The knowledge-rich curriculum in our schools already offers pupils the opportunity to learn about significant figures from black and ethnic minority backgrounds and the contributions they have made to the country's history, as well as helping them learn about our shared history with countries from across the world."

Related Topics

  • Racism
  • Exeter
  • Black Lives Matter

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