29th October 2021
To mark the end of Black History Month, newly-elected STAMMA Trustee Chantal Anderson tells us about her experiences of growing up with a stammer as someone from the black community, representation, finding a job, and what it's all taught her.
My experience of being black, female and a person who stammers has been interesting growing up. I had it drummed into me a fair amount, and from a young age, that being black and female meant that life would be somewhat of a challenge. So when I acquired my stammer and it forcibly etched itself into my identity during my teens, I ultimately thought stammering was another life lesson that I hadn't recalled ever signing up for.
Let's face it, in the past people who stammer, let alone people who looked and spoke like me, were not visible in TV or in film unless they were either (a) the butt of some joke or (b) being humiliated. To some extent this statement still rings true today. Colin Firth in some obscure way was sort of like me, in his portrayal of King George VI in The King's Speech, which of course achieved great leaps for bringing about an awareness of stammering to the general public. However, then aged 16, I had to ignore the fact that Colin Firth was (a) a caucasian male, (b) 50 years young, and (c) acting, to find any resemblance, for lack of a better term.
I ultimately thought stammering was another life lesson that I hadn't recalled ever signing up for.
I recall a careers supervisor at University who laughed at the idea of me wanting to apply for graduate scheme jobs because of my stammer. It did take me a while to get a job but when it did happen, I was able to choose between two graduate job offers.
Another time, I recall a manager telling me to study for the AAT accounting qualification instead of the ACCA accounting training, despite me already having proven that I could obtain a degree, because they "didn't see me as someone that would ever fulfil a management position, so what was the point in obtaining a qualification that I would have to work harder for?". I studied for and passed the first ACCA exam but then subsequently stopped after beginning studying for another professional qualification.
Fortunately for me, I was never discouraged as being black meant that I had always regularly encountered stories and sentiments of resilience, hardship, discipline, perseverance and overcoming. To this day I am often bewildered by the vivid descriptions of what my parents, grandparents and their parents, and other black people (some of which I share no relation) have achieved, overcome and sometimes had to endure as part of their experience of being black. None of these stories seemed to reflect the narrative of the history books at school or the stereotypes that were often pushed by the media. These stories seemed to only exist within the confines of the spoken word but I will forever hold onto them tightly.
I find a lot of strength in seeing the black people surrounding me hold onto their history so proudly and having an almost comedic reaction to difficult situations, and an ability to approach life enthusiastically whilst having a wicked sense of humour. However, admittedly I used to become slightly frustrated when some well-meaning family members would repeatedly suggest that one day my stammer would just magically "up and leave" of its own accord. It definitely did not and some of these suggestions when I was young made me doubt that if I reached adulthood and still had my stammer that I could be happy. Despite these comments I was always confident those closest to me appreciated the substance of my struggles with stammering.
Let this Black History Month be a reminder to all that every story is multi-faceted, bigger and better than its most difficult chapter. It is essential that we who stammer continue to form community and do not give up easily.
Traversing into adulthood entailed:
- Understanding that being black in some settings meant that I was always going to stand out anyway, so there was no use me trying to hide my stammer.
- Challenging myself to enjoy being seen and heard, even if I didn't necessarily fit any of the 'black stereotypes' and acknowledging that it is insurmountably important to be visible when part of a minority.
For the most part, my life experiences so far have taught me that the key to managing my stammer is to try to keep developing my confidence and in understanding that people who don't stammer aren't so scary and are not at all different to us that do; we all just want to feel listened to and to be dealt with enthusiastically and attentively.
I loosely find comfort in the knowledge that however prevalent or unnoticeable my stammer is, my being visible normalises my identity and what it is to be black and a person who stammers. Let this Black History Month be a reminder to all that every story is multi-faceted, bigger and better than its most difficult chapter. It is essential that we who stammer continue to form community and do not give up easily.
Be visible. Be heard. Be memorable.
We want to include articles like Chantal's all year round, not just during Black History Month. If you'd like to share your story, write an opinion piece or just vent about something stammering-related, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more great articles at our Your Voice section.