Black Community Spotlight: Daniel Cohen

i'm from the uk

“There are people out there who don’t actively hold you back as much as they work quietly on your insecurities so that you hold yourself back.”- Michael Jackson

Growing up isn’t easy. Especially if you don’t know who you are. Even when I was little I never felt comfortable with who I was: not with my gender or my sexuality. I was always playing a part. Or maybe that isn’t right. No; it was more that I lived my life dictated by the books I read, the films I saw and the TV shows I watched. I felt they told me how you should live or how life should be. I could drive my family crazy by pretending to be one of these characters for days, months sometimes. I thought they were who I should be. It was quite difficult as no matter how hard I tried I could not be a light skinned blond kid. I am Jewish and black, quite a difference. Still I tried my hardest at being someone I thought was better than me. My mum went along with it, not wanting to upset me, but also encouraged me to develop my own creative side. I was great at making up stories, could sing and act.

I got bullied at school from a very young age, for being different. I never felt “different” I was just being who I thought I was supposed to be and behaving that way. I can understand it a little now. But how could I understand back then that none of the other kids were black and Jewish? That none of the other kids watched movies with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire or Audrey Hepburn? That not everyone liked the Wizard of Oz or pretended to be Annie at home?

In the early 1990’s suddenly things were all right for a while. To me it still seems like the happiest time ever. Everything was good with the world and there were endless sun-filled days. I had a good group of friends and thanks to my mum I had discovered Michael Jackson. He was my example now, and it fit: I actually looked a bit like him too! He “taught” me how to dance and I lost a lot of weight as well. There was also Whitney Houston, while “The Fresh Prince of Bell Air” showed me there were people that actually looked like me living modern lives.

Meanwhile my mother worked as a presenter and producer at a local radio station and I had a weekly spot on one of the shows too. I read tales from Africa about the spider Anansi on a multicultural show. This too gave my reputation quite a boost. All the kids wanted to come see the studios and I could fix it for the whole class to do so. I also got my best friends on air and I was a hero.

Then I performed as Michael Jackson on the school camp’s final night and became the star of the school. Kids actually started calling me “Michael!!” and cheered for me. Once when I stood in front of a window in the schools auditorium kids in the yard started chanting “Michael, Michael!!” An amazing experience and for a while I knew who I was and wanted to become. Inspired by Michael I chose to erect the “Black and White anti racism party” for the school elections. This was one thing I had to do alone, as other kids didn’t understand it. Still I got some votes and that was inspiring.

It was a great time, so what happened when I went to high school was quite a shock. None of the kids from my old school were transferred to my school. Except two of the kids I never really got on with. Even though I now dressed and behaved no different from the others I got bullied immediately. I never knew why, except that there weren’t many kids of colour there and I might have looked like an easy target. I can’t really think of any other reason. The bullying started the moment I got on the bus in the morning and lasted till the moment I got out in the afternoon.

Still I did acquire two friends and I even had an outcast “lover”. As we were all outcasts we got on, shared our misery and tried to survive. But the bullying made me lose track of who I was. Instead of trying to survive and keep the Michael Jackson mentality of rising above it, I started to embrace the part of the victim. I became shy and started to sink into a world of Gothic dark musical shows; I was becoming the freak they said I was and the bullying became more violent. Soon the situation became intolerable. I told my mum and she did everything she could to help me. In the end she took me out of school. Sadly there was no other school available for me. A school inspector promised to help me. But he deceived me and I was just sent back, even after some sort of suicide attempt. At this time I had already lost my lover and grew apart from my two other friends.

It was decided that I had to finish high school at adult education, because I often got on well with older people and could learn quickly. It could have worked, but at the time it didn’t. Because of the trauma I had reverted back to my childhood ways of playing a part of someone I thought was better than me so I was never myself. I kept acting as if I was in a musical. Walking around with my walk-man playing songs suited to the occasion like a demented combination of Kurt and Rachel from Glee. So I was taken off that school to finish high school at another school with kids of my age group. Imagine my horror to find some of the kids from the previous school back again. Everything started all over again and after a few weeks I never went back.

Never one to stay dramatic for too long I had begun to love comedy by then. I let go of the bad and started educating myself. I started writing and performing. I even became a stand up comedian. An androgenic bi-gendered one at that!! The years of playing parts inside my head made it easy to be a completely different person on-stage.

I became a writer and I met the head of BBC comedy who loved my work, I toured I wrote columns for magazines and websites. It all went very well. Except for one thing: who was I? I existed and did what I thought was right, but had never taken the time to grow up and develop a true sense of who I was. To find out and maybe to help others I began to study as a psychologist.

To this day it feels as if I left a part of me and the person that I should have become back in the 1990’s when I left behind Michael Jackson for the suffocating swamp of depressing musicals. They were pretty, no doubt, but somehow turned me into someone I was not. I now know it was a way of protecting myself, but it blocked me from living my life. In a way I let the bullies win. I was bullied for being weird and as a retaliation…I let myself become weird.

I wrote this to let people see that childhood bullying can affect your life. You can never leave it behind. Yes, I became a writer, I might have done great things. But the scars never heal. I might not go around playing parts in my head now, but I do have a problem trusting people. I always think people just pretend to be nice. Sadly being bi-gendered, gay, Jewish and black this is something that can happen. You can talk to someone nice and suddenly they can start spouting some homophobic, anti-Semitic or racist crap. If you’re different it doesn’t just stop once you turn 20, you carry it with you all your life.

Through the years I did develop some sense of who I was. I grew to be proud of being bi-gendered, gay, Jewish and black. One of the reasons I became a psychologist was because I want to use my profession to help other victims of discrimination. It took me so long to find myself that I want to make things easier for others: Tell them to seek help and to confide in others, especially their parents. My mother was always there for me and had she not always stepped in at the right moment things might have been very different right now. I also want to make the world aware of the fact that there still is discrimination in the world and that things are getting pretty bad again. Yes, I am still figuring myself out, but I think I might be on the right track now.

Comments are closed