Tell us about yourself? What is your heritage/race?
My heritage is Guyana, black Caribbean. I am adopted and do not know much about my heritage.
What are you most proud of about your heritage?
I am proud to be black but sadly do not know much about my heritage.
Let’s talk a bit about your family. Have they been the ones to teach you about your histories? Are you comfortable talking about any hardships they have faced over the years?
I am adopted by a white woman. My father came from south India, and he was Indian. They experienced racism from both by society and from their families. Their families did not want them to marry in the late ’50s.
I have two other siblings; We are all separately adopted. My brother has Jamaican heritage and my sister is of south Indian heritage.
We were all adopted in the late sixties and early seventies. In those days cross-racial adoption was very common and issues around identity were not considered. We grew up in a very white middle-class area.
My mother challenged racism overtly, which was cathartic. We were not taught about our heritage. I grew up not knowing or understanding the country my birth mother came from.
My mother did not know about Afro hair care. It was not until I lived in a more diverse community I had braids and learned how to manage my hair in my late twenties.
It is interesting when race and racism are discussed and racism. It is often in the context of poverty and growing up with overt racism. We did experience overt racism from the police, being chased by the National Front but also covert racism from white middle-class liberals and less liberal people as well.
Tell us a bit about your childhood. What was your school/university experience like? How was it overall?
I experienced racism since I started school. From the overt continuous racist words in the classroom and in the playground. Some teachers made generalisations regarding my ability. I was encouraged to be good at sports and the music teacher was surprised when I could barely make a sound on the drums and expressed his surprise that ‘ I should be good at that’.
I was often the only non-white child in the school.
I received constant questions about why my hair and skin were different I remember being 16 years old waiting at a bus stop and asked whether ‘I washed’.
Most teachers were indifferent regarding the racist remarks, the perpetrator made and informed they were ‘being silly’ as they sang ‘No black on the union jack’ and did a Hitler salute’ it did not feel silly on the receiving end of this, which was routinely stated to me.
In the seventies and eighties, black people were particularly portrayed very negatively.
We experienced racism from verbal abuse in school and going to the shops. The police stopped my brother for having a brake block missing on his bicycle. He had to do a full-body spread on the bonnet of a police car and he was patted down. He was thirteen years old. These were my early memories being treated differently.
I went to a village school and a teacher’s purse went missing. She was convinced it had been stolen. We were asked in the class whether we had seen anyone who is not usually near the school. We all noticed a black man running near the school and mentioned him. Not thinking we were being asked who would be the suspect.
When I returned home my brother was thrown to the kitchen floor by two police officers asking where is the purse. My brother did not know what they were talking about. I knew the man I had seen running was not my brother and there was no evidence this man had stolen a purse.
It still shocks me to the day, remembering the fear on my brother’s face, a young teenager.
When I returned back to school the teacher had found the purse. We later found out, the man who we saw running was the boyfriend of the headmaster’s daughter. The purse was never stolen but misplaced by the teacher. I always questioned whether she made the assumption regarding the black man we had observed. In the seventies, black men and boys were viewed as ‘ muggers’. This image has not changed now sadly. As we are aware young black boys followed by security guards in shops, due to suspecting them to steal.
As a family we had experienced the National Front chasing us, physically assaulting my brother.
At the time some of the police were members of the National Front we were informed.
When I was chassed by the National Front on a local beach, everyone turned the other way. No one reported it to the police other than my mother. When she did flag down a police car in the area, they then drove off the other way and did not log the incident until we made a complaint publically. I was more scared of the silence from others and the inaction.
Some people once alleged us in our village we were ‘harboring illegal immigrants’. At the time we had a caravan in our field, where our chickens slept and we would put a light on to assist them to lay eggs for longer. My mother took delight showing the police the hen house.
We did not talk about this incident just joked about the look on the police man’s face, however, we all knew the motivation from our villages was one of racist malice intentions. A similar incident occurred when we lived in another village and had a little converted barn where friends stayed. We were accused again of having illegal immigrants living there.
I remember working on a bead van as a Saturday job, one of the workers said to me, when I bent my head, ‘you must be used to doing that when you ‘ are in the jungle'. I was so upset and surprised a grown adult thought it was a funny joke to say to a young person.
Do you feel like your race and culture was a topic covered in school?
Race was not covered in school at all, not even issues around slavery. I do not even think the civil rights movement was mentioned.
I later became political and active and had to do my own reading around race and racism.
Have you ever encountered any difficulties in your working career?
I work in Social Work, as a profession there is an assumption we have the monopoly on understanding inequality. Unfortunately in my training, the issues of race were not covered in great depth. I worked in mental health and there was a theory that ‘cultural shock' was a reason why more black people became unwell, not due to institutional racism. The focus was the need to assimilate oneself to the new society, white society after coming from aboard. The theory was inherently racist.
The positive issues of my course was when a lecturer challenged a white student who stated ‘she did not see colour’. She made reference to a non-white child in a nursery and how she did not see a difference. The lecture stated you might not see it but the child would feel it. I felt this was empowering and powerful coming from a white middle-class lecturer.
Overall though the issues around systemic racism and white privilege was not discussed in the 1990’s.
Sadly, the issue around ‘ political correctness’ in the 1990s assisted to mask racism and muffle people who wanted to talk openly about prejudice and systematic racism. This area I feel did do considerable damage to openly discuss racism. The focus was on black bin bags or blackboards. It did not enable an open discussion and an honest debate.
I do wonder with the new uprise of the far-right is a backlash from the day’s around political correctness. I remember the day we voted to come out of the European Union, racist views came out in force. Some people felt it gave the license to overtly be racist again. The truth was many people were racist but knew not what to say, thus couldn't be challenged or encouraged to seek to be educated.
When it comes to relationships, do you find there any challenges that you face?
When I was younger I was made to feel unattractive due to having black skin. It wasn’t until I went to university and socialised with people from a range of diversity I felt more positive about my identity and my black skin.
I wanted to be white for many years. Like many young black people, I hoped I would be white. I couldn't tolerate looking at a full-size mirror at myself until I was 16 years old.
I am married to a white man who cannot understand why people are racist. I have not experienced any prejudice from his family or extended family.
Do you feel you have been denied any opportunities in your life?
It is likely. However, when it comes to covert racism it is hard to identify.
When I was in school I was deemed not to be very intelligent and placed in all the bottom groups. All my friends were in the top groups.
I wanted to be a veterinary nurse. The careers adviser suggested for me to be a zookeeper.
My mother was very focused on education and it was not an option to leave school at 16. I was supported to attend college where I excelled. I was actively encouraged to do a degree even though I suggested being a Social Work assistant. They stated I was capable and I went onto university and achieved a 2.1-degree.
If I had not experienced such positive outcome from college lectures my life could have been very different.
My college course talked about racism in depth. We were taught about Charles Murray, the Sociologist who had theories around race and intelligence. He cited black people were less intelligent than white people.
My sociology lecture was challenging. He introduced me to music by Gill Scot Heron and Grandmaster Flash, linking politics, music racism, and poverty. I became a more independent thinker during this time. My lecturer was white a middle-class and radical, I loved the experience.
Have you ever experienced a time where you felt someone of a different race has stood up for you and actively shown solidarity?
Yes, I have, at school. I have experienced my friends and on occasion some other people.
I had an art teacher who challenged a student who shouted racial abuse at me. He told him to get out of his classroom and would not tolerate racism. He was one of very few teachers who challenged racism. Most of the teachers ignored the racist abuse.
What do you think is the most difficult part about living in Britain for yourself?
Where many people believe racism does not exist anymore. People do not want to talk about racism and sadly some of the most appeared liberal people are in denial.
Raising my son who thinks to live in a multicultural area we would need to leave the country! My son stated he does not want to be black and views black people as 'poor and living in Africa’. Imperialism still being advocated in schools where my son sees images of white people rescuing black people in Africa. Such as Caford organisation which does not seem to have changed its image for several decades.
He experiences the same negative stereotypes I experienced in the 1970s. We have not moved on much in 49 years.
How do you think we can better educate ourselves in the UK about race and equality?
Start with our education system which needs to discuss race and inequality at an early age: preschool and primary school. Further education in secondary schools, colleges, and universities around white privilege and inequality.
For the national curriculum and key stages in school to provide factual information around black and white history in Britain and beyond. To make it relevant to now rather than only focusing on the civil rights movement which made some difference however limited change has happened to structural inequality.
Teacher training to reflect and understand black history and for it to be taught thoroughly throughout the education journey. Literature to reflect an honest portrayal of black history with role models who were non-white people that have been involved in all aspects of society.
More diversity within the staff in schools, colleges, and universities. Having more positive role models.
Mental health and wellbeing focusing on how structural inequality and racism having a detrimental effect on one's self-esteem and opportunities.
All institutions to look at structural inequality, from the criminal justice system, education, health, social care, housing, government, civil service, etc.
Anything else that you want to address? This is all about you and your story. We want you to feel free and safe to tell us what you feel is necessary.
I would like to get involved in promoting good information regarding racism, inequality, and how systems need to change for the future generation. Challenging racism is everyone’s responsibility not a black person's issue to resolve on his or her own.
I would like to be involved in the education/wellbeing promotion in relation to challenging racism.
We have to question why race relations legislation, reviews on miscarriages of justice, and other inquires have not changed or challenged racism systematically.
My son came home from a holiday club today and had experienced racist abuse. It felt fitting to say this considering the topic we are talking about.
I want to make an active difference for non-white people so my son and others do not experience racism throughout their lives.
I would like to be in touch with a black writer/producer locally to discuss some ideas.