Our parents or grandparents came here for a ‘better life’, if only they knew they were already in paradise. If only paradise could have been governed better, then there’d be no reason to come here. I remember having a conversation with my nan about whether she ever wanted to move back to Jamaica; she told me that was the intention for her and Grandad. They would work here for 5 years and be gone. Over 50 years later they were both still here. My grandad passed away 10 years ago and as he was buried here in the UK, Nan nan told me she wanted to be buried with him when the time came. They’re both now resting in peace and never did make it ‘back home’. They lived a good life here in the UK and from them a whole army of grandchildren and great grandchildren (and counting!) came about. Upon arrival, they were told that they would be able to make money in 3-5 years and go ‘back home’; they were sold a dream that involved streets in London being paved with gold and there being ample opportunities for them to give themselves, and future generations a much better life. The reality was that the streets were rubble and needed fixing and the citizens themselves did not want to do the dirty work. They also did not want these foreigners in their land and had posted up signs saying ‘no blacks, no dogs and no Irish.’ Despite all of that they still thrived.
My mum first came here when she was 10, roughly 10 years later and was told by students in her class that they were not to play with her because her skin was ‘dirty’. She was taunted in the playground by her peers because they wanted to see her ‘tail’. She was told by her white teachers that she will never amount to anything. She went back to live in Nigeria for some time before coming back to London as a young adult to study then go back to Nigeria and live there. My mum and her siblings also faced the same ugly face of racism when they came back here approximately 10 years after her first arrival. Love disrupted her plans and after over 30 years, she’s still here. Also side note to that teacher: she did pretty alright for herself!
There have been many things that happened in the UK in regards to race and the way white people have treated black people but I’m not going to give you an in depth history lesson.
Fast forward to my school years and although there were no signs up saying ‘no blacks…’ I never really felt that England was my home. I have always identified as Nigerian and Jamaican
and as much as there is a lot about the British culture that I have adopted, this sense of going ‘back home’ has always been within me. During my teenage years, as I’m sure many teens do, I struggled with identity and self confidence concerning my looks, it never dawned on me that not being represented in the media could affect me in such a big way. Now I’m not saying that was the only reason for my insecurities but looking back in hindsight, it does play its part in how many young girls see themselves. Being of mixed cultures, embracing both and the country in which I was born plus all the other things that teenagers have to deal with was, looking back at it, quite a lot! I found that my secondary school years, although harsh (inner city all girls school!) really helped solidify all what my mum instilled in me as a child. To be Black and to be proud. Some of our teachers were definitely racist, when I look back and think of some of the things that were said to us as a whole and individually, they definitely made racial slurs back then! Also, I don’t know if this is a pattern amongst some teachers but I remember my German teacher telling me not to aim so high because I’ll be disappointed. She also has been proven WRONG!
I’ve always had a real sense of pride being black, however, going out into the world of work is where I learned that we were not the majority and dominant race how we were in school; I remember getting feedback from a job interview and the woman telling me I was too ‘aggressive’, I really had to sit and think, is it true? Me? Now if you know me, you would literally laugh out loud at that statement. I can write a whole blog piece about the ridiculous things I’ve endured at the hands of white people in the workplace but I will leave it there.
Visiting my countries of origin definitely reinforced what my parents taught me, that I am a lot more than what the white man may label me as. My mother especially, although she can be really harsh with her words (typical African mum), she taught us to love who we are regardless of what others tell you. Always.
With my own daughter, I plan on doing the same. I believe confidence is key, I’ve heard many a people chat the upmost BS but because they’re speaking in a confident manner, they get the results they’re looking for.
The fact that #BlackLivesMatter is a movement 4 generations on from my grandma (I know it’s even longer but looking at my family specifically) is really heartbreaking. The thought of my daughter experiencing even a pinch of racism really pierces my soul. I do believe that there is so much to be done, so many institutions to be torn apart, frameworks, legislations and handbooks to be ripped apart and put back together with black people having a true voice this time. I think a lot of these major institutions haven’t accepted the fact that black people are in fact people, they are here to stay and have every single right to be wherever they wish to be. They should be treated with respect automatically, not because they’re a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher, the way I was addressed during my pregnancy and birth always changed when they heard I was a teacher, but I’ll save that for another piece.
With all that said, steps we could take with our own kids:
Raise them to be super confident.
Raise them to absolutely love themselves.
Raise them to respect their race and culture.
Raise them to be empathetic to others.
Raise them to respect all people from all walks of life.
Raise them with this sense of awareness that some people may not like you – but do you know what that’s ok! Their loss!
Raise them to not seek approval from the white man – I really hate when I hear black people say ‘white people do it like this so we should too.’ We come from such rich culture and it’s time to really start embracing it!
Read our children black books – from as young as 6 months or so, Tori reacts so differently when the characters in the book are black, I really do not think that’s a coincidence.
Tell them about their history, knowing what my Nigerian grandparents used to do, for example, most definitely pushed me to strive for the best for myself.
Surround them with successful people.
Start saving for them as early as possible and be disciplined with it – no matter how tough times get (God forbid!) make sure money is going in there every month!
Take them ‘back home’ regularly or for a long period of time if possible (don’t leave them there unless you absolutely trust where they’ll be staying). I think it is so important for young black kids to spend time growing up where they are not labelled as a minority, I actually detest that word with my whole being. Black people worldwide are not the minority race.
Don’t leave their holistic education solely to their school. You need to put in as much work as you can when it comes to their education because trust me from an insider’s point of view, the system is not built for our kids to win. I will be addressing British education and black students in a whole separate piece.
Teach them about diversity. Not everyone is the same and these differences should be celebrated, not ignored or shoved under the carpet of ‘everyone is equal’. It’s okay to be different and still accept and love others for their differences. It adds to the spice and variety of this beautiful God given creation! After all we are all human beings who feel, bleed, cry, laugh, get angry and can be filled with joy; and that should be a strong enough commonality to work together hand build a better future for generations to come.