Lately there’s been a lot of talk about immigration, I know, when isn't there… but it got me thinking about my experience growing up in Britain.
Multiculturalism. Man, such a heavy loaded word which people respond to either with a gagging reflex or a saintly smile and open hand gesture seen daily on politicians.
This word didn't exist when I was growing up in rural Essex. Having fled the downtrodden of 80s west London, the parents dragged me and my black face into whiter than UKIP South Essex. Multiculturalism? I was black and that was that. I learned within two days in my primary school that it was sink or assimilate. And I did. So that by the time I reached secondary school I had two me-s. The ‘me’ at home: chatty, confident, argumentative but respectful of my parents, listening to reggae alongside classical alongside soul, eating plantain one day and Yorkshire puddings then next. Then there was the me at school – still chatty, a joker to enable me to make friends, lacking in confidence, afraid of older girls, unsure as to why people thought it was ok to tell me boys didn't fancy me because I was black…and then sadly accepting this as the norm, ashamed of my Afro hair neatly braided every Saturday night by MissingMum, fearful of any newcomers to a social group as I had to gauge whether they would be ok with me being black or not, laughing at the black jokes aimed at me but burning with anger inside, gradually developing a hatred for the brown face that looked back at me every morning.
Just exactly where was this multiculturalism? My parents were showing me more of an acceptance and understanding of the wider world behind closed doors than my school life ever did. But I’m being harsh – the school itself was pretty forward thinking for an institution on the A13 corridor out of East London. Teachers took a real interest in my talents of sport (sigh as were all black kids), music (yawn and again with the black kids), writing (nods approvingly), reading, performing, maths (jumps excitedly for joy). I was the only black child in my entire school between 1983 and 1988 and yet these teachers took time to deal with the racist bullies, to encourage me to talk to them about what was happening, to discuss books that dealt with race in the classroom, to keep challenging me to reach above and beyond my potential. Whether I did or not is neither here nor there, but in conjunction with my parents the teachers in my school played a huge role in my successes and achievements. Whilst other students may have singled me out and not understood that my difference from them was so minuscule; the staff at Gable Hall Secondary School in Corringham, Essex treated me as they would any other student. When I read that Steve McQueen believes his school days in a West London comp (bizarrely the one I cut my teacher teeth on) were difficult mainly due to his colour I amsaddened. Saddened because decades earlier and miles away my experience was, on the whole, positive, enjoyable and rewarding. Surely his should have been an improvement on mine?
I don’t know how I feel about the discussion about whether multiculturalism works. Every nation, continent, indeed this Earth is full of different cultures. Britain need only turn the pages of its own history books to see how instrumental it has been in developing a country which has a variety of peoples. These people of other cultures would not be here if the Brits hadn't have gone there.
My view is that it is about acceptance and understanding. No, don’t think I’m being wishy washy. Me and the GeordieLad have a people in our lives from a plethora of countries, cultures, religions, cities, abilities, sexualities, genders, beliefs, counties and they are welcomed to our family as one. Surely that’s enough. That’s what we’re teaching the 3G.
As FantasticoDad says, there is only one race – the human race.
Goodnight London, wherever you are.
Goodnight London, wherever you are.