1984 – Born in the UK to Nigerian parents
5-6 Years old – My Big Bang moment when I realised the societal implications of my difference, of my Blackness. Being told by my classmates that I can only play Kiss Chase with them if I find another Black girl to join me.
9-11 – Having to tell my Dad that my classmate has called me a Gorilla – again and endure being called a Black bastard.
But it wasn’t all bad I guess. I did enjoy my schooling at St Francis de Sales overall. I got on well with my classmates after learning to dust off the insults and carry on playing marbles.
Being given ‘the talk’ by my parents. Who warned me against speaking to loud and bringing unnecessary attention to me because being Black won’t do me any favours. Being told warned that I have to work TWICE as hard as my white counterparts to get the same rewards or recognition.
11-16 – Schooled at St Ignatius College where the playground racial insults of my primary years morphed into playground ‘banter’ that I accepted and normalised. I even got in on it myself.
But personally I had a great time at St Ignatius College and had not one major incident to report.
16-18 – Attending Hertford Regional College in a place called Turnford in Cheshunt.
Immediately started hearing stories and whispers “Do you know how racist Cheshunt is?” My friends and I carried on trying to navigate normal teenage life until we had to dodge the glass bottles being thrown at us from a car full of white boys as it sped of down the road.
Until we got dragged out and forced to line up outside Tower Boots in Wood Green by Policemen who thought we looked suspicious.
Until I had to go to Chase Farm hospital to visit a close friend of mine that was attacked and left for dead by two racist thugs that couldn’t even be bothered to take his phone, wallet or passport.
Until another of my Asian friends was left for dead after being attacked and held by two white men in an in alleyway in Cheshunt whilst another ran to a nearby pub called the Rose and Crown to tell others to come and join in the beating. My friend needed major brain surgery and I give thanks to God that he’s still here with us today.
I wonder why I never had a good relationship with the Police during this time. Was it something I said? Dressed up looking smart with my boys about to go and see Papoose in concert (he’s an American rapper by the way) before being stopped, searched, victimised and dehumanised by a gang of Police because there was a robbery in the area and the alleged robbers were dressed in their nicest shirts and jeans.
Or maybe I really ‘looked like’ a terrorist which is why the friendly Policeman who stopped me as I was walking to my friend’s house outside White Hart Lane stadium, had to search my pockets and rucksack before graciously letting me leave.
Twenties – Made it through college and University passed by without much incident. Phew! Looking back I felt like I must’ve hit the jackpot. No insults or racist banter to deal with. Hey, this life’s kind of alright.
But maybe it isn’t so bad after all.
Living in Edmonton early twenties but always in Tottenham. I found a job working as mentor in a Pupil Referral Unit in Enfield (a school for children that have been excluded from mainstream school – where for some reason most of the kids that I was working with were Black and Brown boys and girls) Are all these children of colour the only ones that misbehaved at school?
Would’ve thought by now that the Police and I would have a better relationship. But the van full of Officers that drove past must not have liked the way we were standing on Tottenham High Road before doing a U turn. Maybe we thought something wrong which is why they searched all three of us but not before folding my hands behind my back and pinning me up against the wall when I asked why they were here.
Moving to Romford in my mid-twenties was a new change. Four of my siblings had finished school so it was left to our fifth and youngest sister, 15 years my junior to complete school. She went to a local Primary School in Romford and I do wonder what her educational experience was like.
But Romford was cool though, lots of green spaces and I only had to contend with the odd racist here and there that shouted out “Nigger” as I walked home after catching the last train from Tottenham.
Going out to clubs with my boys was always amazing. We had great times and there was hardly a club in London we didn’t go to. We were so disciplined back then, we knew how to separate before we got to the door and the reasons why. We didn’t even have to speak to each other. We just knew. Two would go first and the other three will follow behind a few people.
But don’t get me wrong, it was all good though because we all managed to get in just like the group of 5 white boys that went between us. Sometimes we didn’t even make it to the foyer. But hey, tomorrows another day.
Late twenties to early thirties – Went to University again to get my Teaching Degree and got married. Found a job as a Teacher in a Pupil Referral Unit in Barnetwhere I was blessed to work with the most amazing young people, young people that taught me so much about humanity, empathy, hope and perseverance. I also worked with the most amazing, dedicated and committed group of professionals, people that did not leave that school each without giving their absolute best to these kids.
But the kids were great and I guess they were also lucky they had someone like myself and other Black teachers to vent their frustrations to whenever they felt picked on, or whenever they experienced feelings of injustice when they felt disproportionately punished when they compared themselves to their white peers.
I remember going through school and never seeing anyone that looked like me teaching and wanted to give the young Black boys at my school a different image. It wasn’t hard to wear a suit, I like looking and feeling good anyway so it wasn’t difficult to suit up well and teach.
But I was so fortunate to have one or two of my white colleagues feel really close to me, you know. Close enough for them to make remarks whenever they saw me looking absolutely dapper they’d say to me, “You look like you’re going to court”. But hey, it’s okay because deep down I know that they’re only joking, they’re not that bad really and only flippantly using me to make reference to the Black experience in the judicial system because its only banter!
I’d progressed at the Pupil Referral Unit and taken on more responsibility. I was extremely competent and many of my colleagues often came to me for some assistance in helping them improve how they engage their learners.
I remember this carrying on until a colleague that asked me for some advice regarding a student she was having a little difficulty with. She ended up telling me that she believes that this kid doesn’t like her because “I’m white and I’m a woman”. Puzzled and shocked at this claim, I refocused and asked her what she meant.
Any who was I kidding. She denied saying it. Portrayed me as the aggressive black man that I must be as I “actively pursued the conversation by following her into the classroom”.
I’d never thought to write down the experiences I’ve had in this country before. And the tears that poured down my cheeks as the experiences that shaped my life looked straight at me for the first time in my life brought with them a release that I have never experienced in my 35 years living in this the UK. The racism I’ve normalised, the trauma I’ve suppressed, the concern for white tears I had at the cost of my own mental sanity and wellbeing, the jokes I’ve endured from white people that feel ‘comfortable’ and ‘unthreatened’ by me, the feelings I battle with at job interviews when despite outstanding levels of competency and experience still struggle to shake away feelings of inferiority. I’m left with one question.
But where do I go from here?