Black History Month 2021
Robert is a volunteer at George House Trust and has written a four-part blog for Black History Month 2021. Part 1 is below......
When I arrived in the UK in the mid 1970’s I had no idea that I would face racism and prejudice almost on a daily basis. Having come from Jamaica where the island’s motto is “Out of Many, One People” and having grown up with cousins who were black, white and all the shades in between and having gone to school with Chinese, Indian, European and other ethnicities whose parents or grandparents had made their home in Jamaica, it really was a shock to the system.
I was a 21-year-old mixed race man and came here to study, with a view of settling down as my great uncle on my father’s side had been an Admiral in the British Navy. My father is white Jamaican of French and British heritage and my mother is mixed race, the offspring of a black father and a half Irish, half Scottish mother.
So perhaps now I could see why my dad’s side of the family had always come across as having an air of superiority. They sometimes looked down on the darker skinned side of the family but as my father explained this was something inherent from the old Colonial days. My dad tells me that when he told his parents he had proposed to my mother, they sat him down on the veranda and said, “Three questions!” “Is she coloured?” “Do her parents have money?” “Is there any lunacy in the family?”
One of my first experiences of being made to feel different was one Saturday morning in Birmingham, when I went to a mate’s house to go to a football match and his mother answered the door and then shouted up to my mate Dave, “There’s a coloured lad at the door for you”. Why the adjective? She could have just said, “There is a lad at the door”.
A similar incident occurred when I was looking for digs at college. The man who phoned round on my behalf repeated the same mantra with every call. “He is coloured” So what? I thought. I soon discovered that at that time some white people thought that young people like me would be cooking highly spiced foreign muck, playing Reggae Music full blast and cussing them in Patois English.
There are so many situations over the years where I have had to stand tall and just stay composed but one incident that sticks in my memory is during my first year of teaching and travelling home on the school bus.
The driver suddenly stopped the bus and wiped the floor with me because I had followed the instructions of the Head teacher and asked the pupils to calm down and stay in their seats. This man abused me in front of the students by saying that it was his bus, he was in charge and how dare me give orders on his bus. It was quite obvious it was to do with me being a black teacher as in those days there weren’t many of us in the profession like there is today.
7th October 2021