To celebrate Black History Month and the 75th anniversary of Windrush we have been working with the New Art Exchange and their NAE YOUnity Commission funded by Freelands Foundation. Our aim is to highlight the voices of Nottingham's Windrush generation and some of the challenges they faced...
I came over to the UK in 1961 at the age of two with my mother, father and my sisters. We came over on an Italian ship called the SS Ascania. I was so young I don’t really have any memory of the journey, but apparently when we docked in London my mother's reaction was, “What are we doing here?” We’d traded in this amazing tropical island to live somewhere where it was cold, grey and constantly raining.
When I first heard the term ‘Windrush’ and about the government scandal, my initial reaction was, “Great, another label slapped on my head.” It feels like there have been a lot of labels over the years. As a kid growing up here you were used to the everyday racism of things like name-calling, never being invited to other children’s parties or houses and generally being excluded. It hurt a lot. My father always told us that because we were young Black women, we were going to have to work twice as hard as anybody else to get anywhere in life.
I have a profound memory of a time when I was seven years old and holding a white toy doll called Tessa. In that moment, I had a strong wish to be white like my doll, so I could lead a less complicated life. I promised myself I would never wish for that again. I’m happy to say that’s the only time I've ever wished to be anything other than what I am.
Around the age of thirty I went back to visit Trinidad for the first time. The guy at customs said “Welcome home” as he stamped my passport. It was an amazing feeling. Then when he found out that was the first time I'd been back he told me off and asked when my next visit would be. Unfortunately, I’ve only been back once more in all those decades since.
You had to be especially careful to not be in the streets in town on Saturdays after the football finished, as it would be easy to get caught in the wrong place by the wrong people
In my time in the UK I've lived in London, Coventry and Nottingham. I was a teenager in Coventry when bands like The Specials and The Selector were on the rise, as well as the corresponding rise in the National Front. It was an abusive and frightening time. You had to be especially careful to not be in the streets in town on Saturdays after the football finished, as it would be easy to get caught in the wrong place by the wrong people.
I actually worked with The Specials, too - I did two summer internships working with them in London. It was an amazing experience to be part of a group of people actively working to spread love and fight against racism. There were downs as well as ups though. I remember one time we were with Lynval Golding and we were attacked by two racists. One guy was chasing me up the stairs of a block of flats and picked up a piece of scaffolding and tried to hit me with it. Thankfully he missed, but I was only a whisker away from having my back broken.
As I mentioned, I wasn’t keen on the Windrush label at first. But the more I've thought about it since the more proud I have become of it. Our parents must have had a lot of courage to make such a big life change and I know they were doing it for their children, for us and for our futures.
England is a better place for it, too - just consider the 200 pioneering women on SS Windrush, many who came to help kickstart the NHS and how valued their contributions have become since. Plus, the many skilled professionals and RAF pilots and war veterans Like every country, the UK is by no means perfect, but there are a lot more people of different backgrounds and cultures and skin tones working together, developing friendships and falling in love than there were forty or fifty years ago. That has to be a good thing.
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