Politics

I Found Out What It Means To Be Black By Growing Up ‘In Between’

You’re reading My Black History, a series of personal reflections from Black women in the UK on the meeting point of history and life lessons.

There’s something undeniably scary yet powerful about feeling small. That thought always came to mind staring at the clouds from an aeroplane window, 30,000 feet high. I refer to myself as my mum’s handbag – because I was always by her side whenever she was ready to relocate.

I was born in London, but moved to the US at the age of five where Las Vegas, Nevada quickly became home. I met my first friend, a Mexican native named Jenny who lived across the street from me. She didn’t speak any English, and I didn’t speak any Spanish but that didn’t stop us from having fun together.

We didn’t need words. At that age all that mattered was enjoyment. I have fond memories of faltering conversations as we listened to mariachi music and eat traditional Mexican meals prepared by her mother, which is still one of my favourite cuisines to date. I felt a deep connection to Jenny. I was this little Black girl from England with a distinct accent, and she was a little brown-skinned Mexican girl. We embraced and celebrated each other’s uniqueness.

Those are memories I cherish, and I will always carry them with me. Embracing Jenny’s culture made me even prouder to embrace my own. As life unfolded through, an experience I had in second grade, by this time eight-years-old, made me begin to notice an uncomfortable divide in society.

I could never please my Caucasian teacher Mrs V. I was a talkative child and it seemed the only way Mrs V could cope with me was to seat me on the opposite side of the classroom, away from the whiteboard, behind three strategically placed filing cabinets, with masking tape outlined on the floor to limit how far I could walk. But to see the whiteboard, I had to move outside of the taped area, which always landed me in trouble. I was too young then to realise that this severe treatment, caused by ‘adultification’ bias, was reserved for me, the only Black child in the class. This experience forever spoiled what was meant to be a time of innocence, happiness, tenderness.

I left Las Vegas at the age of 12, and headed back to England. What I thought would have been an easy transition turned out to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated. I was the new girl starting in a predominantly white school in Bristol and the curriculum was so different to what I was used to.

There was no lessons on Black history. The lessons taught in Las Vegas were focused around the Civil Rights movement, and the roles played by Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. I felt the void sitting through numerous history lessons in the UK, a country where Black history is woven into the fabric of its past, hearing not even a casual reference to Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. We focused entirely on European history and the world wars.


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