Growing up Black & British in the 70s

This is only a brief insight into my experiences of being black & British. It is told in the context of Black History Month 2018, as well as my reasons for creating this site. So this is an intentionally positive account of those experiences. Clearly not all my experiences were positive. But the overriding experience most definitely was, in spite of the various challenges.

My parents and grandparents were Jamaican immigrants who came over to the UK in the 50s. As a child my experience growing up was deeply rooted in my heritage. Yet at the same time I was also immersed in British culture. I'm not sure at what age it was that I recognised that I had the best of both worlds. But when I did, I made the most of it.

Food

At home I would eat

  • Ackee & saltfish
  • Curried goat
  • Brown stew chicken
  • Yam
  • Green banana
  • Cornmeal porridge
  • Saltfish fritters
  • Fried fish
  • Rice & peas

and many other traditional Jamaican dishes. But for school dinners and at white friend's homes I would eat all sorts of british dishes. As I grew up in inner city Birmingham, I had a mixture of friends from many different heritages. That meant I also ate a lot of traditional Indian and African food too. The thing is I love food. So being able to experience food from different cultures was a win-win situation for me.

Television & Music

Another thing that also stands out in my memory is watching TV. I could guarantee that all the black families that we knew would all be excited about TV programmes that featured black people. I was entertained by

  • TheĀ  Lenny Henry Show
  • The Real McCoy
  • Desmonds
  • No Problem
  • Mixed Blessings

and then inspired by

  • Trevor McDonald
  • Darcus Howe
  • Bernie Grant
  • Benjamin Zephaniah
  • Bill Morris
  • Paul Boateng

and many others. The music that got played in our house was varied

  • Lovers rock
  • Dub
  • Reggae
  • Break dance
  • Hip-Hop
  • Soul
  • Disco
  • Pop
  • Funk

All got a fairĀ airing at some point during any week.

Sport

I used to play Sunday league football for a while and I got to meet my football idol at the time Cyrille Regis (RIP my brother). I was into athletics too as well as a number of other sports. This meant that at any occasion possible I would be rooting for

  • John Barnes (despite me being a Villa fan!!)
  • Paul Ince
  • John Fashnu
  • Daley Thompson
  • Judy Simpson
  • Tessa Sanderson
  • Linford Christie
  • John Regis
  • Denise Lewis
  • Colin Jackson

and again many others. I was additionally enthralled by

  • Viv Richards
  • Clive Lloyd
  • Malcolm Marshall
  • Michael Holding

when I watched the West Indies cricket team. Then endured patches of cognitive dissonance when the West Indies played England!!

Identity

All of the above people and programmes did something to me that I didn't really recognise until I started to become self-aware. They showed me that while my heritage was Jamaican, my identity was both Jamaican & British. I realised that those people I mentioned above, all played and still do play a relevant role in Black British society and culture. At some point I realised that my identity was different from my parents and grandparents generation too. For a while I was conflicted because in some circles I was told I had to identify as Jamaican and in other circles as British. What we now call intersectionality wasn't a thing back then.

As an African & Caribbean community in Britain we share some significant cultural and lived experiences. But as individuals our experiences are unique to us and it would seem that it is those that ultimately shape our identity. In my opinion, there is no one person or organisation that can speak for all Afro-Caribbean people. With that said, I hope that Black History Month continues to show case the contributions made by Afro-Caribbean people to both the UK & the world and that we can all be proud in that knowledge.

Peace & Love

STG