In a decade marred by race riots in the UK, I was born to a black dad and a white mum. It’s easy to feel you don’t belong when you are constantly asked ‘Where are you from?’ and Doncaster never seems to be the right answer (who would have thought!).
Growing up, I remember feeling like I couldn’t fit in.
‘Go back to your own country’- where exactly was that? I was not white or black, but both, and neither. I was a check box on a form; I was ‘half-caste’ (still used as an acceptable phrase when I was younger, believe it or not); I was mixed race and I had mixed emotions about it.
Could I be openly proud of my Trinidadian roots without betraying my pride in Yorkshire and national pride in England? How would others perceive it? Where did I fit in? Did I have to dilute the Caribbean side to make it easier for others’ consumption and without having to answer loads of questions about food and music etc? And most importantly, who should I support when England vs West Indies were playing cricket?
I came to realise that I had the best of both worlds -- all the culture and heritage of God’s own county, Yorkshire, and the diverse melting pot of Trinidad which helped shaped my views and how I saw the world. Trinidad is a place with a wide range of ethnicities, religion and culture. I didn’t have a culture clash, I had a blend. I could have both, I could be both. I could be who I chose to be. I could be immensely proud of my dual heritage. I am proud of all of me.
In school, there weren’t many other Black and ethnic minority kids. There weren’t any teachers and we didn’t really learn about Black History or the contributions of Black people to Britain but my parents worked hard to educate me about my culture, heritage and history and how the world has changed or still needed to change.
We were told the undiluted - the ugly truth and the positive contributions. The side of history that isn’t far enough in the past, the disgusting political slogan used in the 60’s, Darcus Howe and the Mangrove 9, Blair Peach, the Bristol Bus Boycott and many more. I grew up with the Stephen Lawrence case quite literally- I was 6 when he was murdered and 25 when he got some semblance of justice.
Black History isn’t just about injustice- it’s recognition, its celebration. Celebrating contributions, celebrating those who gave their lives to make the world better for future generations, those who worked tirelessly, those who faced injustice and persevered, those who started with a vision and followed it through, the events, the inventors, the ‘firsts’, the educators and the inspirational. The everyday people who are recognised as heroes. I’m still amazed to think how much difference one person can make to the world.
We were taught how the struggles shaped history and laws, about those who stood up for themselves and others and I’m still learning and growing. One of the greatest parts about learning about my heritage, culture and history was the Leeds Carnival.
Leeds Carnival has always been part of my life; we always attended when I was a kid and the intoxicating atmosphere is second to none. It’s an assault on the senses in the best way - the colourful intricate costumes, the sweet sound of steel pans and the rhythmic beats of the calypso and soca music pumping from the sound systems on the trucks in the procession, the aromas of the plethora of food stalls wafting by. I remember the unapologetic pride of those waving flags in the air - flags of different islands/countries - it was a chance to demonstrate their roots and represent their heritage. It was somewhere where there were so many others like me, a place where I felt a huge sense of belonging and didn’t feel torn about being proud of my heritage. It was a place where there were so many different people, from all walks of life, all uniting to celebrate. Leeds Carnival was a chance to indulge in my Caribbean culture.
As an adult I still have the same feelings of Carnival, but now it’s a bittersweet experience for me. My dad passed away when I was 20 and when I’m there I have all the nostalgic memories, but my mind always creeps to how he must have felt. After leaving Trinidad to finally settle in the UK how joyous it must have felt for him -- finding a little part of him, a sense of home, community and a little slice of Caribbean sunshine and Trinidad, in a corner of Leeds and being able to share this with his family.
I wonder if Arthur France and the others who began the Carnival realise the impact they have had and the enormity of how their vision and work have touched and educated so many people. I am thankful for me, and for my dad.
Why is Black history and Black History Month important?
We want to hear from you, all of our Wakefield College staff and students. What are your personal stories and why do you think it is important?
To share your thoughts and stories or if you’d like to share your ‘Proud to be’ story, get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, if you’d like to talk about diversity, please speak to the staff in Student Central.