Monday, October 10th, 2016

Your 20’s, the 80’s vs now – a Mother and daughter Discuss

Hi all. I hope that you are well :) So as I mentioned in my previous post, I want to mix it up a it and include some different content on this platform.

I am keen to learn more about those in my community who have interesting perspectives. So I hope to interview them and learn from the way that they walk through life. To start this off, I couldn’t think of anyone more inspirational and wise in my life than my Mother. I’m really interested in what it was like to be a 21 year old young Black Woman in the 80’s. I hope to reveal the similarities and differences between what she experienced and what I am experiencing now.

My Mother has been a social activist in Luton for the majority of my life. As well as being a Labour Councillor, she has also been a Governor for various schools for the past 16 years. She is also one of the leaders of a charity called the ‘African Caribbean Community Development Forum’ that works to educate the local community about Afro-Caribbean heritage, to organise events that celebrate black history and to organise award ceremonies for Black students who have high academic achievements. The list goes on but it’s needless to say that I am very proud daughter.

Thank you Mum for sharing your experiences and your insight. I ask all who choose to read further to be kind with their comments and constructive with any criticism. (Remember that this is my Mumma !) 

mother-10006

Hi Mumma, how are you ?

  • I’m good

So could you tell me a bit about where you were raised? I know that you are a Londoner and that you were born in Hackney. But whereabouts in Hackney ?

  • I was born in Stepney. I went to school in Islington and then our family moved to Clapton/ Stamford Hill. Then we moved to Dalston on the Holly Street Estate. It was quite notorious back then. Then we moved onto Stoke Newington. Back then Stoke wasn’t as affluent as is it now.

Right. So when it come to your heritage, my heritage, our heritage can you say a bit about our family and where your parents came from ?

  •  My parents came from the North Coast of Jamaica.

And they move to England in the 60’s ? Just before you were born ?

  • Yes, there was a call out after the Second World War by Britain inviting people from the Caribbean to rebuild this country.

So they were invited.

  • They were invited over. Actually, the Windrush era started when the NHS was born. The SS Windrush arrived in Southhampton in 1948 and the NHS was founded in 1948. There would have been no NHS without immigrants because they filled the jobs.

What jobs did they do ?

  • There was a massive nurse recruitment. So a lot of young females from the Caribbean came to Britain to train as nurses. There was also a recruitment drive within London Transport for bus drivers and positions like that. And there was a lot of recruitment in the private sector too. Sometimes this country has a bit of amnesia with their social history.

——–

 

Take a second to reflect on your 21 year old self; on your personality at the time and your outlook on life. What similarities and differences do you find between the way you were and the way I am now ?  

  • I was feisty.  

Is that a similarity or a difference?  

  • That’s a similarity.  

*I laugh* 

  • I was very clear about what I wanted out of life and what I wanted to do. I had goals and I had dreams and that’s a similarity because you are quite clear in what you want. The difference, which is good, is you being able to fulfil the creative side that I had to oppress. And that’s one thing that I am thankful for. 

Really?

  • Ye 

I’ve often told you that I worry that by taking a creative route, I won’t be able to further the goal that many children and grandchildren of immigrants have – to build and to create a better life than the generation who travelled here.  

  • But I think that now is a better time to unleash your creative side than it used to be. I think there are more opportunities now. There are still some people who are a bit snobbish about it. “Oh, I wouldn’t let my child go into the arts”. But I have learnt through seeing the pain children go through to live their parents’ dream if it isn’t their own. The mental health challenges. I know of people who have had nervous breakdowns because their parent had pushed them down the academic route. 

    As the children of immigrants, we couldn’t ask for certain things because our parents didn’t have the disposable income. So I could dream, but how was it going to happen? What I’m thankful for is that through being focused and achieving what I did, I gained resilience. I gained a bit of knowledge of the system and the disposable income to navigate it, unlike my parents’ generation. I’ve been able to reprioritise to give guidance.

When I think about that it makes me so grateful for the sacrifices that you made.  

interview-hot

So Mum, what was Hackney like in the 80’s ?  

  • Hmmm, not like it is now !  

How do you think it has changed ?  

  • Well there were riots in the 80s because of the oppression that people of African and Caribbean decent in my generation went through. In the 70’s and the 80’s there was the SAS Law – Stop and Search. So if they suspected you they would stop you and the boys and men got stopped a lot. I can’t remember the catalyst that lit the flame for the riots but there were massive amounts of unrest.  

In Hackney ?  

  • In Tottenham. But that’s not that far from Hackney. Hackney at the time was seen as working class and people from other sides of the city looked down on the area. Which was sad.

    It was a very diverse community because there was a significant African and Caribbean Community but there was also a significant White community. And as the years went on into the 70’s there was a growing Turkish community in certain parts of Hackney. But we all got on.

*I look confused*

All of the communities got on ? White and Black ?

  • Well we knew that some hated us; we knew that some had issues. But also in the 70’s there started to be an enlightenment. From the Civil Rights Movement and from the first showing of the show ‘Roots’.

I see

  • Ye, ‘Roots’ was a major catalyst in starting to talk about slavery. Because our parents never talked about slavery. They never talked about what their grandparents went through. There concentration was on the here and the now so there was a lot of knowledge that wasn’t passed down. 
  • And then when roots came out, the streets were empty. Nobody was out, everybody got themselves home to watch that program. 

mother-4-edited

So when it comes to gaining knowledge about our heritage, how does my experience differ from yours ? 

  • You’ve got the internet ! You’ve got ssooo much more than what we had. 

So you couldn’t speak to your parents about it ? They didn’t understand the need ? 

  • Well how can you give what you don’t have ? Many in my parents generation were denied that knowledge. 

They didn’t know ?

  • They didn’t know. Most didn’t know that we were Kings and Queens in Africa. What they knew was the world that they grew up in. In Jamaica, a lot of what they were taught was what was dictated by the British Empire. They were taught about the greats of Britain.
  • What they had to counteract that was aural story telling which was passed down through generations. For example, the Jamaicans knew about the Maroon community. So they knew some things. But they mainly knew about what happened on the Island, not what happened before because that wasn’t shared.

That’s interesting. Because often I feel like you are more connected to our heritage because you have a Mother who is Jamaican. As a part of the second generation of descendants, I may know more about my heritage than my Grandparents but sometimes it can seem inauthentic because … I don’t speak Jamaican Patois, I’m not amazing at cooking all types of Jamaican food, I struggled to deal with the heat when I visited Jamaica ….

  • *Mum chuckles*

It feels weird. You know ? 

  • Ye, I get that. And I can’t tell you that it’s wrong, I can’t tell you it’s right. But I can tell you that it is real

——–

 

You were part of the first generation of children born to the Caribbeans who were invited to England after the 2nd World War. You were raised amongst Caribbean culture and British Culture. What hardships did this create ? And how did you overcome them ?

I’ve noticed that the children of immigrants, Caribbean or otherwise, have parents who want them to speak English. For example, I have a friend who is of Nigerian decent. She has said that her grandparents speak fluent Yoruba but never encouraged her to learn because they wanted her to focus on speaking perfect English in order to succeed in British society. 

I can understand that my Grandparents’ generation didn’t realise that they were creating a disconnect in the culture but …

  • Well I think it’s common for people who migrate to put the country that they move to on a pedestal and undervalue what they came with. I am saddened when our people don’t hold onto their mother tongue and pass it on to the next generation.

    When I was your age, I just talked differently around different people. When I was around my parents, I spoke a certain way. And when I was with my mates I would speak with the slang of the time.

    The aim was to feel at ease in all the different worlds that you existed in.

To be a chameleon.

  • Yes. And that’s what I’ve always wanted you and your siblings to be too. To be able to adjust and adapt in order survive.  
  • Because when people look at us they make certain assumptions about what may come out of our mouths. I’ve heard people say, “You’re really intelligent, aren’t you !”

Yes ! As if they’re surprised, right ?!

  • Yes. And I’m thinking … why is that ? Why are you surprised that I am intelligent ? Why are you expecting me to be stupid ? It’s quite insulting. But sometimes you have to just …

Smile at them ..

  • Ye, smile it off. 

Hhaha

——–

In the 80’s there was a high level of political unrest and economic instability in the UK. And I think it’s fair to say that at present, due to events including ‘Brexit’, there is a lot of confusion and fear about the political and economic future of the UK. In the 80’s (the Thatcher era), how did the issues of the time affect your outlook on our future ? Did you remain optimistic about achieving your goals ? 

  • Yes. I knew it was going to be hard but I didn’t give up hope. If you give up hope, you have no energy to move forward. So I always kept hoping and I always keep hoping. But I don’t hope in vain. I put work behind it.

——–

Do you think that the issues for young adults in the 80’s are similar to the issues of today ?

  • Yes, there are some similarities. But then I look around and see the opportunities that there are for your generation and that my generation didn’t have. The second generation of descendant from the Caribbean have parents who are way more knowledgable of how the system works. You can also find Black role models in all professions if you seek them. My generation didn’t have that. In the 70’s, if we say a black person in TV we would shout “A black person is on TV!” and run to watch it. And now, my generation can help yours to understand all that you can achieve. 

with-mum

What are your concerns when thinking about the attitudes of those in their 20’s today ?

  • I’m not sure. Maybe the expectation that the bank of ‘Mum and Dad’ should and must be there for them.

Entitlement ?

  • Ye, and its the continuous need to have the latest gadget or branded item and making these corporations rich.  I think that your generation don’t question how it adds to your life and helps you get to where you want to go. You are helping their shareholders gain wealth. How does that help you become more successful ? I see some people concentrating on having the latest possessions. And you look at their assets and liabilities, the assets aren’t growing. Once you buy the latest thing, they depreciate and aren’t worth as much.

Ye. Well, I can’t represent my entire generation but I get that a lot of us feel like we have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow. And  ‘YOLO’ – you only live once; that you have the money now and it would be good to use it to enjoy yourself and invest in your happiness instead making sacrifices for the sake of tomorrow that leave you unhappy with your life. 

I know that there is a balance to be struck. And that it’s important to keep questioning what makes you happy. For example sacrificing financial stability to buy an expensive watch might not be the wisest decision. But I can understand the frustration of continuously making sacrifices while being unsure of whether they will bare fruit in the future. 

  • Ye, I know. But when it comes to making sacrifices, each individual needs to decide for themselves whether it’s worth it.  You can’t say ‘YOLO’ and ‘I don’t know what doing to happen tomorrow’ and then start moaning when tomorrow comes. I see a lot of young people do that. They forgo the possibility of tomorrow for the thrill of today. 
  • If you are accepting of the reasons why you make sacrifices, it’s possible to be content. 

——–

One last question Mum ! If you could go back and have a conversation with your 20 year old self, what advice would you give yourself ? 

  • To stay focused and try to be more content with life. And to let things go; realise that I cannot control others. You can only control your own actions, so concentrate on yourself. 

Ye, my favourite saying is ‘Stay in your own lane’ .

  • Yes

And what advice do you have for me as I go through the rest of my 20’s ? 

  • Enjoy it. It’s not going to come again !

Haha, okay. And any thoughts for people like me in my generation ?

Value your Parents and your Grandparents generations. I think sometimes in the Caribbean community we can undervalue our elders because they didn’t gain as much wealth and prestige as the migrants of other Cultures & Communities. They have wisdom. And wisdom is not only in those with the gold and cars and the big houses.

Value the Windrush generation while you still have them around you. Because if you feel like life is hard at times for you as a young adult, it was waaaayyyy harder for them.

Your generation are a product of their dreams.

——-

**Mum, I have immense gratitude for your honesty and willingness to participate in this interview. Thank you :)** 


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