I was born, brought up and have lived for most of my life in and around Newcastle upon Tyne. On the North East coast, about 65 miles from Scotland, Newcastle was not the most ethnically diverse place during my early years. I used to joke that I knew or was related to every black person in Newcastle and, to be honest, that probably wasn’t that far from the truth.
I can recollect only two other people of Black African or Caribbean descent in secondary school and only a handful of Asian or other ethnicities. Out of a year group of over 300, I’d be surprised if we made it into double digits. As with most cities, some areas were more diverse; however, the black and Asian population was still tiny.
So, you can imagine growing up as a girl of mixed black African and white English heritage in the 1970s and 1980s; life was very different from that of black girls living in London. We had our usual run of the mill racism, it was the 70s and 80s after all, and certain foods and products and specialist hairdressers were hard to come by, but friendship groups were generally a mix of ethnicities (let’s face it, if we were going to “stick to our own” we wouldn’t have many friends). I recall a sense that it was better to try to fit in and assimilate than stand out and embrace our difference – ‘head down and don’t cause a fuss’.