They call us “The Windrush Generation,” but I never came to England on any banana boat. I flew in from Kingston to London on a TWIA flight and was there in under 12-hours from door-to-door. I had no desire whatsoever to be cooped up onboard a ship at sea with all and sundry for weeks on end.
I remember in those early years when I worked as a General Clerk how it was not too difficult to find a job in England. After I studied Book-keeping and was good at it, I could not get a job anywhere. The insults both veiled and covert were very painful. The prejudice of these English people meant that they would rather cut off their nose to spite their face than to employ the likes of me. So I withdrew into my shell because I just could not take their bigotry.
When the Chinese auditor at work accused me of having no ambition to stay in that same dead-end job for twenty years, I agreed with him entirely, but I knew that when I left that place, I was leaving the country for good. There was no way I was going to respond to another job advert in England again to be turned down like a rubbishy old rag. It does something to the psyche to have people make you feel ashamed of simply being. The trouble is, if I had stayed in Jamaica, I would think a Book-keeper’s job was not good enough for me.
I met my old school friend, “Birdie,” again for the first time in over forty years when I took my first holiday to the United States. She had moved to Queens, New York, around the same time that I emigrated to England in 1956, and she was surprised that thirty years later I was not a lawyer, a professor, or someone with a great, big profession. That is why I could never return to Jackson. It hurts me like the thrust of a red-hot poker that I can never go back home to the place where I was born. Birdie goes home all the time. She is fortunate enough to spend vacations in Jamaica, Canada, and in the United States.
I hate failures. I like to work hard because I was brought up with that mindset ringing in my ears. “If you work hard, you are bound to succeed. You may not achieve your objective for yourselves and become Minister of Health, but your children would have it easier.” Our children would have a better life. I was only a Book-keeper, but at least I did not have more than two children. I believed that my children would make it in England because I was prepared to work hard to give them that chance. But when I saw Birdie’s children on that first trip to New York City, I knew that I had to get away from England as quickly as possible.
My employers did not realise that my mind was already set to leave when I came back from holiday in September of 1986. All they cared about was the pile of work that had built up during my absence. But I had planned to be in the USA within the year. By August 1987, I was to be living in Brooklyn, or at least as soon as I could sell my one and only asset. And there began my nightmare.
It seems the maisonette I had bought wasn’t worth the piece of paper on which the deeds were written. An error was made by the solicitors who handled the conveyancing work for me, but they were now evading responsibility, and I just could not find a lawyer prepared to sue one of their own.
I could not sell my property because in Law I did not own it. Heaven knows how Barclays Bank gave me a mortgage without noticing a defective lease. It took me years to sort the whole mess out. I lost a lot of money. My children lost their inheritance, and to top it all, I lost my job. Sacked unfairly for standing up for my rights, and although I had never had a contract of employment or job description in over twenty years, the Industrial Tribunal did not rule in my favour. The whole charade including the union rep was set up to favour their own people.
England is a killer of effort, of ideas, ideals and ambition. England stunts our children’s character and emasculates our young men. It turns our soft young ladies into tough masculine fighters not knowing who they are in this world. All just as long as they are black.
Birdie’s daughter seemed to think her wonderful US college education did not do her any good, but that is where I disagree with her. It was a joy to listen to her put her snobbish nemesis Corabeth in her provincial place. I would have done exactly the same. Birdie’s daughter has nothing to be ashamed of at all. Her mother kept a beautiful home. Her bedroom was a dream to behold. With a degree or even a diploma from one of the most prestigious American universities, the world is her oyster – and there is always Africa.
Stick a board up offering a service. You may start with just one person but in time your reputation will grow, and you will be self-employed. I thought Birdie’s daughter would set up a school in Queens, but no. Corabeth did and failed miserably because she is a poser with a lot of froth and no substance. Not all of us want to parent half-white children to please our former slave-masters. Not all of us believe that lighter is brighter or see pale skin as a mark of social progress, achievement, and access.
Corabeth is just the kind of black person the English love to have around the workplace, ineffective and inoffensive, to make them feel better about themselves. They don’t want a capable, confident, no-nonsense black woman showing them up. That capable, confident, no-nonsense black woman, she used to be me. Look at me now. Still tied to England, and homeless.