On the 75th anniversary of Windrush, Palma Black, founder of Soul Purpose 360 CIC, explores her experience growing up in England faced with racial harassment.
The Windrush anniversary may be a cause of celebration for some, but for many, life in England has been challenging, and experiences have left them feeling less than celebratory. Racial harassment and violence, institutionalised and systemic racism, has prevented many from realising the dreams and aspirations of the entrepreneurial pioneers who dared to come to Britain.
Black women in my network continue to experience the trauma inflicted upon us daily. Mocked, chastised, and accused of being ‘angry’ and ‘aggressive’ – as if we have no reason to be, that we should have absorbed the traumatic experiences of racial violence as children and somehow been cool with it, as if it never impacted our psyche’s.
But it has. Many Black adults who have navigated life as children of Windrush pioneers are adults suffering PTSD and many continue to lack self-confidence, self-worth, and the ability to speak our truths.
Soul Purpose 360 was born through conversations with my sister who was dying of stress-related cancer. Listening to her experiences, her shattered dreams, was like joining the dots going backwards. A lack of confidence due to childhood trauma, can lead to stress and depression in adults, can lead to ill health – mental and physical and to premature death.
I understand and appreciate the concept of the celebrations; acknowledging the contribution that people from the Caribbean made to post-war Britain, working long hours in jobs the English thought beneath them, building the NHS and public transport system and more.
Hidden from view are the personal sacrifices made by these ‘economic migrants’, who left behind houses and land, businesses and careers, families, and children, some just babes-in-arms and strong community networks, to come to the ‘Motherland’. Treated as sub-human, faced with signs saying: “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”, families were forced to live in one room. Racist attitudes meant many accepted jobs and wages beneath their skillset and qualifications, leaving them trapped, their five-year dreams of returning home morphing into a lifetime of struggle.
The trauma of growing up a Black child in a racist society took its toll on many. The playing field was never level, the goal posts ever shifting. Black children were labelled educationally subnormal – a professional career deemed impossible. Many were criminalised unfairly, spending time in prisons, their future career ambitions consigned to the dustbin. Other traumatic experiences led them to mental institutions. Not wanting to bring more pain home, many children kept their pain to themselves, whilst parents encouraged them to ‘work twice as hard as the white kids.’ Racist attacks and murders mostly swept under the carpet, but we knew. Most of us grew into adults, never realising their childhood experiences were anything but traumatising.
I am ‘shaped by racism’. My earliest memories are of racial harassment and violence. As a four-year-old, I clearly remember being called a “little monkey”, being told to “go back to where I came from!” and seeing my mother violently attacked on the streets of Lewisham south London – on more than one occasion. Violence, harassment, and abuse – normalised. I remember being spat at on the streets and chased by dogs trained by racists to attack Black children. I fought with the children of racists, who ironically were the dirtiest and smelliest in school, their poverty situation somehow the fault of the Black kids. I recall not being given textbooks in secondary school, forbidden from sitting at the front of the class and defiantly holding up lessons by refusing to move. I recall the bullying by teachers and on a school trip to Sussex myself and two other classmates being put back on the coach where we spent the rest of the day, the white locals not wanting Black children in their shops.
Today many Black women have lived a life, not of their choosing, but one that was dictated for them by the racist educational system and their employers lack of ambition for them – careers unrealised.
Inequalities in the health system means that Black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth or have a higher chance of dying from cancer. The cost-of-living crisis disproportionately impacts Black women more than any other sector of society.
Soul Purpose 360’s mission is to motivate, inspire and imbue confidence in Black women to support them to overcome personal obstacles and challenges and to enable them to contribute positively to their communities through their own personal growth. We host the national Black Women’s Networking & Empowerment Circles. This year, we are launching our national campaign to change the narrative by engaging 10,000 Black women across the UK, to provide safe spaces so that they can grow in confidence and live fulfilled lives.
Despite the challenges our parents and grandparents of the Windrush era endured, we remain resolute in our right to be here, because Britain was there. Times may have changed, but the challenges remain the same. Racism is still prevalent. As a people, we are resilient. We will continue to defy the invisible chains and anchors that weigh us down.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Palma is the founder of Soul Purpose 360 CIC, a coaching, mentoring and training social enterprise for Black women; blending community development with personal development. She is a Personal Performance Coach who is passionate about empowering individuals to live fulfilling lives. Palma has decades of experience working in and with communities through her work in community development, urban regeneration and social enterprise in London and the south east. She is a mother to two daughters, and loves DIY, gardening, personal development, self-care and countryside hiking. Never a dull moment!