I Am a Third-Generation Immigrant and I Am Traumatised
Written and Illustrated by Kesena Berry
Edited by Eulalia Marie and Clara Marks
CW: racial persecution
All further quotations can be found in ‘Growing up black: Dennis Morris's portrait of the 70s’, a 2012 article by Gary Younge of The Guardian.
[Intro + scratching]
You’re quite hostile.
I got a right to be hostile man. My people bein persecuted!
— Prophets Of Rage, Public Enemy
Grandma immigrated to the UK when she was 18, after her father returned from aiding the British in WW2. As the oldest sibling, her whole life was spent in preparation for that moment; her father gave her the best education out of her siblings, she was taught English growing up, and a marriage had been arranged.
In colonial countries, going to Britain was seen as a great privilege. Leaving her affluent family in Nigeria, where her father was the Chief, she arrived to learn that the hostile reality waiting to greet her was far from her expectations. Grandma was a Black woman living in the UK during the 60s.
She was unable to rent a house from white landlords, so she had to buy one. Grandma had entered a country that was rioting against the idea of minorities existing on ‘their’ (British) land. Signs reading “NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS.” were often displayed outside properties by their landlords.
The government which had actively invited people from the colonies into Britain with open arms in the same breath, punished them for their arrival. When running her election campaign in 1978, Margaret Thatcher said, “We are a British nation with British characteristics." During the same interview, Thatcher warned of Britain being ‘swamped’: "Every country can take some small minorities, and in many ways, they add to the richness and variety of this country. The moment the minority threatens to become a big one, people get frightened."
Your existence is perceived as a threat and you are treated as a second class citizen. When the opportunities you were promised are always given to White Britons and never you, confusion starts. So you work three jobs, moving from council house to council house to make ends meet and you have to rely on yourself instead of the government who had sworn they’d protect you. No matter where you look there are people questioning your existence; questioning why you think you have the right to ‘drain’ their country’s resources.
Grandma had four children to an abusive husband. She ran away when Mum was ten, when her husband had lost their house to his gambling addiction. My Uncles’ moved back to Nigeria with my Grandfather, while my Auntie and my Mum grew up in London. Left alone for the majority of the day — while Grandma worked three jobs — she was brought up by her Sister.
In the 70s ethnic minorities were still treated atrociously and to combat this, education was seen as the only way out. We were taught that in order to get the same recognition, we have to work harder than our white counterparts. Every POC person I have spoken to has had this same conversation with their parents.
Mum had to embrace her Nigerian culture and navigate her Britishness at the same time. Britishness isn’t confined to being white anymore; a new generation of Brits has been born and has the burden of “matching the colour of their skin with the crest on their passport”. Today it’s about creating a sustainable future where there is space for the next generations to not just survive, but thrive.
Mum grew up around the corner from where Stephen Lawrence was brutally murdered. This hate crime signalled how Britain’s climate was becoming more hostile. Facing a number of political issues of its own (rising unemployment and inflation), for White Britain, the future was bleak. While, minority groups were dealing with these problems too, they were scapegoated as the cause for them. “At the very moment when black youths were trying to imagine new beginnings, the very certainties on which the lives of many white working-class youths were founded — full employment, subsidised housing, state economic intervention — were coming to an end. That decade came to a close with the election of Thatcher, whose victory was aided in no small part by her crude appeal to white anxieties over immigration, heralding a more overtly antagonistic racial landscape for the 80s.”. Even when Mum was well into her 20s, the effects of racist discrimination were still visible.
I’m a third-generation immigrant and I still feel discriminated against, as well as the impact of the trauma experienced by Grandma and Mum. We all carry the weight of my ancestors. There is no doubt that Britain is my home, but a new battle has begun.
Even though conscious racism within Britain is still very much alive, instead of having to fight for our place and constantly ‘prove’ that we belong, the battle now is to educate and inform, so that we deconstruct the oppressive structures we live under; they must crumble. We need to show what minorities are not here for: tokenism, being used to fill a quota, being scapegoated for the country’s political and economic hardships, and only proudly shown off when Britain pretends to celebrate diversity. Our task is to create a new Britain: a multicultural country where diversity is always celebrated, where people access the same opportunities and have equal rights.
For centuries Britain has found ways to use Black and Brown peoples as means to an end, in the form of slavery (the Royal African Company), labour shortage replacements (HMT Empire Windrush), soldiers (WW2), the list goes on. Britain told Nigerians to fight for their King and Country, and after the war was won, Nigerians were unwanted. Britain has a brutal, racially oppressive history which has all almost been swept under the rug: lie well, hide well, ignore, or even worse, celebrate. African American history is taught instead of Black British history in British schools, and when colonial history is taught, it is taught matter-of-factly and with perverse pleasure. People like John Hawkins, who developed the slave trade, are recognised as ‘pioneers’, while Queen Elizabeth’s involvement has been treated like feminism ahead of its time. This denial and glorification leads people to think that Britain’s racism isn’t as abhorrent as America’s. For a long time, the people living in the country you call home, wanted you enslaved, lynched, or imprisoned. You look at the world now and it doesn’t feel any different. The present reflects the past. You’re awakened by cruel reality and you turn cynical.
It’s easy to lose your sense of self. Born into a world of oppression, you relive the trauma of your ancestors whilst intimately witnessing your people being persecuted on a global scale. As you grow, you realise that your community is connected through tyranny, compelled into solidarity and traumatised collectively. Passed down from generation to generation, your inheritance is an eternal sentence of oppression.