In 1960, I became the first person of colour resident of a down-at-heel, low Council housing estate in Maidenhead, a small town thirty miles west of London, England. I was five years old.

My East Indian single mother, in her early twenties who had neither education nor a true grasp of English had newly arrived in London. When she suddenly realized she could not look after me. A fellow worker – Flo – felt sorry and volunteered to look after me for two weeks until a proper family could be found. My Indian mum had just picked me from Heathrow airport where I had arrived from a long journey out of East Africa. After a few minutes of conversation at the Aslett’s, she left me to begin her night shift.

If this is a group of people this sentence needs some clarification, right now it reads as though Aslett’s is a last name of the people your mother had you stay with.

“Do you live in the jungle? ” someone asked.

“Is Tarzan your neighbour?” another voice asked.

A pregnant silence followed.

Although fluent in Swahili , Kutchi , Gujarati and Arabic, I barely understood, let alone spoke, English. The Aslett’s prided themselves in not knowing any other language than their native tongue. (What is their native tongue?) I could barely understand their simple questions, let alone try to answer them.

It is my advice you rework the above paragraph starting with the question “Do you live in the jungle.” Set the scene for the readers in its current state the narrative is a bit too jumpy. Help the reader understand who these people are who are talking to you.

How was I treated in this rough and tumble estate called home?

Here is an extract from my book, Chasing Aphrodite:

He loved playing football and would run around the crescent looking for a scratch game to join. The footballers all knew Flo and knew her wrath. None would harm him.

 

Back then, he would plead to join.

 

“What’s your name, mate ? ”

 

“Snow White. ” The standard answer with a goofy grin. But it always got him in.

 

” Na ! What’s yer real name ? ”

 

“Em.”

 

This underweight pygmy of a kid, jokingly referred to by his own English family as a “model off an Oxfam1 poster,” had the talent these street urchins needed – he could score goals. Once allowed in, he was taken as one of their own. They would later rant and rave about wogs and Pakis right in front of him, but him they accepted without reservation. His colour completely overlooked.

Later, as he escaped into accountancy as a career, he could never trust the well-spoken and always correctly mannered middle-class that surrounded him, never sure what they really thought of him or the low-class council house community he had come from.

Working as an accountant provided my chance to start life in Canada. Decades later, I brought my two teenage boys (“The Poodle” and ” The Monster” ) to my estate.

Aphrodite continues :

Although it was mid-morning on a weekday, a rag-tag group of youths approached, heads down, looking askance. The Poodle and The Monster beat a retreat along with the taxi driver. Their father just stood there mesmerized. The same motley group that his boys ran from were the kind he would play with.

 

Sadly for him, his kids knew no better, accepting naturally their enhanced class status and looking askance at the descendants of the Ellington Park mob who had sustained
and nurtured him.

I had worked so hard and taken so many risks to gain my freedom from poverty and prejudice, but what had I imbued in my own sons? Watching their reaction, I experienced the full circle of that prejudice I had fought so hard against.

Which is the worst kind of prejudice? The blatant or the courteously polished ? How do you overcome it? How do you immunize your children from it?


(1) Oxfam: An international charitable organization to alleviate global poverty