I was born in late 1970s London. I am a first generation British born Ghanaian. In the 70s and 80s there was the perceived “Civil Rights” to all but at the same time people would not rent their homes to the black folk. There weren’t really many Africans then and my parent’s although they did instil the values they were brought up with, and we ate the food of our origin, didn’t really teach us much about Ghana. Ghana wasn’t really in the back of our minds that we were going to travel to. It was just the place that my dad went every year to visit his parents and his son. The only reason I learnt the Akan language is because I just wanted to know what my parents were talking about, and even at that, it was mixed with a lot of English so I am still learning new words every day to this day. I don’t resent them for it, that was just the way life was those days.
When I was at school, parents would tell their children not to hang around with me, they wouldn’t tell them that it was because of my colour, but deep down I knew. We were not wanted; we were taking all their jobs and soiling their country. There was the added “burden” of being an African. By then my Caribbean friends (who I am not saying had it any better than me), were by now 2nd generation in England, so they were British. I was an African who grew in trees, ate with my hands, and was cousins with the monkeys. I wasn’t bullied, but I got used to my own company, I didn’t actually belong anywhere at school. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a loner, I did have friends but I never hung out with a group of girls because I never really fit. The kids of Caribbean origin, I didn’t gel to well with because there was this unwritten feud with the Africans and the parents of white kids weren’t really too comfortable. In primary school sometimes I would be there by myself during lunchtime. I became the teacher’s pets because I would be in the classroom writing poetry and short stories while the other kids were out playing. It is probably why I am so piss poor at sports too.
The TV did not inspire much for us blacks. The white man would tell us to go back to our bush, and then you turn on the news and pray that the person who raped and stabbed a white lady at Clapham Common wasn’t a black man. Because that’s what we were seen as, criminals or cleaners, the positive images of black people were only seen during the Premiership or Athletics games. This was really tough for me, because as I said, we I couldn’t even run for the bus let alone track. Even the black folk on TV did little to inspire. I remember the first black family on Eastenders, the Tavernier family. I think the biggest storyline they gave them was when Clive was wrongfully accused of murdering Eddie Royal (I don’t know why I have this information in my head…lol). Then there was an attempt at highlighting sickle cell but I didn’t really get it, I am not sure if the writers fully understood it.
It was only when in the 90s during secondary school that there seemed to be more Africans, mainly Ghanaians and Nigerians. In my school my best friend was a Ghanaian, we were the only two in our year, and we kind of latched on to each other because it was like only we knew what it was like to be first generation.
Now, I cannot say racism doesn’t exist, but along the way, a lot of blood has been shed amongst black people in England (whether it be black African or black Caribbean origin). This blood was shed to allow us the same freedom as the majority. This blood was shed so that we were not seen as gangsters and pimps. We were Lawyers, Doctors, Business people, Engineers and Ministers. We could be whatever we wanted to be as long as we put in the hours.
While growing up, it wasn’t in my mind to come to Ghana. Even the country seemed a place of fear, parents would ‘threaten’ their children that if they don’t do well in school, they would be sent to Ghana. My parents never did but once you hear it coming from an aunt or family friend you start to wonder what is so bad with the place that you mess up. Even when I went to Ghana at the age of 10, I wasn’t a fan, it was dusty and it was too hot and we were staying with my great aunt who wasn’t much fun. Then we stayed with my uncle, and I realised that my whole house could fit in their living room. We were going to nice restaurants, in those days the currency was in thousands so 100GHS was 1,000,000, and my uncle gave that to me and my sisters as shopping money. We were millionaires.
By the end of our 6 week trip, I fell in love with the place, I even asked my mum if I could stay and go to high school, but she said no, so I had to make do with the odd holiday every so often.
Fast forward 20 years, I had got my degrees and my work experience, I had put in the hours but I wanted to try my luck in Ghana. I could have waited and maybe got a job as an expat, but for me, it was like, if I don’t go now, I may find a reason to stay. So I came over, and here I am told to join the back of the queue, because I haven’t put in my hours. Now I am not saying that being abroad gives me the right to jump the queue, but at the least, let me join where I am supposed to be.
When I come here, my people are looking at me as the foreigner who is coming in to take their jobs, just like the white folks 30 years earlier. Just because it is black on black, it doesn’t make it prejudice.
When I recently went back, I applied for a job, it is actually similar to the one I am doing now. I got a response but unfortunately I had already returned. I was asked to attend an interview for the position two steps above this one, as I was over qualified for the job I had applied for. Here I am told because I have a mixture of Supply Chain and Marketing experience, they don’t know where to put me, so I should take the lower position and “prove myself”. It will then take at least 2 years to be considered for a promotion. When exactly will I have put in the hours.
I remember at a cocktail party and I was having a chat with the Business Head. He asked me my background and I told him. I remember very vividly him telling me “more people like you need to come over so that people like me don’t have to”. It made me sad that a foreigner was saying this when my own thinks I should shut up and keep quiet in my corner.
So this is why it frustrates me. When people are brought over from India, China, Europe, with the perception that they are going to add some value but when a home grown comes back they are looked like they have nothing to offer. I am not talking about me alone, I am talking in general. If you put in the hours, you have put in the hours, does it matter where from?
So what do I do, I can sit here in silence. Be like the people who will never accept me. Forget that I have come from a place where people have died to give me the right to speak out and voice my opinion. Shall I complain in the corner to myself and it will not be of any real benefit, except the wall that I am complaining to. Or can I give others the benefit of my experience. So they know what to or not to do to survive in Ghana. Help others at least get to their rightful place in line even if I am at the back of the queue.
Well maybe that’s my whole purpose, to show others how the way to get to the front of the queue. If it means a few egos may get damaged, and feelings may get hurt along the way, I’m sorry; collateral damage while telling my tale. However, I can only be me and keep it real.
Bon Weekend x