Black History Lesson Could Save Our Kids from Knives and Guns; EXCLUSIVE BY ACTOR AND RAPPER ASHLEY WALTERS

The Mirror (London, England), December 4, 2009 | Go to article overview

Black History Lesson Could Save Our Kids from Knives and Guns; EXCLUSIVE BY ACTOR AND RAPPER ASHLEY WALTERS


Byline: ASHLEY WALTERS

UNTIL recently I knew very little about my family's history. My grandfather came over from Jamaica in the 50s while my grandmother came from what was then British Guiana.

They didn't really talk about it much. To be honest, I didn't take much of an interest either. I regarded myself as English, not West Indian.

What I know now is that making a new life for themselves here in the UK was very hard for them. Like so many people from the Caribbean they had both been brought up in a very English way. When they were growing up they were still part of the British Empire. They believed in the Queen, in authority and the church.

They believed this was the mother country and when they were invited over here to help rebuild it after the war they expected to be treated like children visiting their mother.

RACISM

So it was a real shock when they weren't welcomed with open arms. Instead there was a lot of animosity and racism. People put signs outside their boarding houses saying "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish".

This weekend sees the broadcast of the BBC drama Small Island, based on Andrea Levy's awardwinning book about the first generation of West Indian immigrants arriving in the UK in the aftermath of the Second World War.

I play the part of Michael, a young Jamaican who serves with the RAF and has a relationship with a white Londoner, Queenie. Working on it opened my eyes to a lot of things, in particular about the experience of being black in this country.

In the drama, one of the main characters, Gilbert, is not allowed to stand in a cinema queue with white people and his wife, Hortense (played by Naomie Harris), is told her qualifications from Jamaica are not good enough to work in an English school.

A lot of young black kids will watch those scenes and shake their head in disbelief. If we encountered that treatment today we'd probably get back on the boat. We wouldn't be able to take that rejection.

But that generation didn't do that. They stayed and saw it through.

That was the first big lesson Small Island taught me. It showed me how strong my grandparents and others from that generation were.

They had a goal, they wanted to build a better life for their children and grandchildren and they stuck at it. This was really inspirational and enlightening for me. I hadn't really thought about it before. But the more I learned about my grandparents' generation, the more I realised how there is a real void in our education. I also realised how that void can explain a lot of the problems we have in modern society.

One of the problems you have growing up as a black person is that you don't get to know about your heritage and your history. That generation didn't want to talk about their troubles. …

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