South London born and raised. Multicultural, quirky and full of character it will always remain. Known to many as the home of the creativity, chicken and chip shops and towering estate buildings. But in this town lies deep structural inequality.
School trips, sleepovers. Those were things that other children did with ease, but not me. It was far too embarrassing to invite anyone to my house. I couldn’t always afford to go on trips, a concept which frustrated me in my younger years.
Other families had two parents but not me. In a single parent household I lived with my sister and my mother. My inspirational, powerful and strong Jamaican mother, who was able to raise two children, carrying out the Triple Shift despite the trials and tribulations she faced. Some of which were in the workplace with “unfeminist” white women, others in finding enough money to scrape by. “Poor but proud” she would always say even till this day. A statement which stands strongly at the heart of my working class identity.
The Education system was always unenjoyable for me, although I enjoyed English and will never forget Piggy from The Lord of the Flies. It was like a zoo, where the most confident, conventional looking and popular beings would prey upon those who were different to them. But when looking back, I find it humorous to think of the social constructs which were forced upon me in early age. From the “where are you really from?”, to “why is your mum so light?” and even “you look like a boy” which is not a new experience for many Black women on this earth including the admirable Serena Williams. But on a more positive note, our uniform was so bold that we would stop traffic. At least we all looked the same. At least that did not set me up in the line of fire of the school bully.
In the second half of secondary school, we had to sit these tests for the core subjects (maths, english and science) where instead of lumping everyone together into one class, they separated us into what they called “bands”; placing each pupil into a level dependent on how they performed in their end of year exams.
I was never the smartest kid. Ranking set 2 for English and Science and set 3 for Maths, illustrating my early dislike for subjects which have only one answer. I would much rather describe various themes, colours and symbols then help Sally find out how much ingredients she needs to make 12 birthday cakes.
It’s hard from down here, I always thought to myself. But why? Why are things so difficult. Why do I constantly feel a mixture of awkwardness and fear, with an unbearable urge to shout with nothing to say. I know what you’re saying to me is wrong, but I could not tell you why. I know that me and my family should not be struggling to get by, but here we are.
Then I met Sociology.
From Stuart Hall, to Karl Marx and Pierre Bourdieu everything began to make sense. Its because of the dominant groups control of the Ideological state apparatus, aha I get it completely. The media creates a moral panic scapegoating the ever changing minority groups at the bottom of society, who are subject to becoming alienated from society, TOTALLY. The educational system reproduces social class stratification, as it encourages people to see inequality as natural. YES!
In that moment something in me clicked. The clueless year 12 student fell in complete awe of how well brilliant minds could deconstruct the world from a macro perspective.
The beauty of being able to explain the complex oppression me and my family had been subjected to in society. I understood from then on that I would always be an angry person. An angry person who commits their life to challenge those who perpetuate systems of oppression in their language or behavior, including myself.
2 thoughts on “Poor but Proud”
It the light of the contents of a certain memo we were also honest.
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A really interesting piece which brings back similar memories of my own childhood and University experience!